If you know anything at all about the disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, then I don’t know anything more than you do.
Even though I’ve watched a documentary about her twice and a fictional series about her once.
Even though I’ve listened to—often as dozing background blather, while I sleep—many hours of Holmes’ depositions, from 2017.
And even though I read the excellent New York Times profile of her last Sunday, titled, “Liz Holmes Wants You to Forget About Elizabeth.”
I’m fascinated by her, but I’ve concluded that she’s unknowable, even to herself.
But do you know who does know all about Elizabeth Holmes? Four of the smuggest, most self-assured people in a profession where smug self-assurance is the main card in the deck. For almost two hours, “The Behavior Panel,” self-described as “four of the world’s top body language and behavior experts,” blow gas through YouTube, apparently un-self-conscious about the rhetorical optics of four smirking middle-aged guys overwhelming a defenseless young woman (even this defenseless young woman).
Not that it’s not mildly compelling to listen to, at least for the first hour. These fellas have devoted the whole of their considerable intellects to the the tiny subject of body language, and know their backyard well. And boy, are they good talkers! I wonder if there’s a body language expert who could analyze the body language of body language experts.
But I’m not sure why they need four of these guys, because in a 110-minute windbag hurricane, not one of these mad pseudoscientists disagrees with any of the others, even once. Maybe, because they seem to use most of their body-language skills appearing to be interested while the other guys are talking!
The reason these dudes don’t add anything significant to the study of Elizabeth Holmes (or anyone else) is that the things they criticize her for are not primary faults. For instance, Holmes didn’t run a phony company for 10 years because she likes to manipulate people with a low voice and heavy eye contact. She used those tools (and certainly so many others) to get by for 10 years, for another reason, which is actually what we’re looking for here.
Holmes’s traits, and even her brand of madness itself are symptoms of things that these guys know and care nothing about, despite their tendency to toss the “psychopathy” label around like a one-star Yelp review. One of them authoritatively pulls out the DSM-5 book of mental disorders that he seems to keep handy just for such occasions. Talk about manipulative.
Also? Many of the manipulative communication skills they identify Elizabeth Holmes, they would also have admired in Winston Churchill or Oprah Winfrey. I mean, they criticize Holmes for telling a story, and making herself its hero.
Clearly I’m pretty lonely in my blanket dismissal of the Fatuous Four. Many of their posts garner millions of views. Apparently people like to watch this crew go after Meghan and Harry, Amanda Knox, George Santos, Alex Murdaugh, Elon Musk, ad infinitum.
But it’s a bit of a parlor trick, is it not? Their targets are fish in a barrel: known or accused liars and manipulators. Whose disingenuous tendencies are they going to alert us to next—Goebbels?
If these guys are so good, let’s see them, just once, do something useful for society: Identify someone with a sterling reputation, call them out as a creep based on all this science of theirs and predict their downfall as a proper warning to fans, voters and investors. A show about Tiger Woods in 2007 would have been handy. An Eliot Spitzer takedown, in 2009. An analysis of Jeffry Epstein, in 2018.
Or a warning about Elizabeth Holmes, in 2014.
But to gang up like this now, in order to sell your questionably valuable expertise? How can these guys and their fans not sense how shitty this looks? I sent this video to a communication coach I actually do respect, and suggested she have a look.
Her immediate reply: “Do I have to?”