My bizarre Amway experience, 25 years ago

In my ridiculous youth, I was recruited by an Amway distributor in a mall bookstore I was working at in 1992, a cold approach, very deft: “You don’t want to work here for the rest of your life, do you?” Hells no!

I took the bait and was totally serious about succeeding the “American Way” for most of a year. My bullshit detector failed me again and again throughout this process, until the end. My main concern was the churchy vibe to the meetings, but my “upline” reassured me many times that “religion is optional here.”

But it all blew up when we went to Seattle for one of their giant, surreal rallies and my girlfriend and I got a massive overdose of early Trumpism/MAGA.

No one can ever quite believe my stories of how extreme that event was: although it started out as merely a nauseating celebration of gross wealth and shallow consumerism,1 it progressed into a religious right freakshow, a stadiumfull of shrieking fundies drunk on hatred for socialists, faggots, and atheists. We cringed through wild applause and shrieking for every insane talking point until about one in the morning, escalating steadily until the keynote speaker issued a thinly veiled call for violent revolution and the assassination of then-president Clinton.

The people we came with gave us a lot of long searching looks, expressions that said, “Do you get it now? Are you with us? Or against us?” My girlfriend and I got it alright! We fled the hotel in the middle of the night. We were right spooked, a couple of liberal kids way behind enemy lines.

Days later our upline sponsor came calling, hoping to fix things up, and we sent him packing with strong warnings to never contact us again. We had been his star pupils, his best hope of advancing up the pyramid scheme. We watched him weeping in his car before driving away.

Not all of Amway is like this: it’s an empire with several major subcultures, entrepreneurial sects, business within businesses within businesses, surprisingly isolated from each other.

Incredibly, it wasn’t for another couple years that I actually understood the nature of the fraud at the core of Amway. So young and naive! All multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses are scams, full stop.

  1. Things got more political and radical as the night went on, but for many hours in the afternoon and early evening, the event was dedicated to success stories: showcasing the lifestyles and couples that had “gone diamond,” the dizzying pinnacle of success that Amway distributors dream of reaching. They were all disgusting, a bizarro world blend of fanatical capitalism and consumerism with Christian proselytizing. There were at least a half dozen of these (it dragged on and on and on). The wife spoke first every time, and explained how she had to submit to her lord and husband to make the business work. And then the husband would get up and explain how he couldn’t have done it without submitting to Jesus and God. ↩︎