Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not Another Oprah Column


I suppose it's a statistical certainty that as an audience broadens, the likelihood increases that it will become contaminated by disciples of Oprah. This only makes sense given that, according to the latest figures, Oprah can claim outright ownership of the souls of one in every three women.

Until recently, I didn't face much bitter outrage when I chose to take a few light-hearted shots at Miss O; most readers of this site, understanding what they were getting themselves into by being here, either played along with my vilification, waited it out until I had something slightly less juvenile to say, or just went away.

But with new visitors come new points-of-view, and while I'm certainly grateful for (and to) every single reader, there's no getting around the fact that, more and more, I find myself in the crosshairs of those for whom a slight against Oprah is nothing less than blasphemy. The arguments are always the same: she's done so much for the world; she's a force for good; the ever-popular "you're just jealous"; and of course the gauntlet-throwdown that demands to know what I've done in my life that's worthwhile. (This is invariably followed with "besides insult people on a blog" -- the exclamatory "blog" oozing the kind of contempt and condescension usually reserved for words like "queer" or "NASCAR," depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you happen to live.) Believe it or not, even the most invective-laced pro-Oprah diatribe will usually get the appropriate level of consideration on this end; if you take the time to write, whether I happen to agree with you or not, I'll at least take the time to hear what you have to say.

Something I've never done on this site -- or anywhere else for that matter -- is explain my sense of humor. I realize that understated irony and inside jokes were once considered a staple of my generation, but even among those who were raised at the same time and were subjected to essentially the same cultural stimuli as me, there are a hell of a lot of people who stare in confusion at things I find hilarious, and vice-versa.

In other words, I'm not going to even attempt to analyze why I think making fun of Oprah, or mistranslating "The Knut Song" so that it becomes a pro-Nazi anthem in honor of an aryan polar bear, or Mormonism in general is utterly hysterical. Most of the nonsense on this site can be classified under "jokes you either get or you don't." That said, there actually are a few very genuine reasons why I'm inclined to beat-up on Oprah on occasion; some of them have been detailed in past columns, so I'm not going to bother getting into them again. (At the core, I'll admit, is my belief that it's healthy to poke fun at sacred cows and authority figures because fearing them is oppressive -- and Oprah has somehow been anointed the ultimate authority figure in our culture).

One thing, recently, has caught my attention though.

A few days ago, my wife and I were watching TV when a commercial flashed across the screen promoting Oprah's latest philanthrotainment extravaganza, Oprah's Big Give. The premise of the show apparently involves Oprah handing out a crap-load of money to those less-fortunate (anyone on Earth is eligible), but with a catch: they have to then turn around and spend the cash on those less-fortunate than them. At one point in the ad, Oprah leans into the camera as if sharing a delicious secret with the seven-million people ostensibly watching; she whispers the show's real twist -- that the team deemed to have done the "most good" with the money will win a million dollars. (I presume they get to keep that money.)

Needless to say, this mammoth monetary prize will come as a huge shock to the winning contestants provided they've never seen one of these shows before and have no idea who Oprah is.

While I won't argue with the good that Oprah's Big Give will probably do -- helping people who need it is inarguably laudable and maybe the end will always justify the means in a case like this -- it's the messianic bombast with which Oprah goes about every one of these altruistic endeavors that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I get that I'm considered more cynical than most, but I can't be the only one who notices that Oprah's good deeds, as with all her other deeds, never seem to be done outside the presence of a phalanx of cameras. A tendency toward philanthropy-as-photo-op alone should be enough to raise questions as to who benefits most each and every time Oprah decides to play Santa Claus. Likewise, there's the Oprah "brand" -- the one that ensures you never have to wonder, even for a second, who to thank for all the glorious largess. When Oprah inexorably attaches her name to books, magazines, self-help gurus, chefs, presidential candidates and so on, it's irritating but somewhat understandable -- it's just business; when she slaps that giant "O" on an act that, in theory, is supposed to be selfless -- in the case of the new show, making her name the very first thing in the title -- it automatically ceases to be completely free of self-interest. Quite the opposite.

