Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Some secrets behind The Secret?

Sometimes you have to do some reading between the lines to figure out what’s really going on, particularly in the New-Wage world, with its flowery love-and-light talk and its penchant for euphemisms. You particularly have to be a between-the-lines reader if you’re like me and don’t have access to Ascended Masters and their ilk to clue you in about those Unseen Truths that surround all of us.

Consider the case of Jerry and Esther Hicks and their disembodied pal(s), Abraham, who are big celebrities in the Law of Attraction community, and were key players in the mega-hit infomercial The Secret. Or at least they were in the original version of the ’mercial. Alas, much to the dismay of multitudes of Secret fans, the new Secret will be Hicks-free. Esther, the member of the Hicks duo who actually channels Abraham, will not be in the "new, improved" version of The Secret (which has just been released, and is not to be confused with the sequel, The Secret Part 2, or Beyond The Secret, or something of that nature, scheduled to go into production early in 2007).

It seems that The Secret franchise has taken off in such a big way that the Hicks’ original contract, drafted in part by the intellectual properties attorney they were smart enough to hire in the beginning, is no longer adequate. If I’m reading the message below correctly, The Secret’s producers wanted the Hicks to forever relinquish the intellectual property rights covered by their initial contract. The Hicks claim that they were never in The Secret for the money, but they made "staggering amounts" of the stuff anyway from their participation. There’s lots more money to be made off the project, but to do so, they’d basically have to sell their souls down the river, or at least Down Under*. And so, reluctantly and lovingly – and, of course, with the advice of Abraham – they pulled out.

Not to worry, though. The new version of The Secret is three minutes longer than the original, and the space vacated by Esther Hicks and Abraham has been filled in with some of the other contemporary hustlers "teachers" who starred in the ’mercial.

The message below, widely being posted on the LOA forums (I first found it here), was supposedly copied from the Abraham-Hicks website. Now, however, it is nowhere on the site. Read it yourself, if you haven’t already, and see what you think. And while you’re reading, notice that the Aussie TV station that had planned to air The Secret (presumably as part of the original agreement) apparently changed their minds somewhere down the line, so the Secret producers had to find a new way to recoup their investment.

Which kinda adds some new perspective to the story, as told recently to, about the origins of (or at least the motives behind) The Secret’s viral marketing campaign. Joe Vitale, one of the stars of The Secret, told that the producers held the movie back for months to "let the world buzz. Let the world keep talking. Let the world keep passing this around, which is what everybody did. They said, 'Have you seen this movie? Have you seen this trailer?' And they would pass it to their friends. Their friends would pass it to other friends. This thing went viral in the most amazing way."

As I said, you have to read between the lines. And maybe I'm reading too much, but somehow I don't think so. Here's the Hicks' message:

The Television Movie
From Jerry & Esther

Dear Friends,
Nearly two years ago, while on-board our Mexican Riviera Cruise, Prime Time Productions did an interview with Jerry and me, and with Abraham, in response to an agreement that we had all carefully crafted together for a television show that was to be aired in Australia called "The Secret." We were told that "The Secret" would be based on our work and that they would seek out other teachers who were in alignment with our work. We reviewed, on DVD, two other projects that had been created by this production company and found them to be beautifully done, and good-feeling pieces.

Since Jerry and I had never before stepped into the public forum in that way with our Abraham work, we followed the advice of our publisher, who introduced us to an intellectual property rights attorney who assisted us in drafting the agreement which would guide our involvement with this project. He explained to us that although he had included in the intellectual property rights license agreement that we were to receive a small percentage of the net profit from this project, and 10% of direct video sales, that it was very unlikely that (from his experience) we would receive any substantial compensation from our participation, and we were not unhappy with that arrangement. Our decision to do it was not motivated from the idea of making money from it, (unless there was profit to share) but because we were stimulated by the excitement of this beautiful producer, and when we met her and her beautiful crew, we easily loved them all.

As time went by, it became apparent that the television network that we had been told would air "The Secret" was not going to do it, at least not right now, and so the production company began seeking other ways of marketing their beautiful project to recoup their very large investment. While Jerry and I were uncomfortable with what felt to us like a rather aggressive marketing campaign (just not our style, nothing wrong with it) we stayed focused on our busy schedule and really had very little to do with what was happening with "The Secret."

