We are pathetic wastrels, every one of us. Knowing this, it's no surprise how massive the self-help industry has become, or how wealthy its practitioners have made themselves by promising us fixes for our sundry faults. However, it may shock you to discover that many self-help experts and self-described gurus are actually big-time assholes more interested in helping themselves than anyone else, and don't have any idea what they're talking about. For instance ...
Bikram yoga, or "hot yoga," involves a bunch of people sitting in a hundred-degree room while someone in a Speedo tells them how to breathe.
The founder of this style is Bikram Choudhury, and he has ... a bit of a reputation. Let's start with the mild stuff. For instance, in class, he's well-known for shrieking insults at his female students, including but not limited to such inspirational phrases as "You look like you're pregnant!" or "You fat fuck!" He also tried to trademark a series of yoga poses he claimed he invented, and even tried to sue a different yoga company over copyright infringement. The courts shot him down, basically saying that it was like trying to sue someone for jogging too much like you in a gym.
And then there's the less funny stuff. Choudhury has faced at least six charges of assault, sexual harassment, and/or rape. People have alleged that he would use his position to project a godlike influence, then lure dazzled students to hotel rooms where he would force himself on them. One accuser recounts a particularly harrowing encounter in which she alleges that he repeatedly called her an idiot while he raped her.
Choudhury has denied this, though in a slightly unusual way. In an interview with HBO, he insisted that he doesn't need to beg women to sleep with him because 5,000 women a day want that honor, and that four women supposedly committed suicide because he wouldn't have sex with them. He also claimed that people want to offer him a million dollars for a drop of his sperm. And that he "picks women from trash and then gives them life."
It was a hell of an interview.
And while none of these accusations have yet to result in any criminal convictions, Choudhury did have to cough up $6 million earlier this year in a sexual harassment and wrongful termination case, brought by his own lawyer, in which she asserted that he fired her for investigating the rape allegations against him too thoroughly.
Phil McGraw is a TV therapist who tells people what to do to fix their terrible lives, and they love him for it. That sure sounds like a recipe for becoming a power-hungry madman.
We're not saying he is. But man, that recipe ...
As an example of his possible power-hungry madness, consider the former employee of the Dr. Phil show who recently filed a lawsuit claiming the host kept 300 employees captive in a locked, guarded room. This was apparently done so he could try to figure out who leaked some information to the media -- in addition to the kidnapping, the good doctor allegedly took everyone's phones and warned them "If you fuck with me, I'll fuck with you."
CBS Television Distribution
McGraw and his producers deny that version of events, and have claimed it was a simple work meeting. For now, at least, a judge has refused to dismiss the charges.
This isn't the first run in Dr. Phil has had with this bizarrely specific charge, though. In another case, the family of a troubled girl sued him, claiming she was sent to what was essentially a private prison on his advice. That case was dismissed after the defense argued that the girl was at the facility voluntarily and that Dr. Phil wasn't managing her care. But in another case a few years back, CBS settled a suit filed by two women who say that as part of a show, they were held captive in the ominous-sounding "Dr. Phil House," where they say they had to deal with brainwashing and a naked man showing up to dinner. It is unclear whether this naked man was Dr. Phil in makeup and prosthetics, but considering the sheer number of imprisonment accusations against him, it is our responsibility to assume that it was.
CBS Television Distribution
Billy Blanks is famous for being the face of Tae Bo, the exercise craze which incorporates a variety of high-energy martial arts techniques, and also for shooting a bunch of football players in the face in the beginning of The Last Boy Scout. Blanks didn't start the Tae Bo venture entirely on his own, however -- he partnered with a man named Paul Monea, who has a lengthy background in the infomercial world.
So you know he's honest.
To helpfully illustrate Monea's background, consider one of his previous ventures: "The Stimulator." This was a device which purportedly relieved pain, including headaches, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. But when the FDA looked into it, they discovered it was in fact nothing but an electric grill lighter.
So that's not too cool. But it didn't seem to slow Monea down, and after partnering with Blanks to bring us the whole Tae Bo thing, the money came rolling in. Enough for Monea to buy Mike Tyson's house, in fact, because that is exactly the kind of thing someone should do with Tae Bo money.
A few years later, he was trying to sell Mike Tyson's house (first on eBay, of all places). That didn't pan out too good, which is how he ended up trying to sell both the house and a huge diamond to someone who said he was going to pay using drug money. That someone was, of course, an undercover FBI agent.
Monea's life is filled with episodes like this. Both Sugar Ray Leonard and Carmen Electra have sued him for using their names without permission. Three women have accused his production company of making phony charges to their credit cards. Blanks himself has accused Monea of bribing his attorneys. Also, and we cannot stress this enough, he sold a grill lighter as a cure for menstrual cramps.
You probably recognize Tony Robbins as the self-empowerment guru to the stars who is roughly 80 percent teeth. But you might not know that when he isn't busy inspiring people to take control of their physical, mental, and financial destinies, he's been caught up in a variety of shifty business practices. He's been successfully sued for plagiarism, ordered to pay fines by the FTC for misrepresenting the potential earnings of his franchisees, and once started a bad website. OK, we know pretty much everyone's done that last thing, but Robbins did it with especially villainous gusto.
