Nov 21 2009

A Face in the Crowd

Heather Havrilesky has a quasi-jokey column that precisely illustrates the reasons for my long-held view that Oprah is the opiate of the (white middle class female) people.

Yesterday, when word got out that Oprah will be wrapping up “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which has been on the air since 1986, so that she can focus on her new cable television channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (or OWN), a nation full of women collapsed into the fetal position. Our husbands or roommates or dogs found us in a crumpled heap on the rug, mumbling through tears, “I want my imaginary black mommy! I want my imaginary black mommy!” Will we be like this for almost two years, until Oprah is really gone? Probably.

I predict that, without a daily national TV audience to monitor her, as Oprah continues to marinate in Oprahnality (a proprietary blend of gold, frankincense, myrrh, Hawaiian real estate, and empowerfulized consumerous tabloidism), she will become increasingly weird. We have seen this in Howard Hughes, Elvis, Michael Jackson; the descent into eccentricity is an immutable rule of megacelebrity.

I look forward, after she cracks up, to the collapse of American femin-o-capitalism predicted by Havrilesky as the only possible outcome of Oprah’s abdication from the National Women’s Moral Compass throne.


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  1. Notorious Ph.D.

    But who will tell me what to read?

  2. Laughingrat

    That’s a slick reference there in the title, Jill. *grin*

  3. Comrade PhysioProf

    It is remarkable how psychologically harmful it is for people to be told over and over and over how fucking great they are.

  4. Pinko Punko

    I think after the first billion, the Oprahtheosis was a fait accompli, but the first obvious visible signpost of narcissistic singularity was the self-titled magazine with an infinite lock on the cover for Our Oprah, followed subsequently by the storming of French boutiques after hours. The fact that all sorts of woo are deposited into the popular culture through such a conduit is just the crap icing on the crap cake.

  5. eb

    I love and hate Oprah. She’s kinda like Gollum in that way.

  6. Julia

    Oprah’s philosophy that you can be anything you want to be, is particularly revolting. It blames the poor for their own predicaments and it induces her viewers to obsess about self-improvement (through buying the appropriate products and following Dr. Phil’s advice on how to find and keep a husband) rather than to fight for the improvement of our society (women’s revolution!).

  7. yttik

    Oprah once did an episode with a money guru who explained why people were poor. You had to keep your purse tidy so money would want to live there, it needed to feel welcomed and wanted or it would just seek refuge elsewhere.

    Oprah may have cracked and became “increasingly weird” many years ago.

  8. Jezebella

    The thing is, Julia, Oprah grew up poor and black in the Mississippi Delta and is now enormously wealthy and powerful. If you haven’t been to the Delta, well, don’t go. It’s like the 1930s there. I mean, it’s awful now, and was even more awful fifty years ago.

    Anyhoo, my point is, in her own personal life experience, the “you can be anything you want to be” philosophy actually came true. Her fault is in not understanding that she’s a rare specimen.

  9. SargassoSea

    Slick (and ‘O’ so apt) title, indeed.

  10. Julia


    Oprah’s fault is not so much that she misunderstands that she’s a rare specimen, but rather that she promotes her own misunderstandings as an empowering philosophy.

  11. Squiggy

    “Slick (and ‘O’ so apt) title, indeed.”
    I don’t get the aptness of the title. I want to. Help me.

  12. ew_nc

    If the Gospel According to Oprah will soon be over, dare I hope the same for Christianity?

  13. Gayle


    It’s the title of a classic Elia Kazan movie:


    “Andy Griffith made this film when he was still an actor and not the aw-shucks sheriff of Mayberry. Lonesome Rhodes (Griffith) is more than a TV personality: he is a media demagogue who understands the manipulative power of language and images. You might think a film made in 1957 would be hopeless dated but not this one. It is almost prophetic in its portrayal of modern media.”

    Rent it or, if you use Netflix, put it high on your queue. You won’t regret it.

  14. Sandi

    This event (jeebus! has it really been on for 23 years?) might just somehow blow right past me. Having never, ever watched Oprah’s show, I won’t know what I am missing (so to speak). Since I work in a grocery store, I am sure that I will, however, still see her magazine on the racks. I will also assume that Oprah’s book club will continue, and it can never be bad for more people to read more books. Love the Kazan film reference.

