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The Financial Gospel

Rapture Blister Burn

Becky Shaw

A studio audience sits in anticipation waiting for the next guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She arrives, in a cheetah print power-suit, gaudy expensive jewelry, and immaculately styled hair. It’s none other than self-made financial adviser Suze Orman. The show “Suze Orman’s Healing Advice” takes the private financial situations of audience members and publicly shames their financial decisions. Audiences are captivated by Orman’s commonsense financial advice, and are drawn to feeling emotionally fulfilled by financial planning.

A single mother of 3 whose home is in foreclosure bravely volunteers to ask Suze advice. Suze’s words of wisdom echo through the studio: “You are going to take every penny you make and you are going to spend it on [the children],” begins Orman. “You are not going to deny one thing for them, you’re going to put money away for their college education while you will not have any money in retirement,” she says with a smile. “You won’t have an emergency fund, so if you want to help your children, I am asking you to put the financial oxygen mask on your face first, before theirs. Can you see this as a blessing?” Orman speaks, her gaze locked on the single mother.

The studio audience claps, some cheer, Oprah wipes the tears from her eyes. “Wow, I want to cry…,” says Oprah. “I just felt a healing take place there.”

Can You Forgive Her? features two women with different ideas about how to get out of debt. Miranda, a young woman racked with student debt, chooses to use men as a way towards financial security. Single mother Tanya is attracted to the allure of a financial guru, this time with fictional self-made adviser Marcy Snyder.

Many celebrity financial advisers’ audience base is primarily women who do not have financial planning skills. In the book Pound Foolish, author Helaine Olen comments on Orman’s financial advice style: “her formula appeals to people whose eyes would normally glaze over when financial concepts are discussed, not those already in the know. This is personal finance as selfaffirmation.” Orman claims to shorten the gender gap between men, women, and financial security claiming that, “Women fake orgasms, men fake finances.” Her frank delivery of self-made financial advice is what draws her readers into attending speaking engagements (where she asks for $80,000 an appearance) or purchasing one of her many books.

Suze Orman

Orman is not the only financial guru under scrutiny; similar advisers such as Dave Bach and Jean Chatzky both use their commonsense advice to make a profit off of struggling Americans. Dave Bach has made appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for his book series Finish Rich. Bach is known for his revolutionary “latte factor,” promising viewers that if they invest the money spend on Starbucks lattes, they could save enough for an emergency fund. Simple, right? Olen disputes the ideology, saying, “It didn’t work mathematically. It didn’t work in terms of what we were actually spending our money on. The latte factor was the financial equivalent of Miller beer — it tasted great, but was less filling.”

Jean Chatzky holds a similar philosophy, claiming that there was no difference between the average person and Mark Zuckerburg, despite Zuckerburg’s privileged upbringing and the fact that when her book was published in 2008, the unemployment rate was at 15%. Chatzky, in turn, profited through her own line of products including the Jean Chatzky Cash Tracker and the Jean Chatzky Monthly Budget Kit, as well leather planners, totes, and laptop bags, ranging from $40-$80.

What these three financial gurus have in common is their ability to profit off of their financial advice through books, apps, appearances, and merchandise. “There’s something not quite right about someone whose riches came from our woes, lecturing the rest of us on our inability to manage our funds,” comments Helaine Olen in her book. How can these three advisors profit off of commonsense non-specific advice when the reality of many Americans’ financial situations is highly situational and individual?

What causes people, specifically women, to seek out financial self-help books? How is it that financial advisers like Suze Orman, Dave Bach, and Jean Chatzky are able to profit from those seeking financial help and stability? 

Are these books dangerous tools for destruction, or actually empowering lessons on financial independence? While these advisers are controversial, they fill what has become a necessary void in contemporary debt culture. In Can You Forgive Her?, both women follow their instincts, creating a gospel of their opinions on financial stability.

-  PHAEDRA SCOTT


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South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA: 527 Tremont Street, Boston MA 02116
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