By broadcasting every benevolent impulse to the world with all the subtlety of a WWE cage match, she ensures more great PR which strengthens her empire which brings in more money for her, the TV networks lucky enough to be associated with her -- basically everyone involved.

There's of course an argument to be made that Oprah's over-the-top brand of philanthropy inspires the masses and encourages them to go and do likewise. Once again, perhaps the end justify the means -- but it doesn't change the means. Oprah's still getting rich every time she pulls one of these stunts.

After the commercial was over the other night, I turned to my wife and asked her, "Do you like Oprah? I mean, am I the only jerk in the world who has a problem with her?"

Her response: "I look at Oprah the way I look at Christianity or the Grateful Dead. I don't necessarily have a problem with her, it's her idiot fans -- the ones who do whatever she says."

She's absolutely right. It's the Oprah Nation that elevates everything tagged with Oprah's name to zeitgeist levels, treats any silly whim of hers as gospel, and makes her millions in the process.

Oprah's multi-media hegemony is based on ensuring that the fans get what they want -- Oprah.

She's just making the best of the situation, which is all well and good -- until she starts making the best of someone else's bad situation.

(Update: Okay, I just caught the promo for Oprah's show on Friday which will itself be an hour-long promo for the Big Give thing. At one point, Oprah looks into the camera, points her finger and says, "You WILL be inspired." Then she shouts about how she'll be joined by her hand-picked Stepford Designer -- that former-nobody Nate Berkus -- while her audience full of crazed 28 Days Later-style suburban zombies screams in delight. You know something? I take back all the flowery language and thoughtful analysis -- she just fucking sucks.)

38 comments:

Nightmare said...

I just stumbled across your Blog (I LOVE STUMBLE) and it was the post explaining your recent departure from being a high flautin TV Producer, and I was HOOKED! I added you to my blog roll. BTW, our radio days are eerily similar.

Stephen said...

You use your mouth purtier than a twenty dollar whore.

By the way, the grateful dead told me to tell your wife that wasn't true. Just because I buy every CD of old concerts that they offer via the mailing list doesn't mean I do whatever they tell me! The baby onesie was a bit much I'll admit...

Anonymous said...

Chez, I can’t believe anyone with more than half a brain thinks that Oprah does any of this “good work” for anyone but herself. She does all of this for shameless self- promotion. Since you worked for CNN you should understand that concept. The women that look up to her are mindless imbeciles who probably never had an original thought in their lives.

Jax said...

Since you lobbed a softball, allow me to swing for the fences.

Check out the original publication date of the Oprah.com column you mention posted yesterday on Cnn.com.

Nathan said...

Your wife's take on this is probably pretty close to reality. Oprah really can't be blamed for her herd of lemmings (even if she's done everything possible to increase their numbers). I'd imagine she does some of her good works outside of the limelight, but I don't have any evidence of that. Just a guess.

The two worst things I think she's done are introduce the world to Dr. Phil and push that crap in "The Secret".

tamara said...

Chez, I rant and rail against Oprah myself on occasion, and did so (albeit, not quite so eloquently as yourself) not long before you did today, based on the same commercial I saw the other night.

Though, your wife's comment did give me cause to pause and think further on this subject...still, the woman leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, and her legions of lemmings just leave me baffled.

Al said...

".still, the woman leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth"

Imagine how Gail feels.

VOTAR said...

Yeah I saw that promo and wondered "why doesn't she just give a bunch of money away and help a lot of poor people? It has to be a gameshow?"

Oh, and incidentally,

When Oprah inexorably attaches her name to books, magazines, self-help gurus, chefs, therapists and so on, it's irritating but somewhat understandable -- it's just business; when she slaps that giant "O" on an act that, in theory, is supposed to be selfless -- in the case of the new show, making her name the very first thing in the title -- it automatically ceases to be completely free of self-interest.

You're right, those dashboards can really put a hurting on one's forehead.

Sheriff Bart said...

