Wake up and smell the controversy (it’s been brewing for months)
In response to increasing criticism of The Secret, pep talks to reassure the faithful are popping up all over the blogosphere. Some of these writers seem to be treating the censure as if it were a recent phenomenon. What they either don’t realize or aren’t acknowledging is that criticism of The Secret has been going on for some time. It is not, as some defenders have claimed, "a sudden controversy." The critics are not just now "climbing out of the woodwork" or "flying out of their dark hiding places," as other defenders have said.
For example, Steve Salerno, author of SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, has been blogging about The Secret (and its hype-y marketing) since the beginning of last year. I may have mentioned it a time or two on my blog as well, beginning with this post from August 12 of last year. In more mainstream media, Time Magazine published a critical piece just after Christmas last year. And if you look at the discussions on public forums such as Amazon’s discussion boards you will see, among the oceans of glowing praise, some islands of sharp criticism from viewers of the DVD and readers of the companion book.
Granted, some critics such as Skeptico have only just recently deigned to write about The Secret, and since his blog is more geared towards science and critical thinking than mere pop-culture commentary, I can’t say I blame him for putting it off. But I have a feeling he and his regular contributors will soon be making up for lost time. (BTW, nearly two years ago Skeptico also posted an article about What The Bleep Do We Know?!? His article has some good links to information from real scientists, explaining why What The Bleep?!? is at best a ludicrous misrepresentation of quantum physics. (At worst, as many critics have noted, it is an outrageous infomercial for "channeling" superstar JZ Knight and her imaginary friend Ramtha.))
In short, there have been rumbles of discontent about The Secret, and some of the related New-Wage topics, since long before Rhonda Byrne’s cash cow was featured on Oprah. Oprah just brought the phenomenon a bit more into the mainstream. True, there did seem to be a honeymoon period in which The Secret received nothing but uncritical coverage from the mainstream media, if it received any attention at all. (The two-part Larry King Secret/What The Bleep showcase last November is a case in point.) But the critics have been around since day one. Nowadays there are just more of them, and they’re popping up increasingly in the mainstream media.
For the record, I don’t think The Secret is dangerous or that it should be censored. I know that such an idea enhances The Secret’s image as forbidden knowledge that ‘they’ want to keep from you, but I have no desire to keep any kind of knowledge, beneficial or not, a secret from anyone. And from what I’ve seen, the desire to keep humankind ignorant does not seem to be the motivating factor behind most of the criticisms of The Secret that I’ve seen. I’d say quite the opposite is true, in most cases.
Moreover, I don’t have a religious agenda, though some who criticize The Secret (at least some of those on the Amazon discussion boards) obviously do. I’m not affiliated with any church or faith that believes The Secret is sinful and that people who believe in it will go to Hell. Nor am I anti-spiritual or anti-success; where this blog is concerned, my only mission in those areas is to make fun of trends in pop spirituality and business geekdom.
Furthermore, I’m not a therapist who’s afraid The Secret will make people so happy and well-adjusted they won’t need therapists any more. Nor, for that matter, am I a therapist who is genuinely concerned that some rather unbalanced folks are being harmed by some of the ideas in The Secret. I’m not any kind of therapist at all, though over the years a few folks have suggested, perhaps with some justification, that I need therapy.
It should also be obvious that I’m not selling a New-Wage product or service that competes with anything or anyone in The Secret. I’m not dissing The Secret to get traffic to my blog, as one Secret defender claimed another critic is doing. It doesn’t benefit me financially for people to visit my blog, since being a "self-appointed monitor of human interests," as one of my critics called me, or a smarty-pants, as I call myself, is not what I do for a living.
And believe it or not, I don’t get any particular pleasure out of raining on people’s joy.
It doesn’t even bother me that so many people find the ideas in The Secret appealing. I find many of those ideas appealing too. That doesn’t mean I can accept them, however. And I do think that more people need to take a critical look at The Secret – not just at the actual material, but also at the machinations behind The Secret franchise. Perhaps fans should spend more time examining the possible motives of its producers and stars, and less time pointing fingers at the possible motives of its critics.
And this brings me to the numerous charges leveled against my character by Secret defenders: e.g., that I am negative, weak, ignorant, fearful, unhappy, envious, hateful, self-hating, hostile, rude, and worse – judgments that they reached solely from reading my blog posts about The Secret. It seems to comfort some of them to believe that harsh criticisms of The Secret are merely a result of the critics' own inadequacies, or what the The Secret's fans have deemed those inadequacies to be.
Some have imagined more dastardly factors than an unbalanced personality behind my Secret-baiting. One person said I was a hate-monger, concluding the message with, "Lady, I can smell your kind of rat from a mile away."
Which probably tells you a lot more about that writer than it does about me.
But here's something very curious: As The Secret controversy grows more intense, I find I am actually beginning to get bored with this subject. I mean, I’m even beginning to bore myself, and I am one of the least easily bored people I know (or the most easily amused). I won’t promise that this is my last word on The Secret. It’s just too tempting a target. But there are so many other things in this crazy Whirled that are just begging for my attention. I need to return to them for a while.
But I’ll still be watching.