Americans, known for their grip on many consumer industries, are all about self-help. Whether it comes in the form of tapes, books, or online programs, Americans are willing to spend hard earned money on bettering themselves. A rise in self-help popularity occurred in the 1990s, and we find ourselves in the midst of another increase right now. According to an article from healthyway.com, there was a 15% increase in self-help books alone in 2015, despite the steadily decreasing popularity for print books. This article also notes that with this increasing popularity, it’s no surprise the self-help industry is nearly a $10 billion business, with women making up 70% of that market!
Self-help, however, isn’t a new soft spot for Americans. It was prevalent in the nineteenth century, though the industry didn’t have as much of a grip on the market as it does today, likely because of our modern reliance on consumerism. But, this is something that Mark Twain satirizes in his great- American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884. Twain, through the characters of the King and the Duke, comments on and critiques the American need for constant “improvement” of the self. Even in the nineteenth century, the King and Duke are able to manipulate people through the American desire for self-improvement (which stems from the American dream). They scam people through “cultured” events like a false Shakespearian play production, drawing in individuals who seek to improve themselves through high-art and are willing to spend money on something with the promise of leaving a more “cultured” individual.
Self-help, it seems, has always been a lucrative business, especially in America. Today, the desire for constant self-improvement can be found almost anywhere with the bombardment of advertisements and all-encompassing grasp of the media. Tendrils of the self-help movement can be seen in the cosmetics, fashion, fitness, and lifestyle improvement industries. All of these different industries offer products, procedures, or lifestyle changes that, for a price, promise to make you a better person with a better life. It seems that the King and the Duke were on to something when they preyed on this desire in American human nature, conning people out of their money by promising them self-improvement.
The article from healthyway.com (published on 7 October 2017) also talks about why women are the general focus of the self-help industry. Here’s a link to the insightful page if you’re interested in further reading about this topic.