Now hear this: Oprah Winfrey can kiss my big black sheriffy ass.

On a side note, that polar bear is so God damned adorable. I cant wait until it devours its first handler. Hopefully they'll get it on camera.

Hey. Did Stephen just quote Blazing Saddles? Awesome!

Nancy said...

Let the record show that I supported Obama LONG before Oprah did.

julie said...

"...it's her idiot fans -- the ones who do whatever she says." Jayne is just jealous of me.

lakelady said...

I agree with you that rabid fans of anyone are the problem. In that sense Oprah is no worse/better than Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. Mindless followers of anyone/anything ought need to be stripped of their illusions. On the other hand followers of someone who works at lifting people up rather than tearing them down are are about as harmless as bunnies.

oh, and I'm a bit surprised that you used that article as an example of something offensive from her magazine. I'm surprised that you don't recognize a writer whose humor is so similar to your own. Then again maybe that was your point.

Shannon from Saskatoon said...

No problem with me if any one of us decides to worship at the feet of another human. It's just plain pointless to criticize the unfathomable tastes of others, right?
However, it would be *awfully* nice not to have to listen to the predictable proselytizing and love-sick bleating of those engaged in a rollicking good cluster flock.
Try to keep your boring, adolescent crushes to yourselves..ok?

Joshua said...

Two words for anyone who thinks Oprah a force for good on Earth:

Doctor Phil.



Enough said.

b80vin said...

I'm constantly bemused by people who find significance in platitudes slightly more useful than fortune cookie fortunes. Oprah is the epitome of the idea that intricate problems can be reduced to digestible solutions, and feelings are infinitely better than knowledge. This is a pandemic within the media today and leads to the dumbification of our culture. Oprah may be the other side of the coin from O'Reilly, but she's part of the same coin.

And the argument, that I've run into, as you have, that since I've never done the things that Oprah has done I have no right to talk about it is logically erroneous. If I have no right to voice an anti-Oprah opinion, than neither does anyone else, even her defenders. Only Oprah is allowed an opinion, as only she is Oprah. If that isn't enough to illustrate the intelligence level of her minions what is?

Anonymous said...

Chez, I am a new reader as well. Friends in the US turned me on to your blog, I had to comment on this one. I live in Beirut, Lebanon and guess what? Oprah is on here and people LOVE her. The country is in chaos but, "that Oprah does so much good". The faithful masses are gathering around the world and I am pretty sure they will turn on us soon.

Stephen said...

I almost forgot....without Oprah how would we have the mainline to the latest Mitch Albom books?????

Adam said...

My favorite thing about this entire post is the hilarious juxtaposition and implied grouping of Oprah, Christianity and the Grateful Dead.

I wish I could claim to well up with zealous hate over Oprah but in the end, Oprah and I rarely have cause to cross paths. The empirical method has borne the simple conclusion that if it's on Oprah's radar, it generally isn't nor will it likely ever find itself on mine. That's not to say I approve of her, but day to day I've got smaller fish to fry. Luckily for me, the womenfolk of my clan haven't been ensnared by her siren song, so I don't have to endure discussion of her show or any of the mediocre claptrap her and her designated artists and sophists are peddling day to day.

Anonymous said...

Chez, you are not alone on your feeling the BIG "O".

If someone really wants to good for others, they do it without the public attention. I think she's trying to set herself up to run for office one day...HOLY CRAP IF THAT HAPPENS..

"OPRAH"

O....Oh
P....Please
R....Run
A....And
H....Hide

For real....go the fuck away... you self rightgous bullshitter..

O.....Oh
P.....Pray
R.....Really!!
A.....And
H.....Hurry...

You need help Oprah...maybe Dr.Phil can fit you in. Well, you'de have too loose some weight first but he could probably help you with that also.

Lily's Mommy said...

I thought the Harry Potter fans were more rabid. Remember when you "revealed" the ending to the last book? Didn't you get death threats??

MJG said...

Definition: "Ophrau"(n) - those who watch Oprah & Dr. Phil and are filled with a undeniable desire to run everyone else's life.

