02 March 2007

The Secret: Worst. Infomercial. Ever.

My roommate Clare found a video iPod in the back seat of a taxi the other day and, being the honest and sweet girl she is, she actually contacted its owner to let him know it was in safe hands. When he came to retrieve it, he bore a gift. "I want you to have this, because it is this that brought my iPod back to me." It was a DVD copy of the highly-buzzed-about "new" movie, The Secret. I put "new" in quotes because, although recently produced with the kind of guests who would bring tears to an audience at the Oprah Winfrey show, it elucidates a very old concept: one which would not come as a "secret" at all to anyone who has read anything written in the past few hundred years (or thousand if you include religious texts this movie appropriates). I mean, look at the Celestine Prophecy for God's sake! That piece of crap came out less than 15 years ago. Is our pop memory really bad enough to necessitate a rehash and repackaging of that?

Anyway, Clare and I were both really excited to watch it together tonight. I had a few friends recommend it to me a while back, but they liked What The Bleep, so I was a little nervous to say the least. The real clincher was that my ex-girlfriend broke our code of silence to text-message me about it, telling me it was a "great movie" and that I should see it. Um, OK- thanks. And the result? I was laughing in under a minute, and my roommate literally fell asleep. So, without further adieu (beware of spoilers ahead!), there are a few secrets about The Secret I thought you should know.

1) You can actually stop watching it after about ten minutes, when they "reveal" the secret is really just "the law of attraction." Seeing them painfully stretch this singular philosophy out into the course of a superfluous, feature-length film- complete with corny quotes from Martin Luther King and Ralph Waldo Emerson read in a stage whisper (!!), and dramatizations of a woman beating breast cancer in three months by substituting Charlie Chaplin films for chemotherapy- is frankly a waste of time; unless, of course, you don't get it the first ten or fifteen times around. Then, I'd suggest another secret to you: maybe you're retarded.

2) The gag factor is staggering. Its production value includes all the worst elements of a "Get Rich Quick" infomercial airing at 2:00 AM, a half-hour Sci-Fi special on UFOs (no real depth- just lame interviews accented with corny camera effects and space-y synth sounds), a heart-rending talk show with pontificating guests and empty applause, and a National Geographic video showing how, by golly, we're just all the same! Who edited this? A spiritually-awakened Minnie Mouse channeling the greatness of the Lifetime Network?

3) I just read an interesting essay in New York magazine about the detriment of praise on schoolchildren. In short, Carol Dweck's research shows that telling a student he or she is "smart" or good at something is worse than commending them on their hard work because- as she found through her series of experiments- it can lower their expectations and the effort they expend to reach them. Similarly, there are examples in The Secret where, simply through visualization, we attain "outside" gifts (i.e., a young child cuts a picture of a bicycle out of a catalog and- surprise!- suddenly a grandfather-like figure has the exact one waiting for him in the family garage). Now, by no means am I discounting the importance of visualization and belief, nor am I discounting anything The Secret is very superficially talking about; unfortunately, I am just lamenting the fact there are probably people confused and/or stupid enough to think passive positive-thinking and feeling are going to carry the import of actually taking action and working to achieve their goals. As in the example of Dweck's case studies, neophytes to the philosophies explained here will just wait for things to come their way (I'm smart, so things will come naturally). But hey, it worked for the boy with the bike!

4) Finally, it is not the ideas in The Secret that make it a horrendous movie, it's the movie itself. Redundant writing, embarrassing effects, over-the-top guest appearances, sappy musical scoring, and a plodding rhythm akin to a self-help seminar all contribute equally to make The Secret another sad- and wholly unnecessary- chapter in our world's fascination with easily digested spirituality.

So, the next time you find a video iPod in a cab, by all means: load it with your favorites, and as The Secret suggests, be grateful you attracted it through positive energy.