Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Where's Rhonda?

When people borrow or steal the ideas of others and later claim these same great ideas came miraculously to them, direct from The Universe, it makes you wonder why The Universe sent the great idea to the wrong person in the first place. Is this merely the case of misaligned universal antennae or something of a more sinister nature?
~ Anonymous wag

It has occurred to me more than once in recent months that we haven't seen much media coverage lately about
Rhonda Byrne, the famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) producer of the world's most successful New-Wage moviemercial, The Secret. In the months after the DVD's release in March 2006, Rhonda seemed to be everywhere, sporting her signature miniskirts, her yards of bling and that costume-jewel tilak* on her forehead, smiling big for the camera, and gushing giddily about how the Universe had helped her every step of the way in the creation and marketing of The Secret. Once the inevitable backlash began, however, she all but disappeared.

In the more than three years since the original DVD was spewed across the Internet, there has been a nonstop effluvium of product from Secret stars and wannabes, all claiming to reveal "the missing Secret," or tell you everything that The Secret left out, or give you the key to really making The Secret work, or take you beyond The Secret. One of the most eminently ludicrous offerings came from Secret star Bob Proctor, who recently released a product claiming to teach the eleven "forgotten" laws that The Secret left out. (In the process of promoting his product, he totally dissed The Secret, even as he wrote, "But perhaps what I'm most famous now at this point is for my appearance in The Secret.")

Significantly, however, the long-awaited
"official" sequel to The Secret has yet to be released. And Rhonda Byrne herself has, for the most part, become as elusive as Waldo.

In fact, for the past year and a half or so, virtually the only mentions of her in the news media have been pieces here and there about certain Secret-related lawsuits, most notably involving Drew Heriot, the original director and co-creator of The Secret, and Dan Hollings, Rhonda's original Web marketing strategist. Drew claims – credibly, in my opinion – to be a co-creator and therefore to have co-ownership of The Secret; you can find the details here. Dan seems merely to be trying to collect all of the money that Rhonda originally promised him, although she has claimed, among other things, that The Secret didn't make enough money to pay him. You can find those details here.

If you read Drew's and Dan's stories (and I realize you may have already done so, but I linked to them for the benefit of those who haven't), you will see a remarkable difference between their respective versions of how The Secret was created, and the "official" version as told on The Secret web site. The official fairy tale...er...account is right here. Although the Universe, and proper usage of the Law of Attraction, are given their due credit, and there is some mention of a "team," the clear implication is that Rhonda was always the main brains and creative force behind The Secret.

Some folks beg to differ.

I first wrote about the Secret legal woes here in December of 2007. (Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I was one of the very first to publicly write about the legal difficulties brewing in Secretville, and I still think that the accompanying pic was one of my finer Photoshopping efforts (and is certainly more artful than today's crude effort)). A little over a year ago the word was finally out officially about the pending lawsuits, and I blogged about it then as well, although a piece in the New York Times was what really grabbed public attention. (A few months later I blogged about the topic yet again, with another Photoshop offering that continued on the same theme as the December work.)

In the months since the story officially broke there have been numerous articles, pieces of commentary, and blog discussions about how Rhonda Byrne "attracted" all of this trouble to herself. That theme has been done to death by now, but people keep returning to it because it is so rich in irony. And last week in the Huffington Post, self-help gurus Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks wrote a thoughtful piece about what we can learn from The Secret lawsuits.

Now, setting aside the facts that (1) Gay and Kathlyn have their own New-Wage cottage industry, and don't hesitate to plug their new book in the HuffPost article; and (2) They claim to be admirers of two of my favorite snark targets, imaginary-friends-industry leaders Esther and Jerry Hicks, I think they make some valid points in their article. Some might speculate that they are suffering from sour grapes or envy because they were interviewed for The Secret but didn't make the cut, but I don't really see it that way. If their account is accurate, it appears that they didn't make it into The Secret because they displayed a little too much integrity. Or at the very least, they tried to inject a little too much reality into that whole Magic Universe Genie meme:

The interview went fine, but it was clear that Rhonda wanted to focus the interview only on the positive side of the Law of Attraction. There were two key points we wanted to make sure got into the movie, but when we tried to bring them up Rhonda steered us away from them.

Here are the key points about the Law of Attraction that didn't make it into the movie: Key point #1 is that unless you combine the Law of Attraction with impeccable integrity, you can attract a peck of troubles along with anything positive that comes your way...

