© Robert S. Miller 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
She’s contributed to charities, had scholarships named after her, promoted acceptance and tolerance, and has promoted literacy. Though this may be in poor taste, it needs to be said that Oprah can afford such philanthropy as she has done well for herself. Born to a single mother in the south, Oprah has accumulated $800,000,000 in savings. Her television show (scheduled to end today) has been on television for twenty five years and she is in the process of owning her own network.
Some commentators have suggested that Oprah has succeeded in a field saturated with talk show hosts due to her own positivity. Unlike Jerry Springer, she has focused on “upbeat” stories rather than displays of human depravity to draw in her viewership. Having said that I can only take Oprah in small doses - having never viewed an entire episode of her show. Oprah is annoyingly loud and panders to popular culture. Outside of the reason why she has never married, we imagine we know everything about her. We know about her many attempts to confront her yo-yo weight problem, her many relationships, her hopes, her dreams, her struggles, her history (including being a victim of a sexual assault), her brief experimentation with drugs, the books she supposedly read and loved, and her empathy for every forlorn soul she has met. Oprah feels qualified to publicly comment upon war, religion, politics, love, literature, psychology and (most importantly to her television audience) fashion. It would be best not to ask what qualifies her to discuss all of these matters. Her single area of genius is her ability to pull in a fan base and so she will always have an audience to assent to her every utterance. But rather than making difficult concepts comprehensible for her audience members, she has dumbed each particular subject down.
Probably no talk show host has made public confession seem therapeutic as Oprah. We follow the travails of her guests from victimhood to later episodes where all seems to have ended happily. She has given those she has invited upon her show a forum for making fools of themselves without shame. Witness Tom Cruise hopping up and down on the couch and discussing his relationship with Scientology while Oprah nods her head knowingly. (In her New-Aged way, Oprah is very open-minded to all things religious.)
Probably the most amusing endeavor of the diva is her book of the month club. Her public persona wouldn’t seem compatible with a reclusive author such as William Faulkner, yet The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are two novels that contain Oprah’s sign of approval. That Oprah has read (let alone understood) the two books is debatable, but smart business woman that she is this would be in the realm of believability. That the typical audience member could make heads or tails of his writings is a stretch. I’ve heard individuals that have felt what Oprah has done is admirable if she managed to encourage anyone to read at all, but I disagree. Nothing damages an author’s reputation more than to have his works discussed by individuals that have no understanding of the subject matter to begin with. As Josh Billings once said: “It is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.” Anyway, in Oprah’s book club we now have Anna Karenina setting side by side with the books of Bill Cosby.
I think even Oprah would acknowledge that wandering into the realm of politics may have been a mistake. Oprah endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential campaign and she has a right to her opinion. Why anyone should care is another matter. Oprah has a tendency to tell people what to think rather than encourage them to think for themselves. In any case, Oprah has been less inclined to praise the President since the election than she did during the campaign.
I wish Oprah well – or as well as anyone can wish someone that has close to a billion dollars closeted away. I just hope with the end of her show the public confessional will let up a bit. Little has done more damage to our culture in recent years than to take seriously celebrities that feel the need to speak out on every issue. Fame and fortune apparently are enough to give them credibility and so we have the asininity of Hollywood stars visiting dictators in Iran and Venezuela and pronouncing that such regimes are misunderstood. Worse, we have college educated idiots believing them. So please, no more reading of your “private” diaries on the air; no more weight loss tips on how to take off twenty pounds only to put them back on six months later; and no more gut wrenching, appalling confessions on the air from your guests.
Farewell, Oprah! I hope that private life is as fulfilling for you as was your public one.
May 25, 2011
© Robert S. Miller 2011