It's not copywrited - consider it a gift.

jen said...

re: the " Ten guys women should run from" article

what i find most unfortunate about "women's lib" is that it has gone this far in the other direction. rather than equality, women are allowed to bash in the brains of every man in their path, and men dare not speak against it (god forbid they do anything other than turn the other cheek). witness NOW - that group does it's best to make the world think women are the most persecuted group, both in history and today, and anyone who says otherwise or simply does not offer the utmost support is vilified. and men, of course, always fall into the latter category.

can't we just find an island somewhere without a flag that we can commandeer and ship all these neo nazi feminists to?? we can appoint oprah their ruler! two birds, one stone.

Blonde said...

about the persons being gifted -- they are not getting something free. The government will want taxes on the amount of the "gift".
There are people who lose their houses after they can't pay the higher property taxes when Habitat or similar groups fix up their homes for "free". Guess those folks don't understand fixed income resources.
With the $ going to one person, then to another I have a premonition of a tax accountants dream in the making.
All of these "give-away" groups and shows impart their dubious "present" to the exact people most uniquely unqualified to be unable to shoulder increased tax burdens.
Whenever I see one of these shows advertised I can see $$ in some IRS agents eyes.
Perhaps Oprah could do an expose' called "I Was Gifted by a Stranger and LOST Everything I Had..."
Or maybe her corporation could create jobs for people and let them earn money to spend and they wish. What an idea...
Guess that might take too much commitment.

Queen of Everything said...

Oprah's just setting herself up for public sympathy and support for the next time she sticks her hoof in a cattleman's ass. I don't fault her for it one bit. Even my mother said it was just 'The Man' trying to keep a woman down.

She's using the system. Anyone who wants to make money and hang on to it does the same. Have you ever heard of Trump making anonymous donations? That makes it hard to document for the IRS.

Still, I'd rather watch her than Billy Graham... unless I turn the sound off. That's like watching Heston in the Ten Commandments in spanish. Fun!

Anonymous said...

I work in a bookstore that sells new and used books. A customer came into the store and was disappointed that we did not have a section devoted to Oprah's books. My explanation that our books are shelved according to the authors' last names did not appease her. While defenders of Oprah are not incorrect when they state that her book club promotes reading and literacy they are ignoring the fact that letting one person dictate the reading habits of millions is a mixed blessing at best.

Chez, you are right on the money with regards to Oprahs iffy altruism. I try to scrape the O stickers off the used Faulkners when preparing them for resale at my store. I can understand it when authors choose to have their questionable pieces of work put on the club, but it just seems to me that Oprah has posthumously taken credit for Bill's works.

Miss C said...

Imagine how we female Obama supporters feel when people (even my beloved Tina Fey) condescendingly assume we are supporting him because Oprah told us to? You know, as opposed to voting for Hill because Tina Fey told you to.

It's the same feeling of ickiness I get whenever Oprah endorses a book I already love with her damned "Oprah Book Club" stamp of approval. Not because I have a problem with Oprah exactly, but because I wouldn't want anyone to assume I'm a brain-washed midwestern housewife based on my liking Barack and Jonathan Franzen. . .

DMIA said...

F-Oprah.

Anonymous said...

I cracked up when I saw the ad. I thought, "What will Chez say about this?" I guess I am a Chezophile suburban mom instead of the Big O fan I am supposed to be... Why watch reality TV when there are "Firefly" reruns on DVD?

Anonymous said...

Your wife is a very smart woman.

Chris said...

"she just fucking sucks." Absolutely brilliant!

Her show only serves to shill for her empire. If I'm going to waste time watching TV in the afternoon, I'll watch Ellen. At least she's funny... mostly.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see some dissent, because it's easy to believe that you (Americans) are all like that. We get force-fed Oprah, Dr. Phil, along with a plethora of soaps and "murder for entertainment" shows .. we shake our heads and say "fucking America".
Those screeching audiences really are the limit. It's embarrassing, even to non-Americans. It's the sort of thing one hopes the aliens aren't watching.