  15. Jane Q Public

    Momma Oprah is an asshole of colossal proportions. Who remembers her interview with Ted Haggard? Seriously, why did Momma feel the need to trot out that fucking godbag to state his case? I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because she’s a godbag, and everyone knows godbags stick together. Just ask her BFF Tom Cruise.

    Also of note, and pointing directly to her status as a godbaggy asshole of colossal proportions, was her swift retreat out of the movie “Interview With the Vampire” and into the lobby of the theater to hold a prayer circle declaring her holiness and sending messages directly to god on behalf of Tom Cruise’s immortal soul.

    It’s high past the time she ought to be moving along to an exalted place appropriately called OWN where she can preach from her pulpit clad in flowing robes and crank out more of her rhetoric 24 hours a day.

  16. Squiggy

    Oh, thanks, Gayle! Hilarious! Top of my queue!

  17. su

    At that degree of celebrity the cognitive dissonance must be simply deafening. To have all of that wealth and supposed influence and still be reduced to little more than a brand; anything less than fullblown psychosis amazes me. She’s not stupid, she has seen that the sycophancy is balanced by the equally self serving manoeuvres of the Jonathan Franzens and others like him, desperate to bump up their own brand by distancing themselves from her. I would have long since expired under the weight of my own cynicism, so I dips me lid to her.

  18. Shopstewardess

    The inability of any single human being to stay fundamentally sane at that level of power and celebrity is the reason democracy is a good idea and politicians need to be kicked out of power on a regular basis: anyone in power for too long is maddened by it.

  19. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Oh dear. What shall we do when we have no one to tell us where to buy our Manolos or our $150 body lotion?

    Oprah lost me when she went on her guru-of-the-month kick and tried to force the odious blowhard Dr. Phil down our collective throats. The last time I blew past the channel while her show was on, Dr. Oz was explaining what to do about farting during orgasm. It was less than riveting.

  20. Felicity

    Never watched Oprah and don’t EVER want to.

  21. Casey

    Oprah’s impending retirement is great news for me, because it means fewer conversational derailments by (white middle class female) acquaintances that begin with, “I was watching Oprah today and…”

  22. Cyn

    I NEVVA liked Oooprah, she said disdainfully, while brandishing a long cigarette holder, but failing to hide her french accent.

  23. Jezebella

    Felicity, it behooves us all to take note of powerful pop culture phenomena, especially those that profess to speak for Everywoman. I get so tired of people who think they’re superior because they don’t watch popular TV shows.

  24. Laura

    I’m pretty sure Oprah isn’t a godbag; isn’t she all into New Age things like Eckhart Tolle and whatever? Well maybe that’s a form of godbag-ism I don’t know, but it seems silly to dismiss her based solely on that. I don’t want to outright defend her for being who she is, but she does do some good (or a lot?), so what’s the issue? I don’t think I’ve watched more than a handful of her shows, but she doesn’t seem like an incarnation of the devil or anything, and even if she is hugely narcissistic, she seems to be trying to do a lot of good with her wealth and influence. Blah blah blah, if the issue is her support of femininity and capitalism, she’s hardly the only (or even the loudest) one, so why all the inherent hate?

    (This is genuine curiosity/no-comprende-senora, not.. I don’t know, anything else)

  25. birkwearingblamer

    It’s great to have Antoinette back! So often, she writes exactly what I’m thinking.

  26. Jodie

    I wouldn’t say that those of us out of touch with popular culture feel “superior”; I know I’d rather hang out at the thrift store trying to find treasures than try to find nuggets of goodness on daytime TV (it’s probably just as likely no matter which one you do). Of course, your mileage may vary.

    I have never watched Oprah either; I think I may have watched Phil Donohue (her predecessor) once and while it was OK, the concept didn’t thrill me, thus have never tuned into similar stuff again.

  27. Jodie

    Oh dang. All those “I”s. Sigh.

  28. DaisyDeadhead

    CNN said today that Tyra Banks will fill Oprah’s social position as a fledgling media mogul in the Oprah-mold. So, not to worry!

    (But speaking personally, Tyra will have to gain at least 30 lbs before I read any book SHE recommends!)