...Key point #2: Using the Law of Attraction is a quick way to trigger your Upper Limit Problem, an issue I describe in detail in my new book, The Big Leap. The Upper Limit Problem is the tendency to sabotage yourself when you experience a rapid upsurge in success. If you haven't built a solid foundation of integrity under you, a rapid upturn in your fortunes can bring forth old self-esteem issues that cause you to bring yourself back down to your more familiar lower level of success...

...After the interviews, we didn't hear anything from Rhonda for a while. I began to grow more and more concerned that The Secret was not going to give "air-time" to concepts such as integrity, honesty and the keeping of agreements. Then, we heard that Esther and Jerry Hicks, two people of high integrity whom I admire very much, decided to pull out of the project. At that point Kathlyn and I lost interest in the project and began a two-year process of trying to get our footage back...

Kathyln and Gay did get their footage back and plan to make it available soon.

I think the Hendrickses really nailed it when writing about the significance of The Secret lawsuits:

On the surface, it looks like a movie business squabble, but there's a lot more to it. If it were just one movie-type trying to squeeze money out of another, it would be easy to understand. We generally don't expect much in the way of integrity from people in the movie business. A Hollywood wag once said something along the lines of "You can take all the integrity in Hollywood, put it in a gnat's eye, and still have room left over for an agent's heart."

However, most of us have higher standards for those who speak on behalf of God or purport to teach us the laws of the universe. What grips our attention about The Secret lawsuits is the same thing that compels many of us to read stories about preachers who get busted for sexual shenanigans or priests who molest children. Such events remind us of the dangers of hypocrisy and the ever-present possibility of having life turn ironical on us. When a massively successful movie about the Law of Attraction ends up attracting equally massive lawsuits, it blows the lid off the irony-meter, bringing to mind Lily Tomlin's observation that "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

One point on which I don't entirely agree with the Hendrickses is their observation that New Age scandals usually involve sex rather than money. While that arguably may be true of the stories that most frequently become public, in my experience and observation there are just as many financial shenanigans as sexual ones in the New-Wage industry. Maybe more. But the icky sexual stuff is certainly there, and not all of it does become public. (I'm sitting on a couple of potentially explosive secrets about some New-Wage gurus whom you'd never suspect of illicit and even criminal sexual dalliances...but I can't blog about that yet.)

So let's get back to The Secret lawsuits. As Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks write, "'The Secret' scandal is different, and not only because it's about a huge amount of money. At a deeper level it is about the interface of integrity and the power of manifestation, a subject that has truly life-changing consequences."

And that, of course, is what has all of the tongues wagging about how the Law of Attraction has bitten Rhonda in the butt.

So...where IS Rhonda right now?
As it happens, the question in the title of today's post is not rhetorical, and I can tell you where Rhonda has been for at least part of this week: in court. The aforementioned Drew Heriot's case against her went to a jury trial, much to the surprise of some insiders who were expecting an out-of-court settlement. That trial is now in full swing in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

So why aren't we hearing anything about it? Word has it that there seem to be no press or media at all covering the trial. If that's so, you have to wonder why. Are the media simply bored with The Secret? Or have there been concerted attempts to keep this part of the story out of the public eye? I have no idea, but you can bet that if I were in Chicago, I would be at that courthouse live-blogging nonstop. Or at least Tweeting.

Drew Heriot may have a tough hurdle to clear, especially in light of the fact that Rhonda and gang have the big bucks for top-flight attorneys. But I'm rooting for him. And I will be rooting for Dan Hollings, too, when and if his case goes to trial.

"In the meantime," say Kathlyn and Gay Henricks at the conclusion of their HuffPost article (which I'll link to again here), "let's all use the legal dramas around The Secret as a good lesson on using the Law of Attraction in the context of a focus on impeccable integrity."

Amen.

For further reading...
The complete text of the complaints against Rhonda Byrne et al. are available on Amazon:

Drew Heriot's complaint

Dan Hollings' complaint

And here is another lawsuit against a Secret "star," Marie Diamond. Sometimes Diamonds are not a girl's best friend, apparently...

*****
FOLLOW-UP: Although it's difficult to find much information at all about the outcome of this trial (I was informed privately), Drew Heriot did not prevail in this matter. There may, however, be an appeal. It remains to be seen how Dan Hollings' suit against Rhonda will go.

YET ANOTHER FOLLOW-UP, MONTHS LATER: Word has it that Rhonda & gang settled with Dan Hollings for an undisclosed amount, with a boatload of conditions, also undisclosed. Dan seems to be going on about the business of Internet marketing, and I'm following him on Twitter. Maybe you should too.

* Re tilak: Yes, that's really what it is (sometimes) called. Ironically enough, Rhonda had a brief fling with a phony guru and alleged sexual predator named Tilak. I wonder where he disappeared to?

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16 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

Interesting post Connie. Speaking of "ironical"... That any new wage hucksters talk about integrity in the same paragraph as the "Law" of Attraction has to peg the meter. It reminds me of politicians and the like who always like to say that their brand of politics is better than the other guy's or gal's.

I with you though, I wish someone was a fly on the wall blogging info on the trial. Hopefully, justice will prevail, although it is really too late for that, since all of the gullible have paid their money, and now that money is likely just going to get shuffled from one huckster to another while the lawyers are the only ones who really win in the end. Sheesh, I'm getting cynical in my old age.

Snark on!

Friday, May 15, 2009 6:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

This is a great historical account of the various legal issues Rhonda Byrne has been involved with.

I have been at the trial for two days this week Drew Heriot -v- Rhonda Byrne which will be completed today.

I will write something next week about my experience. I have also created a project in iCyte which holds the history of this case.

http://www.icyte.com/annos/list_for_project?filter[project_id]=756

I will continue to update this project with the latest information.

Friday, May 15, 2009 7:41:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Dave! Those are pretty much my thoughts re LOA, integrity, and the idea of other New-Wage gurus weighing in on Rhonda Byrne's troubles. In a sense it's a case of "pot, meet kettle," and some might argue that I am being overly kind to Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. But what stuck out for me about their story was that, according to them, they at least tried to inject a little balance into the whole magical LOA idea, but Rhonda kept steering the interview to focus on the positive stuff that she figured was more marketable.

Moreover, some of the Hendricks' ideas about integrity struck a chord, despite their framing these ideas in LOA constructs (and despite the book plug and the proprietary-sounding term, "Upper Limit problem"). In particular, the tendency to sabotage oneself when one experiences a rapid upsurge in success is an all too common phenomenon.

As for your point about justice, The Secret's success was due to a combination of timing and brilliant marketing, so from a purely free-market standpoint, there *was* justice (or maybe it would be more accurate to say that "justice" is a moot point here). From a legal standpoint, however, perhaps there still is hope that there will be justice for the people who worked so hard for Rhonda in the beginning, and helped propel her to success. Whatever you may think about The Secret -- even if you find it repugnant -- it seems that Drew Heriot worked his butt off for months to help Rhonda create this thing, and Dan Hollings later worked his off to help her market it. And if Rhonda has indeed reneged on her promises to them, as it seems to me that she has, then that needs to be rectified. And I still hold out a glimmer of hope that it will be.

Yet, like you, part of me suspects that the money is "just going to get shuffled from one huckster to another while the lawyers are the only ones who really win in the end."

To which I would add: Not just the lawyers, but the hustledorks who have gone on to trade handsomely from being "stars" of "The Secret." For despite the backlash, "The Secret" and the selfish-help movement are still going strong.

Friday, May 15, 2009 8:09:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Stephen. Duly noted! I'll add this link to my post. Keep in touch.

Friday, May 15, 2009 8:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Lana said...

By their fruits you shall know them. Generally that's true, and I'm glad to see Byrne's rotten apples on display.

I agree that the Hendricks' piece has some valid points. I guess if you claim to "speak on behalf of God or purport to teach us the laws of the universe," it's best to do so with integrity. You might be completely wrong, but at least you're honest and congruent and not trying to scam anyone. Hmmmm. (There's no pleasing me, is there?)

What a can of worms!

Saturday, May 16, 2009 9:48:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Lana. I guess I am just as difficult to please in these matters as you are. To me it was pretty clear from the beginning that The Secret was mainly about making money. While I don't doubt that Rhonda Byrne may have been truly excited about the ideas she read in, say, Wallace Wattles' book -- and those ideas may have seemed to illuminate a way out of the personal "dark night of the soul" that she had been experiencing -- I have never been able to view her primary motives as being altruistic.

I've sometimes wondered if my (and other Secret critics') perception of the greed behind The Secret franchise -- long before there was ever talk of a lawsuit -- was a reflection of our own personal flaws, as some of *our* critics have so thoughtfully suggested. I for one have always been willing to entertain this possibility, but then again, perhaps those "flaws" have allowed us to see things that the starry-eyed cannot or will not.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous disillusioned said...

Somewhere in my dark heart I can admit to a smidgeon of jealousy that Rhonda et al had the hutzpah to cast such a transparent scam onto the world---and seemingly get away with it.
This gets mitigated by the schadenfreude of Rhonda (hopefully) getting hers in the courts.
But the next Secret type scam is already loose in the world:

http://www.leapmovie.com/

and what do you know? its again featuring our favourite metaphysician, Buddha Joe.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 1:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Lana said...

My biggest criticism is that Rhonda and the LOA teachers in the film are claiming they know the laws of the universe. Just like other belief systems with masters and students, all kinds of bad stuff (including fleecing the flock) happens under the guise of "truth."

Some of the teachers may genuinely believe in the LOA and have good motives for spreading the gospel. But, as I've discussed on my blog, I've met a few of the teachers that were in The Secret, and I can say without any doubt that they're scam artists. I've also met several Abraham-Hicks students (very nice people in many ways), but the "fruit" of their beliefs can be devastating.

I think it's great when people make a lot money when they provide value. That's not what The Secret franchise provided, in my opinion.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 4:22:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

I hear ya, Disillusioned, re the jealousy thing. And yes, in the years since "The Secret" was released, there have been numerous "Secret"-style moviemercials -- not just "The Leap," but "The Opus," "The Compass," "The Meta-Secret," "Try It On Everything," "Beyond Belief"....and I'm sure there are numerous others. And before "The Secret," of course, there was "What The Bleep." Most of these works feature the same lineup of talking-head hustledorks.

As long as the creators of these moviemercials can convince themselves and a few others that there is still a market for this tripe, they will keep on churning them out. I imagine that every one of these filmmakers is striving for the level of success that "The Secret" has enjoyed, and I also imagine that few if any have even come close. But that doesn't stop them.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 4:59:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Lana, let me just say that I have no trouble whatsoever believing that the "Secret" teachers you've met have been scammers. I have a bit of inside info myself, both from personal experience and the shared experiences of others.

In my opinion, however, "The Secret" franchise *has* provided immense value -- for Rhonda, for SOME of her business partners, and, of course, for the talking heads who have milked their "stardom" (or should that be star-DUMB) in "The Secret" for all it's worth.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 5:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Lana said...

Right, I should have clarified who would be getting the "value" :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009 5:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how much money do these people actually get from, sya, an appearance in the secret film?

Saturday, May 16, 2009 6:18:00 PM  
Anonymous DW said...

I think most of the people in THE SECRET MOVIE are an absolute bunch of losers. They seem like they are money hungry bastards out for all they can get and yes the movie was a massive marketing exercise but in the end those in it lost the most, their credibility!

Sunday, May 17, 2009 6:22:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 6:18 PM: Various stars of The Secret have said they were not paid a cent (at least not directly) for their interviews and appearance in the film. I am sure this was technically true, and of course the lack of direct payment gave them an opportunity to say they were just doing it for the greater good, and because they believed so passionately in Rhonda Byrne's message, etc.

Uh-huh.

Nevertheless it goes without saying that they benefited immensely from their appearance in the mega-bestselling "film" (Hmmm...I almost wrote "flim," as in "flim-flam"). It was free publicity, after all. And they were able to use their Secret "stardom" as a marketing tool, giving them a leg up on the competition selling similar products. After all, not just any hustledork or 'dorkess could claim to have been in The Secret.

Some of The Secret's talking heads who had been relatively obscure shot to fame almost overnight as a result of their appearance in the work. Some who were already well known became even better known. So even if Rhonda didn't pay them directly, they cleaned up anyway. (I'm also sure that they were the only ones who made any real money with any Secret affiliate/MLM schemes.)

So in answer to your question, it's impossible for me to say how much any given Secret star earned and continues to earn as a result of involvement in the franchise. But you can bet that for quite a few of them, the earnings have been significant.

As you may know, there was one notable exception to the "we didn't do it for pay" scenario. Originally, Rhonda did have an agreement with Esther and Jerry Hicks and their imaginary-bud posse Abraham; Abe-Hicks were to receive a rather generous percentage of any profits. At the time that deal was struck, though, no one had any idea how successful the project would turn out to be. Apparently Rhonda changed her mind when The Secret took off like gangbusters, and she tried to get Hicks et al. to sign away significant intellectual-property rights, which they weren't at all comfortable relinquishing. So she knocked them out of the project and re-released The Secret, sans Abe-Hicks, substituting a couple of smaller-time talking heads. Before that happened, however, Esther, Jerry and Abe did get an impressive chunk of change for their efforts in the original DVD.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, DW. I'm of two minds about whether the "stars" of The Secret are losers. I guess it all depends upon how one defines "losers," and I always try to be careful in this area myself, lest my snarking come across as mere sour-grapes whining (or too heavy a dose of that schadenfreude that Disillusioned mentioned).