You see, Robbins started a self-improvement website called Dreamlife back in the late '90s, which is a nice late-'90s-sounding thing to do. But right from its inception, there was something fishy about the whole setup. For starters, it wasn't its own company. Robbins convinced a different company, Global Health Systems, to build the website for him, and to hand most of their operation over to him as well. Because Global Health Systems was a company with publicly traded stock that was now under his control, Robbins was more easily able to convince other investors to toss some sweet green his way. It was a shortcut/loophole around the normal reporting requirements for starting a new publicly traded company, and if skirting regulations doesn't entice you to invest your money in something, we don't know what will.
It gets sleazier. Because Robbins already had deals with book publishers, he wasn't really interested in or legally able to provide any of the self-help guidelines and advice he was known for on this site, meaning it wasn't much more than an outlet to sell shirts and stuff. In short, Dreamlife was dead before it began, badly soaking any investors who arrived late to the party. No one knows how much money Robbins cashed out of the process, but it's probably safe to assume it was more than zero dollars.
Deepak Chopra is one of the most prominent figures in the New Age movement, and in most of his public appearances, he's a picture of calm and serenity, almost never seen putting his fist through a wall. In fact, he's even written articles on how to control your temper -- advice which he forgets immediately every time he opens up Twitter.
Because of his New Age, pseudosciencey beliefs, Chopra routinely gets in online arguments with scientists and skeptics, defending his numerous personal convictions -- such as the belief that people can enter a state of "perfect health" which would prevent them from dying. Now, this is clearly nonsense, and Chopra isn't doing the world any favors by trying to convince vulnerable people that this is true. Still, it's reasonable to have some sympathy for Chopra; that kind of constant arguing can't do wonders for your sense of cordiality.
So great is Chopra's thirst for internet anger that he often seeks out these confrontations himself. For example, when physicist Lawrence Krauss posted an utterly mundane photo of himself and Richard Dawkins on Twitter, Chopra snarkily Kool-Aid-Manned his way into the conversation:
That's not especially rude, but consider that no one was talking to him, and he sent it to a half-dozen people utterly unconnected with the picture, trying to start an argument. It's the Twitter equivalent of a drunk guy in a bar coming up to your table at the end of a joke and asking everyone what they're laughing at.
It seems yoga attracts shady gurus like dead otters attract mangier, crazier otters. The founder of Anusara Yoga is a man named John Friend, who, in stark contrast to what his name might suggest, has something of a sinister side. Notably, he's frozen employee benefit plans at his company, had sexual relations with employees and students, and made his workers accept shipments of weed on his behalf.
Friend is/was a rock star of the yoga world, known for his showmanship and the huge parties he'd throw after his lessons. And his drug use. He's admitted to smoking marijuana, and while that's not a big deal on its own, one of his assistants claims that at one point, he was asked to accept a large container of marijuana on behalf of Friend and drive it over to him. The assistant wasn't too comfy with that (because its a crime and all), and was fired shortly thereafter.
But that's all side-dressing compared to the sex stuff. Because along with the success and fame his lifestyle won him, Friend also had regular contact with adoring, bendy women in tight clothes.
Lyn Alweis/Getty Images
That same assistant claims he helped Friend juggle numerous girlfriends, find gifts for them, and stash them at different hotels to keep them separate from each other. Friend also altered his organization's ethical guidelines to make it easier for instructors to have sex with their students.
Finally, one winter solstice, Friend formed an all-female (besides him) coven named the Blazing Solar Flames, and they had themselves some naked Wiccan rituals. While everyone involved swears there was no sex, there were oily massages on bearskin rugs and constant requests from Friend for his coven members to continually tongue-kiss each other. Also, he reportedly suggested that his coven trim their pubic hair and put it in a jar on an altar, and yeah, that's a sex party. You're having a sex party, John Friend.
Belle Gibson had a truly inspiring story to tell. She had a stroke at work in 2009, and during subsequent testing, was found to have a malignant brain tumor. She chronicled her experiences during the chemotherapy sessions on social media, and while the online world watched, she decided to abandon chemotherapy and replace it with healthy eating and homeopathic medicine. And it worked! Her cancer vanished, and was replaced shortly thereafter by smartphone apps and books and a new line of food products in her name.
The only problem was that Gibson's story was just that -- a story. She lied about the whole cancer thing.
Finding out what exactly happened here is complicated a little bit by the fact that Gibson doesn't have a terribly close relationship with the truth. She can't keep her age straight in interviews. Charitable donations tied to app and book sales that she promised to make were never made.
In response to the revelation that absolutely no part of her inspirational battle with cancer was true, Gibson's publisher pulled her book from shelves after only five months, though they're hardly blameless in the matter. Video evidence has surfaced suggesting the publishers at least suspected she wasn't totally on the level, but let it not be said that the publishing industry has ever let the truth get in the way of making tons and tons of dollars. As you may have expect, the whole episode infuriated people who really have cancer, not only for generating false sympathy but also for generating false hope. Cancer is a brutal disease which, when it can be treated, needs something a little more concrete than cucumber and wishes, Belle Gibson, you insufferable fartlord.
It's Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it's a chore to wonder if there's even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month's live podcast Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.
Get your tickets here: