A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
At high noon, January 1st, 2011, the Evil Queen of Daytime TV took one more step toward total world domination when she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network. This will not be her last territorial demand. In the last 25 years, Oprah has single-handedly done more damage to the equality of the sexes than Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton combined. Her brand of Jell-o Journalism has overflowed its mid-western bowl and slopped squishy, sweet goo and celebrity worship over every aspect of society. And her abnormal obsession with the cult of her own personality has enlisted millions of followers who delight in publically stroking their own egos. In short, Oprah Winfrey isn’t the Anti-Christ, but I can’t tell the difference.
Phil Donahue invented Jell-o Journalism in the 1970s. What he did was take regular news items and real public issues and tone them down, broaden them out and smooth off the hard edges. He manipulated the questions to produce an emotion rather than an answer and carefully presented the information to elicit a strong response. His show pretended to be about hard news and bold discussion. However, in actuality, it was merely entertainment built on simplistic, preconceived conclusions that seemed to come from his own strong emotional attachment to the subject at hand. Although he invented the genre, Phil was never very good at it. He couldn’t produce the single tear for the whimpering puppy — or the spontaneous outrage at the abusive husband. He just didn’t have it. He was kind of a Fisher-Price version of Dr. Phil and Sally Jesse Raphael. So, when Oprah challenged his reign on tabloid TV, he didn’t stand a chance. She could weep on command and giggle like a schoolgirl. She had just the right combination of concern and anger, and her indignation was something to behold. As a result, in the Chi-town Media Grudge Match, held about 25 years ago, Oprah Winfrey kicked Donahue’s ass so badly he had to unbuckle his belt to burp. Phil’s mistake was that he failed to recognize the ruthlessness of his opponent. Oprah Winfrey syndicated her TV show nationally, and the Oprah Universe was born.
In the Oprah Universe, Oprah is everywhere. If she were a South American dictator, the State Department would be concerned about her cult of personality. She’s on cable TV, 4 and 5 times a day, depending on your time zone. She’s on Satellite Radio. She’s online anytime you want her. She has been on the cover of every single issue of her magazine for 10 years. She has only shared it twice — once with Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, and once with Ellen Degeneres, perpetual sycophant. Even Stalin took a day off every once in a while. Oprah Winfrey has become “Oprah” the one word solution to every problem. And how did she get there? By doing what Phil wouldn’t do: selling out a whole generation of women for television ratings.
Oprah’s media presence is based on one simple premise — self help — the ability to change your life. Of course, the un-named assumption is that women (the majority of Oprah’s audience) are all screwed up in the first place. She has built her empire on the insecurities of middle-class women and made hundreds of millions of dollars doing it. The Oprah Winfrey Show follows a very simple pattern: the question is posed and the solution is given. In her time on TV, Oprah has championed everything from diets to angels, and exercise to something called The Secret which apparently radiates good vibrations from positive thoughts. And these get-fixed-quick schemes are all in the name of the inadequacies of women.
Here are some headlines from just one O Magazine, March 2007.
“Too Tall, Too Small, Too big all over?”
“5 Wildly Unexpected Ways to Get Happier”
“Will the Real You Please Stand Up! How to know what you actually want, think, love”
The entire magazine is devoted to readers who, first of all, don’t like their body image; secondly, are unhappy; and finally, quite frankly don’t even know what they wanted to begin with. What an incredibly sexist view of women! And this is just one issue of the magazine. They’re all the same — every month. For an entire generation, Oprah and her minions have been pounding away at these same themes — under the nicey-nicey guise of “empowering” women to change their lives. Meanwhile, Oprah’s Universe has established beyond any doubt that day after day, month after month, women need to be repaired and the wonderful thing is Oprah herself, is going to help them do it – pop psychology DIY.
If you were an alien and watched Oprah for any length of time, you would naturally assume that the females of our species are all fat, dumb and unhappy, not to mention stressed out at every opportunity. According to Oprah, everything from dinner parties to getting up in the morning is a minefield that women must first diligently navigate and then hopelessly recover from.
What do girls born into this mess think? Do they believe their lives are going to be nothing more than a relentless war against body fat followed by the daily wardrobe crisis? If this is help, let me outta here? But Oprah won’t let you out. She’s gone wall-to-wall – 25/8 – on an entire television network — soft core promo for the Ubiquitous Oprah.
We can only pray that her next stop won’t be politics.