Eventually we received an email from the producer of "The Secret" lovingly explaining (we never have received correspondence from her that was anything other than extremely loving) that the contract that we had all agreed upon and signed was no longer sufficient for their further distribution of the project in the areas they were now seeking to distribute the project, and that it would be necessary for us (Jerry and Esther) to relinquish our intellectual property rights in these areas forever and redo our contract or they would have to reluctantly edit us out. It was clear, from the lovingly written email that they did not want to edit us out, but after conferring with our publisher, and then our intellectual property rights attorney, and finally with Abraham, allowing them to edit us out was the path of least resistance. Abraham's words were very clear and easy to understand: "Whenever you are given an ultimatum that says, 'if you don't do this, then we will have to do such and such,' it is best that you just let it go and move on. Otherwise there is always another, and this, and this, and this?"

Now, it seems there is quite a firestorm surrounding our dis-involvment with "The Secret". We are receiving so many emails and letters and face-to-face questions from disappointed people regarding this, so we want you to understand how we feel about it.

We think that "The Secret" clearly and beautifully presents Abraham's Law of Attraction in a way that is easy to understand. It is filled with stunning beauty and beautiful people, many of whom are our personal friends. We love the way "The Secret" moves us, and we feel joy rise within our hearts every time we watch it. We feel the power of it, and the clarity of it, and we love "The Secret".

It is our desire that, rather than being upset that our part of "The Secret" will be omitted in future offerings of it, that instead you enjoy the original Abraham version, as it is, at this time, and that you look forward to what other incredible things these talented people may bring to you. These are people who clearly care about the planet, who want to be of value, and who, in our opinion, are of tremendous value.

Financially speaking, we have been very well paid for our participation with this project? which has amounted to a staggering amount of money. And if money were the most important factor, we assure you, we would have found some way of staying involved.

So, we're out here doing our thing, enjoying the incredible expansion of the message of Abraham, and are so looking forward to the wonderful things that are in our future. Abraham says to us and to you:

It is our desire that you be easy about all of this. There is nothing that has gone wrong here. Everything is in alignment. The Universe will offer a steady stream of uplifting avenues to all of you.

There is great love here for you, Abraham.

Our love,
Jerry & Esther

Gee, could it be that The Secret really is more about making money for its producers than about anything else? Ya think? Not that there's anything wrong with making money, as I've said before. And The Secret is certainly a marketing success story. But I submit that it does not hold the secret key to guaranteed wealth for anyone except its producers and its stars. For just about everyone else, it's just one long sales pitch by New-Wage hustledorks, with some feel-good platitudes and pretty visuals thrown in.

Now, whatever you think about channeling – whether you think it’s legit or it's just bad ventriloquism (as magician Penn Jillette once said) – lots of folks like the Hicks. A good friend of mine has met them and says they are genuinely nice people. And you don't have to read very deeply between the lines to see that Jerry and Esther found the aggressive marketing of The Secret rather distasteful. At any rate, it seems clear that the Hicks are taking the high road in all this. (I, however, am under no such constraints.)

It seems, however, that not all LOA fans are buying into the channeling shtick. A guy named Matt, who ordered a CD directly from Jerry and Esther Hicks’ website, had this to say on the Santa Monica, CA Secret/Abraham-Hicks meetup forum:

As I'm becoming a strong believer and advocate of LOA, I must admit that this CD has pushed me back a couple of steps in my faith of the "universal law." First, Jerry Hicks makes me pause as he mentions the Ouija Board as an inspiration for his teachings. Second, Esther Hicks who's seemingly the sane one totally loses me when her guiding spirit, Abraham, addresses the listener through her with a fantasy-land accent speaking in almost cryptic like English. It's comical and upsetting at the same time. I feel duped for buying this CD. The message is consistent with the Secret, but the vehicle that's delivering the message is ridiculous.

Has anyone heard this CD? Can anyone share with me some sage words to put this hocus pocus charlatan like gobbly gook into perspective?

Other forum members responded, and it was obvious not all of them were convinced by Esther’s performance either. The overall sentiment, though, seemed to be, "Don’t throw out the message because of the messenger."

In any event, it’s possible that The Secret sales will not suffer too grievously without the Hicks. Actually, I had a fleeting thought that perhaps the channeling was a bit over the top for mainstream consumption, and maybe Esther and Abraham were becoming an embarrassment to The Secret producers. But then I thought, "No, that’s ridiculous." After all, the wildly successful What The Bleep Do We Know has JZ Knight, who was on Part 1 of the Larry King "Positive Thinking" infomercial. JZ made her fortune by convincing people that she channels a 35,000-year-old entity named Ramtha. You’d think Larry would have ripped her a new one for this, but that didn’t happen. Obviously, channeling is not a deal-breaker with spiritual suckers seekers.

I predict that The Secret will continue to be successful in its new, Hicks-free incarnation. Now that rumbles of disillusionment are being heard, however, I predict that LOA’ers are going to split off into various factions, and eventually more of them will become increasingly disillusioned. There will be Secret imitators and rumors of Secret imitators. But sooner or later, the next "amazing breakthrough" – something completely different from The Secret, and, of course, fiercely copyrighted – will be released to a waiting world. Oh, yeah, and I predict that the creator of The Secret will continue to show up on Maui and everywhere else wearing short black skirts and sporting bright shiny gewgaws on her forehead (makes her look more spiritual, don’t you know). And I predict that the spiritual Lothario Tilak, that tall, dark and mysterious blower of lights, will be seen on Maui again, and perhaps in future versions of The Secret

I am hardly what you would call an unimpeachable source, but, y’know, I think I do all right for someone who doesn’t have an Ascended Master at my shoulder, whispering to me of the future.

* The creator and producer of The Secret, which the Hicks don’t name in their message, is Aussie hustledorkess go-getter Rhonda Byrne

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind comments, CC!! Glad you enjoyed the post. I feel I sound awfully bitter and spread the sarcasm a little too thick at times, but on a topic like self-help...well, we all know what else is spread a little too thick!

I plan to read though some more of your excellent musings...the first couple posts I read were awesome and very informative.

Fellow Skepchicks unite!

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, RQ! I've been accused of being a bit negative and sarcastic and even bitter myself, but, as I've said many times, I come by it honestly. I figure the world needs folks like us to counteract all the sappy crap that's out there. :-) I appreciate your support!

Anonymous said...

Your negativity and sarcasm is overwhelmingly disturbing. Please try to find some joy in your life that does not involve bashing the joy of others. People made a video you don't like. People have ideas you do not like. Get over it.

I guarantee that these people are not devoting their time to thinking about you. Magnifying the minutia of other people's lives is a waste of your time. Do something productive and good for yourself.

In the end, your forced display of "sophistication" will leave you with nothing. For your own sake, just MOVE ON.

Anonymous said...

There is a great post by Karla McLaren on the gap between skeptics and "New Wagers". It merits reading by all those who find the shoddy science and hucksterism of concern.

Keep up the great work!

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you for your comments, Anon. I do think it worthy of note that so far, all of the critics here have chosen complete anonymity, when I'm putting myself out on a limb by using my real identity. Nevertheless, I am publishing your comment because I feel it is the fair thing to do.

I am puzzled by your remark about my "forced display of 'sophistication.'" (You wouldn't be the same Anon who accused me of having a "tragically hip" attitude in response to my Nov. 28 post, would you?) Being sarcastic is not the same thing at all as being sophisticated, and I recognize the difference. In truth I do not consider myself a sophisticated person at all; I am as bewildered by the world as anyone I know.

I am, however, expressing my honest opinions here, and for the most part I'm doing it through humor, parody, and,yes, sarcasm.

And, as I have explained elsewhere, I have come by my opinions honestly. For years I enthusiastically embraced many new-age and self-help ideas, and still see merit in some of them. But I also found a lot to be cynical about, and a lot to poke fun of as well.

I recognize that many other people who have been through similar experiences to mine still wholeheartedly embrace the "personal-growth lifestyle," if you could call it that. They just keep going on to the next guru or motivator, book or workshop. And they never give up on the core belief that there is something or someone "out there" that will finally be the path or person that saves them.

Others just keep going through the serial-guru/workshop drill without the goal of finding that "one thing," but only because they constantly seek new experiences. Perhaps they're easily bored; perhaps just infinitely curious. And maybe they truly get something from all of those experiences.

Some of them, of course, eventually find their own shtick and end up making a fortune off of it.

But then there are those who become a bit cynical as a result of their experiences with the self-help industry. I'm one of them. Our experiences are no less valid than yours, and, of course, there's room in the blogopshere for all of us.

I have no delusions that any of the people involved in The Secret are spending any time whatsoever thinking about me. Surely they are not wasting their valuable time reading this little blog. If I thought they were reading it, I might even be a little nicer. :-) Or maybe not.

Obviously my opinions do not agree with yours, Anon, which leads me to believe that perhaps you, too, have something to "get over."

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, CD! You're right, that is an excellent article (and I love Skeptical Inquirer). What so many people fail to realize is that not every skeptic is born a skeptic and stays one for all of his or her life. And the same is true of someone who is more metaphysically or "New Wage" oriented. Some people continually drift back and forth between skepticism and belief. Some embrace a combination and are quite happy with it. (And some New-Wagers claim to be skeptical but then start talking about what the Ascended Master du jour whispered to them last night.)

I have a problem with people who make a "religion" out of either skepticism or the metaphysical point of view. If you're so concerned with ideological purity that you are afraid to explore new ideas that you might find helpful, you do yourself a disservice.

I don't wholeheartedly embrace skepticism myself, at least not in all areas (medicine v. alternative medicine being my main point of disagreement with the skeptical/allopathic camp).

But I do think there needs to be more dialog between the skeptics and the metaphysical factions. Karla McLaren makes some good points.

And thank you again for the support, CD.

RevRon's Rants said...

"But I do think there needs to be more dialog between the skeptics and the metaphysical factions."

I agree wholeheartedly, but you're gonna have a tough time getting people who believe [i]everything[/i] they are offered to have a meaningful dialog with people who believe in nothing they are unable to quantify. It is sad that the two sides in this equation are both hungry for truth, yet refuse to look beyond attitudes that have failed to provide any long-term, meaningful answers. On the one side, you have people who feel a need to suspend common sense in order to realize hope, and on the other, you have people who feel a need to deny a universal hunger: for something [i]more[/i] than what they can comprehend. Look at it objectively, and both extremes are pretty cynical. To beat a drum you've heard me beat before, the only real answers are in the balance between extremes. And for the record, calling people names does nothing to prove an intended point. It proves a point, all right, but not the one the name-caller would have desired.

RevRon's Rants said...

BTW Anonymous:

Someone has written a blog expressing ideas you don't like. Can you guess what the next line is?

Perhaps Connie derives some joy from being heckled, especially by folks who shoot from the shadows. I know I get a kick out of the more desperate-sounding ones. Thanks! :)

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you, Rev, for both comments. You make a very good point about the extremists on both ends of the skepticism-belief continuum. (That's one of many reasons I encourage you to blog.)

I do have to admit I am getting a little bit of pleasure from getting sniped at, and I have to consider the possibility that I sometimes go out of my way to be provocative, just to bring the snipers out of the shadows. It's not so much that I enjoy the sniping, but dissent is welcome here, as long as it is relatively clean and not abusive or threatening.

I was also thinking about my anonymous critic's comment, "Magnifying the minutia of other people's lives is a waste of your time." Perhaps it is, but, Anon, it is my time to waste. More to the point, I've noticed that on the various Law Of Attraction and Secret-enthusiast forums, there has been considerable speculation about Abraham-Hicks being edited out of the revised version of The Secret. I'm sure that many more private emails have been exchanged about the matter too. I would think, then, that it is a legitimate discussion issue, even if the person discussing it doesn't happen to be a Secretron. So if I'm wasting time by writing or speculating about this issue, it would appear that I'm in good company.

Anonymous said...

Connie, i just wanted to say I really like your blog. I am one of those who got into the New wage/personal growth lifestyle (not for too long, though) and do see some value in it but the "true believer" attitude is very weird and I don't understand it. It's like they have replaced their powers of reasoning with jellow. In fact, I think one of the problems with the new wage mindset is that they pathologize the mind, relegating intellectual reasoning to an inferior status in the scheme of things. In any case, it's good people like you are blogging about it to demystify some of the goobly gock.
I do appreciate Revron's insightful comment, though, that the balance is somewhere between the two extremes. there is abviously a reason why people seek truth, it's just that this 'truth' seems to get monopolized by deluded self help promotors and narcissists of all kinds.
(ps. I am Durga from Jody's blog.)

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you for writing, Durga. I recognized you from Jody's blog; good to have you here too. I'm an ex-New-Wager too, and I completely agree that most people are seeking some larger truth beyond themselves. It's human to do so. And no doubt there are sparks of truth among all the fiery hype and hustle of "The Secret" and even "What The Bleep." But I just can't get past the self-serving, aggressively self-promoting messengers to find the truth within the message.

And the fact that many of these messengers are using science (quantum physics, for the most part) to "prove" what they're trying to say just makes it more insidious.

And so I will continue to fire potshots at these people...because I must. :-)

Thanks for visiting, and keep coming back!

Anonymous said...

Why must you?

Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous said...
"Why must you?"

Why must I what? Did you not finish your thought? Anyway, I'm glad you dropped in... even though this post is now over ten months old.

Anonymous said...

I am not the original anonymous, but,I think he/she was talking about to Quote you "And so I will continue to fire potshots at these people...because I must. :-)"

Why must you continue to fire potshots at these people? How do they make you feel? My guess is its not a happy feeling. I wonder why you even care. Are you hurting?

Do you feel need to feel superior? Have you given up on something that was once important to you? Have you been let down?

If people really are being duped, or even are deluded or whatever, why make fun?

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 11:59 PM (whose message just came in on January 11, 2008): This post is now over two years old, so you'll forgive me if I get a bit confused about some of the responses. I guess it's good to know the dialogue is still going on after all this time.

Actually, I mostly fire potshots at the people who are doing the duping, not at those who are *being* duped. However, when those who are being duped turn around and actively do some duping of their own -- or when they come out and make statements that seem patently absurd -- they too are potential targets for my potshots.

When I wrote, "I do it because I must," that was a semi-facetious variation on another semi-facetious statement I've sometimes made: "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta snark."

But you and the other Anon perhaps want to know why I "must" snark. You ask me:

"Are you hurting?

"Do you feel need to feel superior? Have you given up on something that was once important to you? Have you been let down?"

First, thank you for your concern. You, of course, are not the first to engage in a little pop-psychoanalysis (which, you'll forgive me for saying, also has a tendency to sound a bit on the smug and superior side). I ask you to go back and read my 10:09 AM comment in this thread. Yes, I have been disappointed and disillusioned by New-Wage hucksters and New-Wage ideas, and even though that was many years ago now, I see the same kind of b.s. being perpetrated today. For the most part I still take a more lighthearted, humorous approach when dealing with the stuff, though I occasionally do get serious (well, serious for me).

If you are truly interested in how I came to be the way I am, read my post dated July 28, 2006, titled: "How I got so cosmic (or not)."

That piece, which I consider the true inaugural post on this blog, presents a capsule review of my journey to Snark City, and it contains some links to other pieces I've written about my journey.

As I've said, I come by my opinions honestly. And I am beginning to come to the conclusion that what drives me to continue firing potshots is not just a sense of fun, but also a sense of duty, inchoate though the latter may be.

kyra said...

Hey CC, I can't believe how long it's been since you posted this. It seems like only yesterday people were coming up to me and asking me about the mysterious "secret." I think you did a great job discussing something that was troubling a lot of people who'd just entered into The Secret phenomenon.

I've read the message from Esther and Jerry before, but re-reading it here, I just noticed how they mention that they discussed their decision with Abraham. I don't know if you are aware, but they say the same thing about their high-priced seminar tickets (Abraham helped them come to the cost). It's a bizarre way of validating whatever decisions that Esther and Jerry make. As for Jerry and Esther's "niceness," I do give them credit for being able to maintain that image when other channelers and psychics have failed drastically at appearing so pious. Glad I got around to reading this! xoxo

Cosmic Connie said...

Kyra, I'm so glad to meet you and to discover your critical blogs. It does seem that every decision Esther and/or her ex-Amway ex-carnie hubby make is credited to a consultation with their imaginary-pal collective. And many folks are still eating it up. Eye-rolling, isn't it?

Anyhoo, thank you for stopping by my Whirled!

kyra said...

Eye rolling indeed. But it's nice to know that there are people out there thinking rationally about all this and not getting swept in by the charismatic quack parade.