The Secret Scammers

Oprah has joined millions around the world in getting behind the Secret.

But, do you want to know the real Secret?

It is extracting millions of dollars from the punters. It’s a scam.

This week I spoke to a bloke from the outer suburbs of Melbourne named David Schirmer.

Twelve years ago he didn’t have a cracker to his name. He was flat broke – as in no electricity, no phone and lots of debt.

Today, with a little help from the Secret, he’s about to make $10 million over a long weekend. The Secret has nothing to do with Macquarie Bank by the way – but it’s every bit the Aussie success story.

It all started a few years ago when another Melburnian, Rhonda Byrne, was down on her luck and her relationships were inflicting much pain and suffering.

Defying gravity

Rhonda sought solace in some self-help books. It was there that she stumbled on what she now calls “the most powerful law in the universe”, which funnily enough isn’t the law of gravity but “the law of attraction”.

This law simply states that you attract to yourself what you think about most (which makes me wonder why I’m not dating a playboy bunny – but I digress).

Rhonda quickly realised that no one ever went broke by promising people that they can do, have and become anything they want in life without exerting any real effort.

So, using every ounce of mind over matter, she married her new-found self-help skills with her television expertise and created the movie The Secret, which was then followed by a book, and a CD of the same name.

Rhonda tells us that after she found the Secret, “all I wanted to do was share it with the world. I began searching for people alive today who know the Secret and one by one they began to emerge.”

Yet it wasn’t the Dalai Lama, the Pope, or eminent psychologists who began emerging.

It was the teachers of the Secret, including numerous get-rich-quick spruikers, a thrice-divorced love doctor, various motivational gurus and an ex-Amway salesman who came together to narrate the movie. In the opening minutes of the movie we are told that “the Secret was suppressed, the Secret was buried, the Secret was coveted, the Secret will never be released to the public”.

Apparently this wasn’t by accident. Rather, it’s been designed this way so that “1 per cent of the population could continue to earn 96 per cent of all the money”. The working masses were cruelly “forced to go to work, do their jobs and then go home – they were powerless”. The missing ingredient for these battlers ironically wasn’t hard work, but just the opposite.

Simple Secret Scam

According to metaphysician and Secret teacher Joe Vitale (who also doubles as a marketer with the ability to sway consumers into a “hypno-buying trance”), the Secret requires no hard work at all.

Joe says the Secret is “like having the universe as your catalogue. You flip through it and say, I’d like to have this experience, and I’d like to have that product, and I’d like to have a person like that. It is you placing your order with the universe. It’s really that easy.”

At this point of the movie I was starting to wonder whether the Secret was a self-help spoof – kind of like Spinal Tap. Channel Nine, which had picked up part of the tab for the production were wondering the same thing, and pulled the plug on the program after viewing the end result.

Then came Oprah.

This big O understands better than anyone that your average whingeing Westerner wants to believe there’s more to life than watching daytime television. So when Oprah got behind the Secret in a big way, you knew the sofas of America would respond.

And respond they did. The Secret is now the fastest selling book on the planet. The movie has been watched by millions of people across the world, manifesting Rhonda a reported $40 million fortune. This week Rhonda was even named as one of Time’s most influential people of 2007.

Rhonda’s real achievement wasn’t just her brilliant marketing that took a far-fetched movie all the way to the top of the manifestation mafia.

It is the million-dollar spin-offs which one critic describes as “give a man the Secret, and you have fed him for today. Teach a man that the Secret is only the beginning, and you have a steady income stream for a lifetime.”

Share the Secret

Herein lay the answer as to how a bloke can make $10 million in a weekend with a little help from the Secret.

The movie was shot in Melbourne, but Schirmer is the only Aussie to appear as one of the teachers. His contribution at first glance appeared to be slapstick, as he suggested that he uses the Secret to find a car space – no, seriously.

Yet given that he was billed as an investment trainer in the movie, Schirmer needed to come up with something a little bit more substantial than cutting the cost of parking. So he shared his secret to making more money, which he achieved by whiting out the figures of his bank statements and replacing them with bigger numbers – no, seriously.

Then one morning I heard Schirmer being interviewed on breakfast radio by two hosts who had clearly fallen for the Secret hook, line and sinker. “What’s the secret to life, David?” asked the radio jock – causing Barefoot to choke on his Cornflakes.

Schirmer suggested that the secret to life was of course the Secret, and then suggested that listeners attend his course on the Secret, which the hosts enthusiastically plugged more than a few times.

I rang Schirmer on his way home from that radio interview, and asked him about the seminar. “Last year we attracted 340 people to our seminar and took $5 million in sales,” he said. “With the help of the Secret we’re expecting to more than double the attendance numbers this year”.

It appears the Secret’s spruikers have perfected another universal law – the law of extraction.

Tread your own path!

Article first published in the Herald Sun on May 19th 2007