By now you will have heard that Oprah has opened a “state-of-the-art $40 million school” for disadvantaged girls in South Africa. Her intention is to export firstworldy Opraliciousness to an impoverished, AIDS-ravaged nation through a few hand-picked middle-schoolers.
The premier featured Hollywood celebrities autographing books for the library.
Before I elaborate on what could possibly be wrong with a celebrity autographed library and a nice school for underprivileged girls, allow me to (a) remark that schools in general are counter-revolutionary and oppressive in nature (more on this in a subsequent post) and (b) rag on Oprah a little more.
Once an earthy, essentially harmless TV blob, Oprah rose to prominence by cleverly winning the hearts and minds of millions of invisible, voiceless housebound American drudges. She turned this mighty influence, not, as would have been the optimal scenario, into an attempt to liberate the aforementioned, but into a personal fortune that would embarrass a Rockefeller. She appropriated the same oppressive cultural doctrines responsible for her own famously disadvantaged childhood (capitalist excess, worship of feminine beauty, consumerism, Christianity, romanticization of marriage and motherhood) and whorled’em together as the foundation for her “product”: the Oprahfied self-improvement dogma. The dogma fetishizes the concept of “self-esteem,” suggesting that this ultimate goal is attainable if you only work at it hard enough, and get the right haircut. She uses it to brainwash her acolytes into either gladly accepting their oppression or blaming themselves should they fail, in spite of their best efforts, to find fulfillment as members of the sex class; the whole patriarchy-affirming ball of empowerment nonsense — complete with cautionary “shocking footage” of those who run afoul of patriarchal doctrine — is beamed every afternoon at 3 PM into millions of marginalized brains that, if you ask me, really ought to be hearing more about the invisible pervasiveness of misogyny than about “what not to wear” if they have fat thighs.
Lately Oprah’s been marinating herself in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter sauce of Hollywoodism, drinking her own Kool-Aid, and anointing herself Divine Televangelina of the Megatheocorporacratic Deity.
Even though Oprah is kind of tough to swallow, what with her makeover fetish and the fact that she unleashed the ghastly Dr Phil on an already-tormented public, it’s hard to argue against a school for impoverished South African girls, even one of which the South African government has washed its hands the grounds that it is “too elitist”; intervening on behalf of these disenfranchised girls is an act of heartwarming decency.
“I wanted this,” declaimed the noble deity in a Newsweek interview, “to be a place of honor for them because these girls have never been treated with kindness.”
Well, that’s just sweet.
But, uh-oh. Oprah, her obsession with her own appearance having culminated in a glam shot on the cover of American Vogue, appears to have mistaken education for the patriarchal beauty ideal.
“They’ve never been told they are pretty or have wonderful dimples.”
That’s right. The school will have an on-site beauty salon. I’m not making it up! I read it in the Austin American-Statesman.
Sure, megarich white dudes chuck their money and influence around like this all the time. You expect pink-faced captains of industry, when endowing their schools for the disadvantaged, to demand the inclusion of time-honored elements of patriarchy-worship in the curriculum. But somehow you wish that one of the few women ever to have achieved Oprah’s degree of power and visibility might use $40 million worth of that omnipotence to help fight the idea that femininity ever does anything but oppress. Of course, the feminist revolution that might have prevented her crappy childhood would only hurt her now.