Paul McKenna, Gnostic Bastard – The Power of Persuasion and the Great Hypnotic Con

Since the new year, there’s been a large poster on the bus shelter where I catch the bus to work each morning advertising Paul McKenna’s latest book, Hypnotic Gastric Band. The first time I saw this poster, bleary-eyed at 7:45 on January 7th, I misread the title looming out of the darkness at me as Gnostic Bastard. Having made this rather curious error, I’ve since had to force myself not to read it as such each subsequent morning. In order to do so, I’ve found myself staring long and hard at the hoarding, and each time with growing consternation.

The poster itself is fairly bland: a large image of McKenna’s book, with the title and subtitle (‘The New Surgery-Free Weight-Loss System’) at the top, and at the bottom, the deal-clinching information that there’s a ‘free CD and DVD’ with the book. This is the same text that appears on the book cover itself, meaning the same words appear twice on the poster. Since repetition is the most basic but often effective form of brainwashing, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some form of brainwash to make people go out and buy the book – beyond the overt premise of the poster being an advertisement and therefore designed for that explicit purpose, I mean.

The book’s cover itself is interesting. On the face of it, it looks like any other crappy mass-market self-help book. The typeface is plain and bold, clean white lines on a darker background. It says ‘empowerment’. McKenna’s face stares out of the cover. But whereas most self-help gurus wear an expression that shows tranquillity, assurance, confidence, trustworthiness, in a way that say ‘I understand your problems and your pain. I’ve been there. I’ve turned my life around and I can help you to do the same. Have faith. I’m not going to lie to you or fob you off. I’m happy with my life now, and with my help, you can be too’, McKenna’s gaze is focused on… you, of course. He’s looking into your eyes, into your very soul. It’s not a calm look of inner peace. He’s lasering straight into your brain.

You’re so engaged in eye contact with Paul that you don’t really notice that nebulous cloud of lights, a little like a cut-out-and keep magazine rendering of an astronomer’s chart, over his shoulder. It’s a little fainter than McKenna’s image and the strong text above and below.

Within this two-dimensional representation of a multi-faceted polygon, fainter still, is a pale blue sac with tubing above and below – a representation of a stomach, no less, with something resembling a belt pulled tight like a noose just above the top of the bulbous mid-section. This, of course, is a gastric band. Because you need to visualise that band, drawing tight around your intestine, restricting your capacity for food. You’re not hungry, you’re full, and if you eat any more that band will draw so tight and constrict your internal organ that you’ll die.

The image itself is curious and compelling in equal measure. On the one hand it’s quite obvious what its purpose is, there on the cover of the book. On the other, it’s rather weird. I mean, in short that it looks odd. Compositionally, representationally. A sanitised, pseudo-scientific representation of a bulging pouch of muscle in the lower reaches of the intestine in the middle of something not dissimilar from an architectural sketch of the done from The Crystal Maze. What is it saying, and precisely to whom is it speaking when it issues forth those enigmatic utterances?

The kind of people who don’t really consider what they’re consuming to the extent that they may require a gastric band are the kind of people who struggle to associate images of life-threatening obesity, enlarged organs and stupendous amounts of fat when they’re shown on television with their own ruined bodies. But this image on the cover… As I stand, waiting for my bus to arrive, music injected into my ears through my in-ear phones attached to my MP3 player, I find myself mesmerised and wondering as I’m drawn into the billboard, is the gastric band itself hypnotic?

Never mind how the ‘system’ works (note, it’s not a ‘diet’ – largely because any food intake is a diet and we’re looking specifically weight-loss diets here, but more to the point, ‘weight-loss system’ is a perfect example of pseudo-scientific meaninglessness), I find myself totally absorbed by the image. And then I remember it’s all utter bollocks. If it was as easy as all that for the people this book is aimed at to exercise mind over matter to lose weight or otherwise remain at a size that’s considered healthy by the medical profession, then there’d be no need for the book, with or without the ‘free’ CD and DVD. And while only an idiot would believe that the CD and DVD are actually ‘free’ rather than incorporated within the purchase price (CD and DVD cost pennies and the cost of producing a book that’s a mere 144 pages in length (at least in the quantity of print run this is indubitably produced in) is negligible against the RRP of £12.99 which is approximately 9p per page), equally, only a complete cretin would buy into this crap. Let’s face it, The Hypnotic Gastric Band is another way to shift responsibility from the lazy and the weak-willed: which plus-sizer wouldn’t want the results of a weight loss diet without actually dieting? When it comes to mind over matter and the power of persuasion, the only trick here is getting desperate and gullible chubbers to part with their cash. But it’s a massive market (in all senses), which probably explains why the book’s sitting comfortably in Amazon’s top 10 right now….

