The hidden knowledge revealed in The Secret, a hugely popular self-help DVD, hardly seems to live up to the drama promised by the video's title.
Over the course of the documentary, a series of authors and motivational speakers explain "the law of attraction," which boils down to this: Think positively and positive things will happen to you.
That may not seem like a secret to anyone with a dose of common sense or any familiarity with several decades' worth of self-help literature, from the Master Key System to The Power of Positive Thinking.
But that has not stopped The Secret from selling more than 1.5 million copies, more than half of them in January, according to The New York Times.
It did not stop the book based on the DVD from becoming the top-seller on Amazon.com this week. Nor did it stop Oprah from devoting a two-hour special to The Secret.
If the secret of the movie is a well-known piece of pop psychology, why is The Secret so popular? Its phenomenal success says as much about the power of conspiracy in marketing as it does about people's endless desire to achieve health, wealth and happiness.
The DVD begins with a shot of a man in a tunic stealing away with a papyrus as a voice-over promises that an ancient secret, hidden from most of mankind, is about to be revealed. It is a secret that "they" have suppressed throughout the centuries because of its power, a secret known to Beethoven, Lincoln, Einstein and 19th-century robber barons.[...]
Yet outside of popular culture, conspiracy theories are increasingly entering the mainstream. Experts say that although theories of one variety or another can be traced back hundreds of years, this latest resurgence can be traced to Sept. 11, 2001.
"9/11 saw an explosion of conspiracy theories and put the conspiracy theory firmly back in the media's eye," said Mark Barber, author of Urban Legends Uncovered.
"The world is an uncertain place right now and we are living in times of fear, paranoia and anxiety," added Mr. Barber, who is at work on a book investigating conspiracy theories. "It is this combination that feeds our quest for the truth and to make sense of something that seems completely senseless."
The average North American has never been healthier, wealthier, better-cared for and better-protected. So why do so many of us simply nod our heads in dull agreement when some soi-disant sage tells us the world is particularly uncertain these days and we live in times of “fear, paranoia and anxiety”?