22 Nov 2009

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

When I lived in Chicago in the Nineties, I used to listen for kicks to an AM radio station that broadcast nothing but recordings of motivational speakers all day long. The idea, as I understood it, was to provide a sort of service to the itinerant salesman, whom Barbara Ehrenreich describes as “lonely and wounded” but still required to “pick himself up and generate fresh enthusiasm for the next customer, the next city, the next rejection.” By listening to a string of these three or four minute pep talks, the city’s sales force would be able to psyche themselves up to face their next prospect. As for the station’s content, it was pretty much unrelenting sunshine, megadoses of motivation; the main feature distinguishing the various speakers was the homemade theory or idea with which they had souped up the great American idea of positive thinking: Not just positive thinking but positive envisioning. Happy Bible verses. Tricks to make yourself seem like an optimistic person. Words whose letters actually stood for other words that, taken together, were really, really awesome.