Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mark Victor Hansen: the Flim Flam Man

He blew into town with the media winds at his back, a big smile on his face and the promise of riches for all. His name was Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the highly successful Chicken Soup series of books. Though it was purportedly a leadership seminar, he was actually promoting his newest book, The One Minute Millionaire. Yes, you can have it all.

The following article first appeared in Duluth's Reader Weekly, November 7, 2002. It was my take on a motivational speaker who I would tar a scam artist. But what is motivating me to reprint it here is a statement he made while flapping his gums about the greatness of mankind and what we can achieve if we pull together and put our minds to it. He said one project he was organizing, that would amaze the world, would be painting the Great Wall of China by 2008. He pointed out that the Great Wall was the only man made structure on earth visible from outer space. It would be a huge undertaking to paint this but it would be accomplished because, golly gee whiz, we're so great we can do anything.

Well, I've been waiting. So far, gathering an army of people to paint the Great Wall of China has not yet made the news, and I have a feeling that if Hansen is talking about it at all, it will be something he tells his audiences will happen in 2015. He would likely be surprised that someone in his Duluth audience actually took notes to hold him accountable for what he says.

I realize that some people will feel I'm being harsh when I say these things. Hansen's books have encouraged and entertained a lot of people. Frankly, it could be argued that the money-changers in the Temple in New Testament times were helping people, too.

Anyways, here's my story.... a bit long for blogging, I know. I'll try not to make a habit of it.

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE RIPPED OFF PERSON’S SOUL
By Ed Newman

In October 2002 I had the privilege of witnessing the most audacious display of shameless hucksterism. In case you missed it, Mark Victor Hansen was in town, guest lecturer for the Leadership Series of The College of St. Scholastica. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Hansen, he is co-author of the spectacularly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The three hour talk purported to be a success seminar for entrepreneurs and leaders. In actuality, it was little more than a three hour sales pitch a la Simon Sez. Half the audience seemed happily under his spell.

Affable and boisterous, he laughed almost continuously. Peppered throughout he shared fragments of actual and real content, though seldom citing sources and not concerned about whether any of the pieces hung together.

From one perspective, the talk was a fast paced jabber of name dropping, and braggadocio. If being rich is good because you can help others, being super-rich is even better because you can brag about it. His lifestyle requires him to earn two million dollars a year, he told us. He also let us know how he and his partner Jack Canfield are in the Guinness Book of World Records for the speed at which they produce and sell books.

The guy’s technique was typical of the standard flim flam con artist. How many times did he “almost” tell the price of these books that were supposedly worth $167 dollars? But hold on a second! He told us his signature will be worth more than the price we pay for the books because his good buddy Red Skelton said his autograph is worth eight hundred dollars, and “I’m going to be more famous than Red,” he implied. Do the math. Pay one hundred today, get the guy’s signature because he’s in town, and we walk away more than seven hundred dollars ahead. Plus we get to keep the books!

In twenty years of attending professional seminars, I can’t think of a single one where you pay nearly seventy dollars to attend and get no written materials, no notebook, nothing. That’s because this guy was not interested in giving anything. That would be an expense. The lesson is that to get rich you eliminate expenses and just take the money.

Wait, he did give us something. It was a thirty day tattoo which we could wear to promote his books. Hmmm. (Tap someone on the arm and say, “Got it?”)

Hansen’s fast talking style was straight from the carnival. He made outrageous statements with such rapidity that your mind couldn’t keep up to analyze them. At one point he said that for every one hundred dollars that we sent to his amazing money machine (in the form of buying his books) his organization would send $250 to eliminate third world hunger.

Someone asked why they don’t end poverty here in America first and he mocked her. That’s right. He made a face and belittled her. It was embarrassing.

He could do that because the crowd was on his side, the side of truth and illumination. But wait, not only was the crowd on his side, God was on his side, too. God wants us all to be shamelessly rich. The Bible says so, Hansen said. Look at Jesus. Why would the first disciple he converted be a tax collector if Jesus didn’t have money? Jesus was rich like Mr. Hansen, right? Jesus needed an accountant.

BOTTOM LINE
In other words, this whole Leadership event was a big scam. What’s unfortunate is that a lot of innocent believing people are left in the wake of jokers like this, still hurting, confused by what they experienced because much of what he said was good. But how do you apply it? The message doesn’t hold up to critical analysis.

In the past I have written about the gullibility of our times and American superficiality. This guy plays it like a master. The more I thought about it, the more stewed I got because a lot of earnest, trusting people paid hard earned cash to be there. 225 paid attendees times $69.... That’s over fifteen thousand dollars for three hours work. No wonder he was laughing continuously.

The next day I was curious how the sponsors of the event felt. Did Marcia Doty feel used because he took some personal information about her and stroked her in front of the whole crowd as part of the pitch he was putting on? Did the other media people feel they had been taken?

That’s how good this guy was. He completely sold out of his books. And everyone seemed happy. That just never happened before, I was told. He’s turning the whole world into One Minute Millionaires. Hallelujah.

In the old days these snake oil salesmen were tarred and feathered.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The writer who laughs all the way to the bank is crying inside.” This guy is laughing all the way to the bank, for sure. And it appears he’s not crying inside, which means he is either (a) not a writer, or (b) absolutely devoid of conscience.

Somehow, I can’t escape the feeling that we were witnesses to a tragedy and we didn’t even know it.

POSTSCRIPT
If your thoughts and feelings were similar to those expressed in this article, please email them to ennyman@northlc.com. If we gather 101 stories, we will publish a book. The profits will be shared with the authors.

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