"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Awaken the Pliant Within



For 11 hours and 15 minutes, I

hugged perfume-saturated

realtors. For 11 hours and 15

minutes, I gave back rubs to car

salesmen. I pretended to be the

World's Most Outrageous Aerobics

Instructor. I recited truisms in

a Mickey Mouse voice. I

mimicked epileptic-surfer moves

as speakers blasted '80s

frat-party songs. I boosted the

"energy up to Level 40!" I

shouted "Yes!" over and over,

along with the 3,000

other "playfully outrageous"

attendees of the Anthony

Robbins Competitive Edge(TM)

seminar in a slightly rundown

auditorium in downtown San Jose.

And when Robbins asked us if we

were "juiced," I raised my fist

to the ceiling and arm-pumped

like a drunken Young Republican

at his first National



When 8:00 p.m. came at last, as

the neo-Wagnerian chords of

"Start Me Up" crunched toward

their well-merchandised

crescendo, 3,000 sweaty

overachievers celebrated their

completion of the 12-hour

Anthony Robbins Competitive

Edge(TM) seminar in the

requisite manner of the day:

with rampant arm-pumping,

communal moaning, spontaneous

stranger-grappling, and loud,

liberating exclamations of

freeform transcendence.


At least I think that's how it



I had fled the scene about 45

minutes earlier. I had meant to

stay to the end, I swear.

Several times throughout the

day, Robbins had stressed the

importance of the final hour:

"It's like the last rep when

you're lifting weights - that's

when the real growth happens!"

He punctuated each repetition of

the sentiment with his signature

move, an expressionistic karate

chop to his own chest, and with

each crisp, swashbuckling

thwack, I promised myself that I

would indeed stick around for

the last group cheer. Because I

wanted to learn how to become a

"state inducer." Because I

wanted to learn how to "gain the

competitive edge through

strategic influence," so that I

too might sell millions of

overpriced book and videotape

collections to underperforming

salespeople, and land lucrative

consulting gigs with timid

tennis stars and equivocal



But how much can a person take?


I mean, even a little Tony

Robbins goes a long, long way.

And Robbins, an exclamation

point made flesh, is more than

just larger than life; he's

larger even than the TV persona

he's created for himself. On the

stage behind him, two big-screen

monitors projected his every

movement and expression in

exaggerated detail. They seemed




The real Robbins, center-stage, 6

foot 7 inches, was simply more

compelling. Up close, of course,

he's freakish. His body, not

fat, but not quite fit-looking

either, gives the impression

that perhaps he has no body at

all, and to cover that absence,

he's simply stuffed a suit with

pillows. His oversized,

Osmondoid countenance had a

similarly synthetic quality;

Tony Robbins masks would be more

convincing. Most alarming was

the lower half of his face;

exhibiting such exoskeletal

grandeur, in such constant,

insect-like motion, it exceeded

mere "jawness" and became

"mandible." All this might make

him a somewhat disconcerting

dinner companion, but it does

make Robbins a pretty good live

performer. Those exaggerated

features register across an

entire auditorium; his

matadorean flouncing recalls the

bombastic flourish of Elvis in

his Vegas years.


Which is not to say his act

couldn't use some work. Much of

it felt ready for the archives.

Robbins continues to use '80s

effluvia like Donald Trump,

Michael Jackson, and Lee Iacocca

to illustrate his various

points. During a brief product

placement interlude a half-dozen

out-of-work actors dressed in

California Raisins costumes

tossed sackfuls of nature's

candy to the frenzied crowd: For

a moment, I thought I was at

COMDEX '87. Technically more

topical, but feeling just as

dated, were jokes about Saddam

Hussein and Lorena Bobbitt.

Nudge-nudge homophobia and the

tiresome strain of innocuous,

Jack Tripper-style lechery -

"Oh, I didn't mean that kind of

passionate - or did I?!" - were

additional low points, as were

the superficial asides regarding

spiritual fulfillment.



Still, focusing on the specifics

of what Robbins says violates

the spirit of his philosophy of

influence. Indeed, his core

message for the day was the

notion that one's "words"

contribute little to one's

overall "influence." More

important than "words" is one's

"voice." (Robbins himself

generally employs either a

confident Foghorn Leghorn

baritone or a timid milquetoast

stammer.) More important than

one's "voice" is one's

"physiology," the sum total of

one's posture, gestures, and

expression. This "physiology,"

Robbins believes, accounts for

more than half of one's



He's absolutely right. His career

proves it. In his earliest days

as a "human potential

consultant," the only thing

separating him from all the

other smalltime self-confidence

artists talking the motivational

talk was one particularly

compelling bit of physiology:

the ability to walk the

firewalk. That fortuitous

sideshow trick helped Robbins

forge a highly marketable

identity; thousands of hours of

TV exposure later (according to

Robbins, not one minute has

passed in the last eight years

when his infomercials aren't

airing somewhere), he's the

world's best-known self-help

guru, raking in hundreds of

thousands of dollars for a

single day's work.



It is a long day's work, though,

that's for sure. Even in my

lesser role as a spectator, I

was exhausted at the onset of

the seminar's final hour. My

hands were sore from

indiscriminate clapping, my back

was aching from sitting in the

cheap orange folding chair my

US$300 VIP ticket had gotten me.

Robbins himself showed no signs

of fatigue. He lurched around

the stage like Arnold

Schwarzenegger imitating Jim

Carrey; he grabbed his dick

Michael Jackson-style and

bellowed into the microphone

like a karaoke televangelist.


And while I appreciate this kind

of spectacle as much as anyone,

after 11 hours, well....


Robbins had enlightened me, he'd

entertained me, he'd even

managed to "energize" me on a

few occasions. So couldn't he

just finally call it a day?

Perhaps his extreme reluctance

to do so is the secret to his

phenomenal success: At every

single seminar he gives, the

person who gets the most

significant emotional benefit

from it is always Robbins

himself. During the lunch break,

a couple of dozen acolytes had

congregated at the edge of the

stage, their faces contorted

with sweet, needy anguish as

they waited patiently for a

brief moment of communion. But

the neediest, nakedest, most

anguished expression of all

belonged to Robbins; he sat

poised on the edge of the stage,

his eyes filled with plaintive

puppy-dog yearning, his mouth

twisted in an awkward, grateful

grimace as his fans showered him

with their love and validation.

It was a disappointing moment;

hucksters of world-class stature

should be insincere and resonant

with vain self-loathing.

Robbins, I realized, was merely



It's an inevitable irony: The

motivational expert needs the

audience's applause to confirm

his own self-worth. Onstage,

doing his epileptic-surfer

thing, he was the life of the

party. Offstage, one imagines,

he's just a big goof who can't

dance. Throughout the

afternoon's session, I tried to

convince myself that the

anguish, the awful longing for

approval, was just another part

of the act. But the longer he

continued to perform, the more

desperate he appeared. And when

he started launching T-shirts

into the crowd via a giant

slingshot, a sudden fear

overtook me: What would he do

next to win our favor? Start

offering us our money back? That

was when I decided I had to

flee; I simply wasn't able to

confront the specter of Robbins'

neediness a moment longer.



Now, after a few days'

reflection, I'm content to let

the question of Robbins'

neediness remain one of life's

many mysteries. The notion that

Robbins might have actually been

willing to trade a portion of

the day's receipts in return for

the chance to remain on stage an

hour longer was pure folly on my

part, induced, no doubt, by all

that disorienting hugging and

clapping. A quick visit to his

Web site, with its endless,

escalating pitches for products and

seminars, reaffirm one's faith

in his steadfast cupidity. In

the end, greed is Robbins' great


courtesy of St. Huck

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