There are so few mortal sins left in the world of popular culture these days -- the kinds of extraordinary, career-decimating missteps that send your press agent scrambling for the bottle of nitro-glycerin pills in his nightstand and effectively send you back to a life of handing out Office Depot fliers at the corner of 41st and Broadway dressed as a giant pencil. The proof is all around us: Paris Hilton gives head (badly) on video and becomes inescapable. The twin "O-faces" of broadcasting, Pat O'Brien and Bill O'Reilly, are exposed as lecherous shitheads who pretty much set back the rules against sexual harassment by a half-century, and yet keep their respective TV gigs. George Bush fucks up, well, everything -- a feat admittedly requiring no small amount of skill -- and remains the most powerful man in the world.
The question then becomes, what's unforgivable? What Rubicon can be crossed from which there is no safe return home?
Well, with a possible answer in mind and a typically gleeful willingness to ignore this fact and shoot myself square in the foot, let me make two seemingly incongruous statements:
1) I'm a writer, and would like to make a substantial living as one.
2) I fucking hate Oprah.
Yeah, I know. My mother takes great joy in reminding me at every turn that these two ideas are nothing less than mutually exclusive. She typically does this with all the subtlety of bukkake porn.
"If your book gets picked up and Oprah likes it, you do whatever she says," she warns.
It goes without saying that as it is, I'll drown in a bowl of early-bird special soup at the local deli waiting to be faced with this particular situation. Still, as usual her words carry the undeniable weight of truth. As Little Jimmy Frey found out so uncermoniously, there really is one thing you don't do if you hope to keep your career in entertainment, as well as your dignity and your balls: you do not fuck with Oprah; the woman is the Vito Corleone of popular culture.
Now I have my own opinions about the whole Frey thing. I read "A Million Little Pieces" when it first came out a few years ago and thought it was revelatory and certainly visceral in its style -- a damn good read -- but as for whether or not it was true: oh come on. Unfortunately, I have some experience on the subject of chemical dependency. I also have some experience on the subject of getting off those chemicals, and doing so on your own terms. It's true that each person's fight is his or her own, but just about any idiot could see that Frey was a fucking tourist. Ironically, no single incident proved the fact that Little Jimmy's tough-guy rep was horseshit better than his now-legendary confrontation with Oprah on national television. At the one moment when a rotten attitude, a willingness to be thoroughly disliked by the masses and a titanium backbone would've actually served him well, Frey folded -- instead choosing to take his scolding as if he were exactly what Oprah was implying: a scared kid who'd been caught in a fib.
If Frey was even a quarter penis-length of the guy he described in his book -- the tattooed, take-no-prisoners bad-ass -- he would've defended himself simply by pointing out the obvious fact that he was being grilled not because he had lied to the American public, with Oprah merely playing a necessary role thrust upon her by circumstances (it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it), but because he had dared to make Oprah herself look like a fool, and therefore had to be punished as an object lesson. If you're unfamiliar with the hows and whys of this kind of thinking, just catch an episode of The Sopranos.
Frey easily could've pointed out that the woman accusing him of creating an overblown, self-important mythology for the benefit of personal gain was the same woman who, every single month, puts her own smiling face on the cover of a magazine that bears her name. He could've asked how she manages to make herself the centerpiece of every interview she does and every topic she explores -- injecting her own ridiculous "personal experience" at any and all opportune moments, no matter how inapproporate. Then -- just for the hell of it, and as a way to humor her argument -- he could've looked right into the camera and talked directly to her studio and nationwide audience of impressionable, white, middle-class soccer-moms. Frey could've demanded to know why they had the galactic balls to give him shit about blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction when, later that night, they'd no doubt be glued to their TVs -- their little eyes watering up, as Prince Fucking Charming proved once and for all that true love really does exist when he asked the woman he met two weeks previously to marry him on The Bachelor.
I bring all of this up, because once again the most hypocritical cultural icon in America is doing what she does best.
In the July issue of FHM magazine, Ice Cube tears into Oprah the way Oprah usually tears into pints of Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche. He accuses her of turning a blind eye to hip-hop acts, specifically citing what Cube considers a very personal snub. He says that when the rest of the cast of Barbershop was invited to appear on Oprah's show -- giving America the chance to once again watch Cedric the Entertainer (?!) continue his one-man quest to resurrect the travelling minstrel show -- his mailbox was conspicuously empty. Cube points out that Oprah's had "damn rapists, child molesters and lying authors" on her show, yet she spurns rappers. To be fair though, Oprah DID try to cover all of those bases by talking to R. Kelly, but his people said he was "unavoidably detained." Cube's verbal slam follows an interview with Ludacris in which he also took aim at the big O. He says she treated him badly during a taping of her show that included him and his castmates from Crash: What the Fuck was the Academy Thinking.
Now as far as I'm concerned, picking sides between Oprah and the hip-hop all-stars is like deciding whether I want to get my nuts caught in a thresher or blended in a Cuisinart. I like Cube -- mostly because he holds a nostalgic place in my heart for a time when hip-hop was actually a fresh and vital form of expression instead of the goddamned culture-consuming parody it is today. I'm also confused that any rapper worth his 72" spinnin' rims would give a rat's ass about being on Oprah in the first place. In a world where street cred is so important that record companies have A&R guys camped outside of the Pelican Bay State Pen to make sure they don't miss signing Sway's next subject of sycophancy, you'd have to think that a guest spot on a daytime talk show would be about as coveted as an invitation to the Will & Grace wrap party.
I'm inclined to come down on the side of the rappers on this one though, if for no other reason than the fact that Oprah's response to their accusation is pure comedic gold. Ironically, call it the equivalent of the old "some of my best friends are black" defense -- and we all know how perfectly lovely that sounds coming out of anyone else's mouth.
What Oprah did was pay an on-air visit to New York's Power 101.5 and do a little freestyle bullshit with DJ Ed Lover -- yeah, that Ed Lover for all you children of the late 80s/early 90s. She stated unequivocally that the charges are unfair and that she does in fact like hip-hop, and for the purposes of this post, "unequivocally" is defined as, "the sudden and artificial adoption of a 'ghetto' inflection to one's voice for the purpose of proving that one is, in fact, 'down' with the black man." Yes, Oprah, who hasn't had contact with a black person she didn't give a car to, or whose name wasn't Beyonce', in God knows how long, was suddenly sounding like she was one smudged Air Jordan away from bustin' a cap in some niggaz ass. She told Ed Lover, "I got a little 50 (pronounced 'fitty') on my iPod. I really do. Love 'In Da Club.'" She even drew out the word 'club' to let you know that as she was saying it, her street heritage was making her involuntarily bob her head in time to the beat which constantly emanates from her soul.
50 Cent himself has actually taken time out from being shot and making lousy music to rightly point out that Oprah really has nothing to lose by ignoring hip-hop. The brain-dead sheep who hang on her every word will basically follow her into hell, but they probably won't follow her to a Chamillionaire show anytime soon. That's probably to their credit. As for Oprah herself, she obviously knows her audience. You don't become ruler of the universe any other way.
Still -- come on sistah', can't ya hook a brotha' up?