THE SECRET

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Every generation gets the pyramid scheme it deserves, and ours begins and ends with The Secret, a self-help phenomenon that differs little from previous philosophies of positive thinking, except that it uses the veneer of “science” to elevate it beyond the obvious quackery. Like its brother-in-arms What the Bleep Do We Know?, a New Age hallucination that took theaters (and soft minds) by storm a few years back, The Secret peppers its otherwise banal pronouncements (“Be the change!”) with distortions of quantum physics and natural law, which, for all of their so-called respectability, are quickly becoming the new mantras of the fringe holy-roller set; acceptable symbols for folks who stopped chanting and ingesting peyote about the time they hung up their beads and flowing robes. If it’s science – or can be labeled as such – then it can’t be classified as religion, which is a brilliant marketing strategy to suck in those still a bit cynical about church or Biblical accounts. It’s a way to feel sane and rational; to separate oneself from fainting spells, speaking in tongues, and fanatical organ music, while still securing aid and comfort in an otherwise confusing world. Nevertheless, despite having no official sect or well-dressed leader, The Secret is a mindless cult as harmful and destructive as any mainstream spiritual pursuit – perhaps more so, for it comes dressed as religion’s heartwarming opposite.

First, no philosophy, even one so seemingly benign and “instructive,” could ever hope to pass the smell test when its primary advocates are people with titles such as “Visionary,” “Philosopher,” and “Metaphysician.” It’s a dead giveaway as to the efficacy of a belief system when its most fervent champions are those who secured their positions either from online universities, or had them “bestowed” upon their persons in moonlit ceremonies involving chanting, laying of hands, and at least one person beating a drum. Not a single reputable individual – you know, someone with an actual education or degree – speaks in this movie, other than the creepy feng shui consultants and “authors” (is this ever allowable for the strict self-publishing set?) who always seem on the verge of leaping from their chairs and attacking the camera. Take Joe Vitale, for example; a man who simply must be Dick’s brother, for not only does he look strikingly similar, he also has that wide-eyed madness that could only come from a lifetime’s devotion to something that requires always remaining at the top of one’s voice. Still, their passion is obvious, and who on earth am I to dispute the man who conceived of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books? And as the introduction informs me, this “secret” was how Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Plato, Beethoven, and Ralph Waldo Emerson lived their lives. More than that, the secret is so important and powerful that until just now – right in time for this book and DVD bonanza – bad men in smoke-filled rooms have been keeping it from the general public! What else do I need to know?

Well, the actual philosophy, for starters. In sum, the secret is the “law of attraction” – nothing more, nothing less. Put another way, “thoughts become things,” or, “when you visualize, you materialize.” Yes, it’s good, old-fashioned positive thinking, but if were simply that, the movement would fade away into irrelevance. It will certainly do that anyway (most cults, outside of the big daddies like Islam and Christianity, seem to have brief shelf lives), but immediate opposition is still required, as this worldview threatens to throw the very concept of science into disarray. According to this idea, we alone are responsible for each and every thing that happens to us, not because of the actions we take, but the thoughts and energy we project. If we want money, we need only to see it in our minds, send the thoughts from our brains, and it will come to us (as one man seems to imply, in envelopes, apparently with no apparent source). Hold on to the thoughts we want, and we can become rich, powerful, and surrounded by happiness and love. The frequencies we emit flow out into the universe and – stay with me on this one – the universe rearranges itself to suit our thoughts. Magnetic signals actually affect reality, conforming the world to what we want to happen in our very lives. The film proves this by showing a man – unshaven and alone – in a recliner, visualizing himself driving a nice car. He even shifts and accelerates as if on the road to glory. The mind is so confused that it believes it has driven this car, and the man is but one step from actually possessing the fine machine. If he is in debt, has no job, and couldn’t get a line of credit if his life depended on it, no matter, for the only blame lies in his “negative focus” on these crushing realities. If he said to himself, “I am going to have this car,” rather than, “I’d like to have this car, but owe the IRS $680,000,” it would be in his garage as we speak. When will fools ever learn?

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It is curious indeed that reality has no place in the Secret World, but then again, reality is what you believe it to be, not what it actually is. But what it “is” is only what you believe it to be, so, uh, you can see where this leads. If you’re fat, it’s not because you eat too much or exercise too little; you have only the image of the fat body in your mind to blame. It’s an excuse I’ll use, believe me. The film again proves what it preaches with the re-enactment of a gay man’s tale; a poor sap who is teased, bullied at work, and attacked by soda-wielding toughs on the street, but only because he focused on being harassed. Once he decided to think happy thoughts – and still be gay, I imagine – the evil co-workers either quit or were transferred, and the street urchins disappeared, I’m guessing to kill the homeless dude down the block who hadn’t yet rented this DVD. And so it would seem that if everyone in a neighborhood experiencing high crime took the secret to heart and lived its principles, all drug traffic, violence, and loitering would move somewhere else. If enough people believed it, then, trouble would have to go to another city. More people, shit done left the state, and on and on and on. Good vibes, then, kill crime. I expect a major political party to adopt this plank sometime in the next decade.

