Idol Chatter

I’ve already ranted twice about the latest horrifying New Age get-rich quick craze–“The Secret.” But according to Peter Birkenhead of, I’m not alone in feeling there is still more to reckon with as this book’s popularity rises and reveals some of the “secrets” of people who buy it and endorse its ideas.

Like Oprah for example.

In “Oprah’s Ugly Secret,” not only does Birkenhead take her to task for adding prestige to “The Secret,” but he worries that, alongside the prestige, she also adds “more venality [to it], than any previous self-help scam.”

He continues powerfully: “Why ‘venality’? Because, with survivors of Auschwitz still alive, Oprah writes this about “The Secret” on her Web site: ‘the energy you put into the world–both good and bad–is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day.’

“‘Venality,’ because Oprah, in the age of AIDS, is advertising a book that says, ‘You cannot catch anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought.’ ‘Venality,’ because Oprah, from a studio within walking distance of Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Projects, pitches a book that says, ‘The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.'”

Scariest of all is Birkenhead’s wider, worldly reflections on what “The Secret” implies about the way the world works–rewarding some and punishing others: “Oprah recently opened, with much fanfare, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa, and as I watched the network news stories about it, I couldn’t get ‘The Secret’ out of my mind,” Birkenhead writes. “I kept wondering what would happen if professor Sam Mhlongo, South Africa’s chief family practitioner who famously said that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, read about Oprah’s connection to ‘The Secret’ and found support there for his claim.

“I wondered if the students of the academy would read ‘The Secret’ and start to believe that their parents deserved to be poor, or that the people of Darfur summoned the Janjaweed with ‘bad thoughts.’ Will the heavier girls be told, as readers of ‘The Secret’ are, that food doesn’t cause weight gain–thinking about weight gain does? Will they be told to not even look at fat people, as ‘The Secret’ advises?” Birkenhead concludes, “Oprah is already promoting these ideas to her television audience. Why wouldn’t she espouse them to her students?”

I normally love Oprah and believe she does some wonderful things with her show, her power, and her money. But, like Birkenhead, I am not only dismayed but seriously alarmed that she’s gotten behind “The Secret.” Horrified actually. Something is seriously wrong in the Oprahworld.

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