 

Hypnotic Gastric Band

Paul McKenna: Gnostic bastard or con artist?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Anti-Everything: A Blogger’s Dilemma

I greatly admire Kathy Acker’s writing, and I greatly admire the attitudes she espoused. I admire her writing because it’s exciting and unconventional and bursting with ideas. I admire her attitudes because she was antagonistic, awkward, challenging and non-conformist. Acceptance for Acker was extremely hard-won. I recently revisited an interview with her, in which she explained her early motivation:

“I took a lot of writing courses when I was in college… They were just torture… I reacted in this kind of this radical anti-authority stance, anti-right rules of writing. I started off by saying ‘no’ to everything. My whole identity as a writer was in saying ‘no’, in reacting. So in my first books I refused to rewrite. I wrote as fast as possible. I refused to have any consideration for proper grammar or proper syntax.”

It’s possible to react without being ‘reactionary,’ and Acker’s opposition to all things ‘establishment’, all things ‘conventional’ is something I’ve long been able to identify with. The establishment and the conventional frustrates me. The world frustrates me. I abhor the herd mentality, the misguided and broadly accepted notion that something must be good because it’s popular, the fact that so much ‘culture’ and so many ‘norms’ are simply accepted because that’s what the masses get fed by the various agents of dissemination. Our education system is flawed because it teaches people what to think, rather than how to think for themselves. Or, as Acker contended, “universities have peculiar transmission problems: they transmit stupidity.” It’s a pretty radical view, but it’s not difficult to see what she was driving at. 

As I’ve grown older, my views haven’t softened: I’ve simply found more evidence to substantiate them, and more cogent ways to articulate them. I’m frustrated at every turn, and as such, my writing, in all its forms, is writing of protest, it’s anti-something, if not absolutely anti-everything. Am I a nihilist? No, because I think that such negativity can be channelled for positive ends.

To return to a favourite analogy of mine, that of literature being the new rock ‘n’ roll, I find it irritating (you’ll probably be seeing the pattern by now) when bands plead with the audience to buy their CD at the merch stall between every song. Sure, plug it by all means, but ramming it down people’s throats is bad form. It’s overkill. It stops the set being about the music, and becomes a sales pitch. The set is an advertisement for the CD in itself. Do writers give readings and break after every page to ask the audience to please please please buy their book so they can get the bus home? Well, perhaps, but it’s rare in the extreme.

Writers do tend to be a lot less shameless by nature, to the extent that many come across as being quite apologetic. This can be similarly frustrating for audiences and people who meet them, for they seem shy, nervous or aloof. In the main, I’m no exception to this rule although I do try to speak confidently when reading in public.

This isn’t something I’ve done a great deal of. I have, so far, based a career on upping the anti, so to speak (yes, that’s wordplay, creative misprision, not a sign of limited literacy). I’ve refrained from using any mugshots on any social networking sites, and divulge very few personal details. I guard my privacy fiercely. I like to think it adds to the mystique, but it’s also a deliberate strategy. On one hand, it means my personal life remains just that, and on the other, it means I’m able to create a persona based around the invisible author. I’m the anti-author, if you like. I’ve done the anti-novel, in the form of THE PLAGIARIST, which is also a statement against originality, authorship and copyright. While producing music reviews ahead of release date, I’ve also written articles against music reviewing, and promoted the concept of retrospective reviewing as a means of combating the popular hyping processes. I’m against organised religion, I’m against CCTV and the countless infringements on personal freedoms. I’m against large corporations taking over the world and I’m against idiots cycling on the pavement. Yes, I’m pretty much anti-everything, to the extent that I’m quite averse to endlessly plugging my writing. Being anti-everything, I’m operating a strategy of anti-promotion.

After years of refusing to give public readings, I recently took a slot at an open mic night and read a couple of short stories, in the interests of (self) promotion. Only, I couldn’t bring myself to reiterate my name at the end of my performance, and I didn’t plug any of my books. Needless to say, I didn’t sell any.

Is this strategy of anti-promotion self-defeating? Perhaps. The trouble is, I get fed up of writers who post three blogs a week about their books, but never actually give anything away. Now, I have posted the odd snippet and link to my published works, but work on the premise that my blogs are separate from my fiction and other writing, and live in the hope that the blogs will pique the interest of readers sufficiently that they might feel compelled to investigate further. It works to an extent, but perhaps not as well as I would like. I’m so averse to plugging my work that many occasional readers probably won’t even realise I have books in print.

So, to redress this, for those who don’t know, I have a number of books out. Earlier this year, I edited Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts. It’s choc-full of brilliant works by some truly outstanding contemporary authors. A couple of months ago, Clinicality Press published my novella, From Destinations Set and a booklet, The Gimp. The former is conceivably one of the most progressive and innovative works of the last decade, while the latter is pure, unadulterated in your face (anti)literary filth. They’re all available from Clinicality Press at http://clinicalitypress.co.uk. Go buy ‘em.

(And yes, the title is a Mansun reference…)

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.