What the film doesn’t answer, however, is how the universe is to re-arrange itself if two people send their thoughts to the realm of the rainbows that are in direct conflict with each other. If I, for example, pictured the hot blond in the tube top massaging my joint every single day for a year – visualizing with lotion and tissue handy, just in case – would I eventually acquire her services, even if her thoughts contained images of my arrest, or even violent death? Who wins? I’m certain I can outthink a blond, but maybe she’s more dedicated to the cause. This shit is “scientifically proven” (the chiropractor said so, didn’t he?), so surely there must be a hierarchy of frequencies milling about in our galaxy. The gallery of clerics do say that since positive thoughts are thousands of times more powerful than negative ones, it is imperative that good feelings define your day, so I’m guessing they would argue that I’m a bit too pessimistic to have my fantasies win out over the blond’s disgust. But if positive thoughts actually possess more power, how does so much suffering exist in the world? Is it actually being argued that if the trains to Auschwitz had featured a conga line or spontaneous outburst of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” they would have ground to a halt, the doors unlatched, and the Holocaust completely interrupted? It’s quite telling that The Secret never considers such historical events, or anything even remotely dark in its implications.

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While there are dozens of holes, flaws, and inconsistencies in The Secret (to say nothing of the distracting backdrops and painfully inept re-enactments), it is the refusal to discuss using this “power” for evil that truly offends. Not that I believe in literal “evil,” mind you, but what about those who visualize 6-year-old boys in their showers, or psychotic loners who seek to “attract” hookers to their basements, so as to dismember their corpses? No, apparently anyone tapping into the secret seeks only a better job, bigger paycheck, nicer house, or fancier car. Fine, occasionally, someone wants a healthier body, but for the most part, these are the same materialistic desires offered as “just” rewards for every other self-help school. If, as someone says, “the universe will correspond to the nature of your song,” is this to say that our world – even if we don’t worship a god in the conventional sense – is geared toward giving us stuff? Again, though, what about the undeniable fact that most of the world lives in depressing poverty? Without literacy or DVD players, they obviously can’t learn of The Secret, but I would gather that their real problem lies in the fact that they are poor because that is all that they see. If, instead of hunting for food at night, or fighting off the flies, disease, and industrial waste that seep into their hovels, they envisioned swimming pools and catered lunches, they might eventually leave the ghetto and join the country club set for a few rounds of golf. Indeed, this is conservatism writ large: Everyone gets exactly what they deserve, and what good is it to help the poor and homeless when all they need is a bit of pluck and unwavering belief?

So remember the process: ask, believe, and then receive. Not only is it that simple, it’s available to all for the price of an evening’s excruciating pain in front of a television set. Next, set up a “vision board,” wherein you cut out pictures from magazines as inspiration for what you expect to have in a short amount of time. Sure, you could be obvious – like the examples in this movie – and choose images of watches, furs, and diamonds, but I’d like a single shot for my board: me, unshowered and pajama-clad, sitting on the couch, eating chips and watching all the DVDs I’ve purchased with the mysterious bags of money that keep being dropped on my doorstep. It differs little from my current existence, absent the cash, so it’s eminently achievable. Funny how no such people seem to embrace The Secret, and to a man, woman, and guru, they all find a way to earn their bread peddling ways to live as they do. In other words, the secret seems to be: take the obvious, dress it up with a few fancy terms, bribe a few disreputable (but important-sounding) “experts” to offer their wisdom, and sell it as a new way to live life to its fullest. Better yet, get Oprah Winfrey to do a show about it, then watch your sales explode, thereby confirming capitalism’s creed that what sells is what’s important, and you can rest knowing that your job is complete. Money’s made, sheep have been lulled to sleep, and all is well. But be grateful, as gratitude (in the form of a “gratitude rock,” if possible) has the power to cure hepatitis in a dying African boy. It can also send cancer screaming from the body, or take a paralyzed man and make him walk by Christmas; simply by believing. Duly noted, my good man. Ah, but what’s that in my mind’s eye? My brain, penetrated by a high-caliber bullet? Self-inflicted, is it? I see it, so it must be so.

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About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52