The Bullshit Backlash
I watched as we moved from a period of honesty in publishing in the period leading up to the start of the 21st century, to a period post 2000 AD where the bullshit in our industry grew exponentially. You didn’t need real world experience. You didn’t need measurable results in success of your trade. You just needed the desire to be perceived as ‘one of the great ones’, skill marketing and a loose moral compass.
And there were no shortage of people who fit this description that put up their hands during the decade post 2000’s, and rode this wave of content aimed to fulfil the needs of the seller, not the needs of the buyer.
Authors rode the wave. Publishers rode the wave. Equipment manufacturers and distributors rode the wave. Organizations turned a blind eye.
I become so moved by this trend that I wrote a book about it – Barbells and Bullshit, published 2010. I wanted to draw attention to what I believed was an undesirable trend. But I am only one person – what difference can I make? And for a while I thought I was the only person who was seeing this, concerned by it, and willing to take a stand against it.
Then I came upon this statement:
“I’d rather sell nothing than sell crap.”
The writer was Phil Stevens (1) and he had my attention. I thought – there are two of us!
Then I learnt more about his initiative:
This site from conception to completion is built out of a collective disdain for the useless drivel and backstabbing that is all too prevalent in the strength and fitness industry today. From that foundation Strength Guild sought out and collected a core group of the best like minded coaches, athletes, and minds in the world of strength to gather under one roof. We endeavor to fight against all that is wrong in the industry today with the over abundance of fly-by-night experts and so-called guru’s that are in it for nothing but making a dollar anyway possible. We are a group of teachers and role models who have been there done that, under the bar, in the books, and with successful clients (themselves included) for over a century combined. We are a group of “No Bullshit” strength practitioners that are here to teach the craft of strength…(2)
Then I thought – there are more than just the two of us!
Imagine that! What if there are even more people out there who feel what’s happening is not right – that there is a better way. And who are willing to make a stand, even if only in the way they invest their hard earned cash!
That’s an exciting possibility!
Naming the decades
I called the 80’s ‘The Decade of Aerobics’, the 90’s ‘The Decade of Strength’, and the 2000s ‘The Decade of Bullshit’. What will the 2010’s be know for? The revolution, the ‘Decade of the Backlash against Bullshit’?
The question is no longer will there be a backlash, or will people stand up against this trend. The question will be when we will reach the tipping point, the point at which the majority of individuals, companies and organizations choose to comply – not because they want to, but because the decisions of the masses in their individual purchasing decisions force this change.
Will the tipping point be reached during this decade? Or will this take longer? If so, how long? To answer these questions I have gone on a trip through history.
The myths surrounding the fall of the once great Roman Empire during the first 500 years AD focus on the “the gradual disintegration of the political, economic, military, and other social institutions of Rome”(3) . This has been perhaps the most famous example of social change in our recorded history.
One of the great examples in our recent history that draws me to compare to the ‘fall of Rome’ was the rise post 2000 AD of the ‘fat loss guru’. I conclude that our society is so decadent that the most pressing need of the masses is to lower body fat. One third of the world starves, yet those in the industrialized western world eat too much. And those seeking to take the profit from this misguided notion have put their hand up. Buy my book – only then will be able to turn on your after-burners. Only when you do my special combination exercise circuit (like what the US company Universal promoted in the 1970s!) will you succeed. Only when you take my special metabolism raising supplement will you achieve your goals. No talk of the simple solution – eat better, eat less, move more, and read less main stream magazines written to condition you to believe you will be inadequate until you look like a (photo-shopped) Hollywood movie start.
I recommend you all watch the movie Wall-E – the message regarding the direction of society when it comes to food, exercise and human movement capabilities – so powerful.
However Rome took up to 320 years to unravel. Are social changes likely to occur more rapidly in current times? To answer this, I look at some of the significant human changes I have witnessed in my life time.
I first noticed the ‘green’ movement in the 1970s. Some suggest it began as early as 1907 (4). I never thought I would see the values of the ostracized ‘greenies’ of the 1960s and 1970s become mainstream. In the last few years, you can see the publicly-listed companies rush to release their ‘Green Policies’. Recycling is mainstream in waste management. Composting decomposable food is hip. I have been amazed at the rapidness of these changes. They have gone from being the values of hippies to the values of mainstream.
As a child in the 1960s, I recall my father writing a letter to the then owner of one of the two largest airlines in Australia, suggesting that cigarette smoking should be banned on flights. You can imagine the answer. Anyway, if he was one of the first to raise this, then you can say this change occurred, which occurred in 1987 on Australian domestic flights – took about 20 years. The tobacco companies and their shareholders had significant power and influence, and may have been able to delay these changes for some time – but not forever.
These are two significant changes in social values that I have witnessed in my life time. I believe the changes are occurring at a fast rate. Now the 320 year period for Rome to implode covered all aspects of society – economics, government etc.
So perhaps in the broader sense, there is much work to be done, much change yet to occur. But in a micro-sense, I will be watching with personal interest how rapid the changes are in the culture of the sport and fitness industry.
In the short term I can see a division – between those who wish to cling to the ‘New Rules of the 2000’s’ – and those who wish to apply the possible ‘New Rules of the 2010s’. Those who chose to cling to last decades values will surely put up a good fight. A fight that may have begun. (5)
The resistance to change
During the 1980s and 1990s there were a few dominant values and beliefs that I decided to challenge, and with success in practical application. I then chose to share my real-world experiments and their conclusions through my seminars and published works late in the 1990s.