On the surface, many if not most of my snark targets are living the successful lives we've all been conditioned to want. They certainly do their part to keep us wanting their level of material success, and, more importantly, to keep us believing it is possible if only we buy their products or go to their workshops. They dangle those glowing images of Rolls-Royces, mansions, and vacations in paradise to make people want to buy their crap.

True success, of course, must also be measured by intangibles such as happiness. And I am not under the delusion that people can't be rich and happy at the same time. I know that simply is not true. Some of these folks may be genuinely happy, though I suspect that many if not most of them have left quite a bit of "collateral damage" on their road to success. Whether we're talking about shady business dealings, or discarded spouses and sometimes entire families left behind to wallow in misery, some of these people's stories are not pretty.

Even so, I don't begrudge them success, wealth, happiness or any other good things. However, as implied above, I do believe some of them have achieved some or all of their wealth and "happiness" at the expense of others, and that's just plain wrong. So from a moral standpoint, perhaps they are indeed "losers."

As for the question of credibility, I honestly don't think they care if they have credibility in the conventional world, as long as they keep raking in the dough. Obviously they are credible enough to the types of people who are willing to fork over for what they have to offer.

In the long run, who knows how it will go? There may be a major backlash, and it may actually become trendy and even profitable to be a snarky little thang like moi. But I'm not holding my breath, LOL. Meanwhile, I'll keep doing what I'm doing, and maybe take a few lessons in how to make some bucks from this myself -- WITHOUT scamming anyone.

Anyway... I didn't mean to get off on a tangent. I do thank you for your comments and support.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Continuing some of the thoughts in my previous comment, as well as other comments I've made re "value"... (And I ask y'all to forgive me if I'm just (re)stating the obvious.)

From where I sit, it looks as if there are more than enough people who genuinely believe in the value of New-Wage books, workshops, etc. to keep the industry afloat for some time to come. As I've also discussed here before, I am aware that "value" is often subjective, and one person's snark target may be another person's treasure. Even if a New-Wage book, movie or workshop seems ludicrous to me, and doesn't effect an outwardly measurable improvement in the life of someone who buys it, if it makes that person feel better for the moment, or gets them over a hump and on the way out of a rut, you might say it has some value for them.

However, it seems to me that some people just continue floating down the New-Wage consumer stream because they think it's somehow the right thing to do, or because it helps them convince themselves and/or their loved ones that they're trying to improve their lives, or simply because they have vague notions that their investments will pay off in some way for them. All of this is, naturally, good news for the sellers.

I also can't help thinking of the countless New-Wage dilettantes who glom onto the most successful hustledorks, in hopes that they too will enjoy similar success someday. How many of them really make it?

Regarding those dilettantes, one comment stuck out for me on one of Joe Vitale's recent blog posts. This was his post about Dr. David Hawkins of "Map of Consciousness"/Hawkins Scale fame (which I snarked about recently). The commenter wrote:

"Thanks for all the books you recommend with my schedule, I don’ always get to put my 'feelers' out on what books are out there...I think its key at least for myself for my continued evolution, to read, attend workshops or seminars, not because I don’t know any of this stuff but to keep me on pointed in the direction of what I want."

[Here's the link to the full comment]
http://blog.mrfire.com/health/wheres-the-stress/#comment-61818

I read the bio of the person writing that comment...
http://echosofspirit.com/RevTrish.aspx

It looks like Reverend Trish is into a number of New-Wagey things herself, including the "Bars" of the infamous Access Energy Transfer scam, which I've snarked about numerous times here on my Whirled. The point is that she believes her continued purchase of books and other products, and her attendance at New-Wage seminars (she recently volunteered at Louise Hay's "I Can Do It" Gullibalooza in Las Vegas) are essential to her "evolution."

And while some may argue that I have no right to dispute Trish's assessment -- after all, it's *her* "evolution," not mine -- I think it's also worthy of note that the cleverest New-Wage marketeers peddle their stuff as an "investment" rather than a mere purchase. They want -- no they NEED -- for you to believe that buying their stuff in perpetuity will advance you spiritually, physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, and in every other way it is possible to advance.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 1:19:00 PM  

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