It began, for me, with the promise of a parking space.
Not possible, I thought. Especially in LA -- where hundreds of time-crunched, often hostile drivers compete for the same single space at any given moment -- there was no way that a mail-order DVD could teach me how to tap into the enormous power of the Universe to guarantee a spot.
That was before I knew The Secret.
Introduced in mid-2006 to a small circle of true believers with a quiet online and word-of-mouth campaign, since the start of 2007, The Secret has evolved into one of the hottest self-help phenomenon of the past 20 years. In addition to the DVD, the brand now includes a best-selling book, soundtrack, seminar series, and "Powerful Intentions" social interaction Web community, among other useful extras.
The Secret's "secret," for those who have somehow managed to avoid it, is an exercise in pseudo-scientific lingo and good ol' fashioned positive thinking. The DVD asserts that one can actually manipulate objective physical reality via the Law of Attraction, essentially creating his or her own reality by radiating good-vibe signals through the Universe. You can influence the numbers in the Super Lotto, The Secret tells us, or the actions of some hot guy who's caught your eye, if only you "ask and believe."
I've long been intrigued by this kind of mindset, though my interest lies less in New Age spirituality than short horror fiction. One of my favorite Stephen King stories, for example, "The Boogeyman," suggests that people can be killed by the creations of their own minds. Where The Secret differs, however, is that it claims to incorporate scientific facts as well as psychological theories.
It's an odd mix, to be sure, not readily accepted by most members of the mainstream scientific community. But among those looking to make significant life changes – from dropping a dress size to finding a new, extremely high-paying job – The Secret has been embraced. Produced in Australia by Prime Time Productions, the DVD caters to the current fascinations of the American public in every way: Dramatizations are set in underground, sconce-filled rooms, dimly lit caverns where stacks of hand-bound, parchment volumes are poured over by robe-clad Great Men of Yore. In whispered voices, these men passed along a secret message too powerful for lay folks' ears to hear … at least until Larry King decided they could, last November. Also on the DVD are interviews with 24 present-day teachers, motivational speakers, and spiritual leaders, each commenting on how mastering The Secret can truly change lives. But these aren't just everyday talking heads. They are talking heads with titles such as "visionary" and "philosopher." And while you might be able to discount a self-help lesson from some random corporate-training instructor, or even someone who's written a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, pooh-pooh-ing the words of a bona fide visionary is just bad form. (That was a brilliant marketing move in itself, akin to rebranding the Patagonian Toothfish as Chilean Sea Bass.)
Though the DVD (and convenient download option, also available) has been advertised by banner and link on empathetic Web sites, it was The Secret's fervent viral effort that within months escalated it to the top of Amazon's DVD-sales roster; by February 2007, it has sold more than 1.5 million copies.
"A film like this works much better when people hand it off from person to person," says The Secret president Bob Rainone, in an interview with Chicago Tribune reporter Joann Klimkiewicz.
That's proven to be true, and part of the reason The Secret as a company supports Tupperware-style, free public screenings at dinner parties and New Age bookstores and churches. Got a group of friends who need new BMWs? Just submit an online inquiry, and a DVD will be sent to your venue of choice. (Extra copies can be provided for sale at said venue, the Web site notes.)
One of The Secret's original contributors, inspirational speaker Esther Hicks, discontinued her participation with the company after the initial release of the DVD, writing in an online "letter to friends" that though there was "nothing wrong with it" she was "uncomfortable" with what felt "like a rather aggressive marketing campaign."
Others, though, have jumped on The Secret bandwagon. The brand's rising popularity has spawned a network of "Law of Attraction insiders," for example, those who attempt to prevent pain and misery to people who mishandle their new-found power. And an outfit called Universe of Power created a Web site, course, and online chat room meant to help The Secret enthusiasts "get past negativity" from critics and skeptics, bad vibes which could severely hinder the Universe's ability to provide.
"Finally, there's someone out there to show me exactly how to apply The Secret," a Universe of Power supporter wrote on the company's Web site. And in as little as 15-30 minutes a day! (The program, by the way, is available "in four easy installments" totaling $197; that includes three "powerful bonuses," as well. And yes, they do use the words, "But that's not all.") Of course, the ultimate marketing coup came on February 8, when Oprah once and for all let The Secret of the bag by featuring it on her show. Since then, The Secret blog has not been updated … fortunately, however, The Secret's virtual Superstore is still open for business 24/7.
Only time will tell if The Secret is destined to be buried for another millennium, or if we as a society are finally enlightened enough to let it stick around, guiding our spiritual lives and Lotto-playing techniques. What I know for a fact is, now everyone in LA knows my little "harnessing the powers of Universe and the Law of Attraction" parking space trick. So secret or not, it's back to time-crunched, aggressive driving for me.