This information was not always well received. In one seminar, during the morning of the one of these seminars in Boston MA, an apparent local identity (who I had never heard of before) gathered his colleagues, and stormed out of the seminar. Later that person wrote an email to the seminar host threatening the ramifications for that person should they foolishly decide to host me again. Needless to say, they never did. Ironically the very content I presented in that seminar has been the backbone of this person’s publishing in the decade to follow, and in that time I didn’t see one reference to the source.
In other seminars those planning to attend were directed not to. In other cases some were rung by an out of state police officer assuring them that if they attended they would be arrested. Seminar hosts were told if they were to receive any packages in the mail from me, they would be arrested for this. Great imagination was applied, and due the gullibility of many, the registration withdrawals were many.
Not everyone’s going to be happy if more of the masses shift towards honesty and integrity. They are enjoying the current situation too much – where a low-educated, highly gullible market will believe it if you write or say it, and buy and do anything with a little marketing conditioning. Right now the truth and integrity way is sought to be crushed in the desert like the early electric cars, so we don’t threaten sales and the status quo that was established during the ‘Decade of the Bullshitter’ – in the same way electric cars in the 1970s were perceived as a threat to the sale of oil and gasoline.
The New Rules
Let’s take a look at what I call the ‘New Rules of the 2000s’ – and what I believe may be the ‘New Rules of the 2010s’. At worst, call me an optimist.
Note some of the ‘New Rules of the 2000-2010 Decade’ are not just my observations – some of them are quotes reflecting the accepted values of that period.
“It's OK to tell a lie if you know that it's a lie... Once a personal trainer or performance specialist knows the truth then, they can tell a little white lie to make the sale or to get the client on board. The key to selling fitness lies (clever play on words) in knowing the truth but, also knowing when to lie.” (5)
It’s not okay to tell a lie. Tell the truth. No matter if there is a sale or anything else at stake.
”Steal. Steal and modify. It's not "cheating" to use the experiences of others to better yourself.” (7)
It is cheating to use other people’s works to promote and benefit from. That is not acceptable.
“Steal. Steal and modify.” (8)
Stealing is not acceptable.
None needed – just put ‘coach’ before your name, or otherwise hide behind your keyboard
You need to have succeeded in the area and at the level you wish to teach others. Not just claim it. Really.
Use names to create market association, create reciprocal endorsement, and cover over copying.
Use names if they are relevant to the message.
Open book publishing – open someone else’s book and copy it. Put your name and the front, claim copyright and sell it as your own.
Publish only from your own experiences, original, truthful material worthy of being presented to others.
At any cost. No rules. No guidelines.
Only when it can be done with others interest put first and within the moral bounds of this new era.
Sell anything. If you think there is a demand, sell whatever is in demand. If there isn’t a demand, create it.
Sell only when and to whom it will benefit, without lies and exaggerations of the benefits of the product/service.
Not if but when
The only question is how long will the change take?
How long will it before internet and hard copy publishers cease to publish content by people who in my opinion are simply demonstrating their left brain knowledge or their creative imaginations. When we stop reading about how to get big arms by people who have never had them. Or how to get big and strong by people who have never been big and strong. Or how to get lean by people who have never been lean. Or the keys to athletic success by personal trainers who failed to find them for themselves? Or the promotion of products for the sake of a profit?
The key to change will be people power. I noted with interest the commentator in the highly recommend movie Food Inc. comment that the big corporations don’t change because they suddenly find morals – for the most part the change is consumer led. When enough people reject label deficient genetically-modified foods and demand organic foods instead, then the major companies find the motivation to join this consumer led trend towards healthier eating.
The Iron Game Woodstock
There were a few events that defined history and marked the beginning of a new era. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in 1989 are great examples of this. And the event known as ‘Woodstock’ is another. Here’s a description of that event:
“From August 15-18, 1969, 500000 young people from across the United States converged on Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.” (9)
Woodstock was the iconic event that heralded in people power and social change in many areas.
No-one expected these numbers to attend Woodstock. They planned for 50,000. They got 500,000!
In 21-22 June2011 – perhaps we are going to have such an event when the StrengthGuild.com annual get-together takes place. An event that triggers a longer lasting greater impact.
I am under no illusions that the change to our world and sport/fitness industry towards one of greater integrity will be quick or easy. Coning from a long line of previous life warriors, I am up for the fight. I hope that you will join us in this crusade.
It would be fitting to end with lyrics modified from a song considered to be the flag-ship song of the social change, by Bob Dylan.
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you train
And admit that the bullshit
Around you has grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be dumbed-down to the bone.
If your training to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start standing up to it
Or you'll drown in the shit
For the times they are a-changin'.
Come writers and publishers
Who bullshit with your keyboard
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't bother throwing stones
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the honest ones now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.
Come manufactures, distributors
Please heed the call
Don't stand on the platform
Don't block up the gym
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your barbell
And rattle your kettle-bell
For the times they are a-changin'.
Come internet site owners
Throughout the world
And don't criticize
That you can't understand
Your clients and customers
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The honest one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the bullshitter now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
--Modified from the Bob Dylan classic, ‘The times they are a-changing’
(6) Boyle, M., 2006, Telling lies in America, strengthcoach.com
(7) Cosgrove, A., 2006, Developing a Training Philosophy, T-mag.com, Wed, Nov 22, 2006
(8) Cosgrove, A., 2006, Developing a Training Philosophy, T-mag.com, Wed, Nov 22, 2006