Maggie said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one. I have spent the last several years thinking that there was some kind of subliminal message in her show that I was immune to. I've watched normally sane human beings (including my poor mother!) go absolutely apeshit over this woman. I don't get it at all. I've tried to give her a chance- when my mom went out and bought her DVD, I only said "fuck no" about 87 times before I gave in and watched some of her favorite segments. But I can honestly say that I do not think that woman has a genuine bone in her body. I really believe that this woman wakes up every day and puts on this kind and givin persona. The worshipping, then berating of the author of A Million Little Pieces should have been a huge hint for Oprah's followers. Yes, he imbellished. But that does't negate the positive effects he had on the lives of the people she highlighted on her show. And as soon as he hurt her image, she was quick to turn on him, to invite him on the show to "clear the air" and attack him out of nowhere. The other thing that sickened me was her open publicity of the fact that she didn't want publicity for opening the school in Africa (you know, the one that was later plagued with reports of sexual abuse). To host a television show about how you don't want credit for your good deeds is hilarious to me. The fact that no one saw the irony in that is laughable. Yes, she is doing good deeds, but she is profiting from them more than any of the people she is helping. And in doing so, she is becoming more and more powerful, as in the eyes of her fans she can do no wrong and everything she endorses becomes immensely popular. This, to me, is more than a little bit terrifying.

TWoP Fan said...

The thing is, Oprah DOESN'T try to lift her viewers up. Even on her stupid Oprah's Fave whatever shows it's always shit that OPRAH can afford, not her average viewers. Way to make people remember how you've lost touch with them, O.

Giving way more 10 grand each would be much better in the way of good works.

Also, Jen? Shut it. I am certainly not a feminist, but you are using outdated bullshit make-your-self-feel-better stereotypes that don't even make sense to slander them. If we didn't have feminists, you wouldn't know how to use a computer because that's not a 'womens' place.

em said...

I worked at a bookstore for 3 years and pretty much wanted to kill myself every time:

1) we had a morning meeting and were encouraged to push the Oprah books,

2) I had to acknowledge the fact that we actually had an "Oprah" book table, which wasn't an ordinary long, rectangular table like the other tables on the store, it was a fucking gargantuan OCTAGON filled with a million copies of her fucking books, and

3) people (well, in this particular neighborhood, rich soccer moms who had no lives--not trying to hate on a particular group but whatever, working in that suburb just took a small piece of my soul) would ask me on a fucking daily basis, "Where's the latest Oprah book?", and I had to point them in the general direction of the aforementioned fucking OCTAGON on the first floor.

So, no, you're not the only "jerk" who doesn't like Oprah. Oh, and I also have the pleasure of living in Chicago, where, I swear to God, everyone reads her books on my train. If I have one more copy of "Eat Pray Love" being shoved into my face during a crowded-ass commute (seriously, standing and reading isn't that easy for most people when the train is so packed that your face is a milimeter away from some dude's armpit as he's holding onto the upper rail), I don't know what I'm going to do.

Anonymous said...

Do you think she'll follow in the footsteps of Michael Jackson?

I mean and open a Neverland Ranch, not necessarily molest children. She's paid people to do that.

Maybe I'm just being racist.

hoody said...

Don't sugarcoat it. Stick with what you said in your afternote.

She.
Just.
Sucks.

Anyone who would dare to not only have a damned magazine named after her but also has her own damned face ON EVERY SINGLE COVER is a pathetic twit who deserves to have the covers yanked off.

Becky said...

Amen. You had me at "I suppose" ...

Joyce said...

Maybe living in Holland I'm not as affected by the full scope of her indoctrination powers, but she still manages to irritate me on a scale formerly reserved for yeast infections by just the glimpses I catch of her show (and the show of her equally self-important gimp Dr. "agree with my every word or I will brand you an ignorant liar" Phil).

The way she makes every story, problem or issue about herself and rephrases every insightful comment ("I always call that...") until only the repetative condesending over-simplified drizzle that is Oprah remains.