  29. Felicity

    I tune out of a lot of popular things for my own health. I aim to know what’s going on without ‘tuning in’ and getting brainwashed into the popular opinion. Also, I’m not in the US so unless I watch ‘E’ entertainment, never hear about Oprah! It just seems like the usual fuss over somebody for the sake of fussing. No thanks!

  30. mearl

    Antoinette: If you are in need of advice on how to pamper yourself at $5000 a pop, just consult Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, (also appropriately) entitled “goop.” Or maybe you shouldn’t – looking directly into the abyss of some celebrities’ minds is like looking at the scene of a crime: even though you were curious, now you can never, ever get that horrific image out of your brain.

    @Daisy: Tyra Banks? REALLY? Here is where I run off screaming.

    *Runs off screaming*

  31. Jane Q Public

    What strikes me about Tyra Banks is what she considers to be a tough pro-woman stance, but it really just your standard anti-woman bullshit. In between lessons on being “fierce”, which is just another term for the all empowering “strutting your stuff”, and coining such phrases as “smi-eyez”, she hosts shows where she participates in slut-shaming with an air of moral superiority. She condescends to all her guests, but she really lays it on thick for the women. She over simplifies all her questions and talks to them as you would a naughty child.

    Just yesterday a show was on about a prostitute at the bunny ranch in Nevada. She has just given birth and was debating whether or not to return to the job. The father of her child hadn’t given her a dime, and refused to acknowledge the child was his despite a DNA test proving it because, you guessed it, the woman was a lying whore out to trick him. Tyra took the much traveled path of condemning the woman for her choices and alluded to her questionable morals while breezing by the fact that the man who got her pregnant had been sleeping with her since she was 15 and he was 25. While she admitted that she felt adult men having sex with children was wrong, she just couldn’t resist the lure of blaming the woman for everything. Not once did she touch on the fact that prostitution is a way for women to make money because men make it so.

    While these type of shows raise my ire, I find I can’t look away. The endless cycle of misogyny fascinates me. It’s so true that men and women hate you. I blame the patriarchy.

  32. bellacoker

    I had to stop thinking about Oprah when she achieved enough status to start throwing off satellites. It’s scary to think of a person being so powerful that, just by touching another person, she could gift them with success as well.

  33. Bizzie Lizzie

    > > even though you were curious, now you can never, ever get that horrific image out of your brain.

    I don’t think I’m particularly susceptible to pop brainwashing, but I find watching this sort of stuff serves to aggravate my already simmering weltschmertz. I have to look away.

    There is a woman called Trisha something who does a show here and I once saw her siding with a man in shaming an African woman, who seemed to have her head screwed on, for her ‘sluttish’ behaviour in daring to carry condoms on her person. Go figure. I phoned to complain and never heard back. I have to look away, preferably at heartwarming nature crap. We’ve been getting spectacular rainbows.

  34. Cheryl

    I had thoughts along the lines of Jezebella’s when I saw Precious (funded by Oprah). In the movie, the poor, black, fat, abused girl has fantasies of being a star walking down the red carpet. How trippy must it be for Oprah to watch that movie and realize she’s lived both the uber-harsh reality and the crazy-ass fantasy?

  35. LisaB

    The problem with Oprah (as alluded to above) is that she has so much power, such a huge platform, and yet she fails to address systemic problems, choosing instead to focus on the individual. Think what an impact she could have if she talked to women about the societal practices that affect their well-being and potential for success, and how they might go about smashing the status quo.

    But then, you don’t get and keep an Oprah-level platform by challenging patriarchal and capitalist frameworks on a regular basis and in a potentially effective way.

    Let’s face it, Oprah is successful because she makes people feel good in the moment that they are enjoying her. She entertains, distracts, soothes. She challenges viewers only in the most acceptable ways. Is this a good thing? It’s nice to feel good, and it might help keep some people’s blood pressure down or keep them out of trouble. But it might be better for all of us to be doing more to fix this f’ed up world we live in.

  36. Shelby

    Long live the queen! Jeez her mate Gayle gives me the shits though.

  37. Blake

    I tend to agree with more of the posts here than half of what Oprah says, but am I bad bad person for, god dammit, respecting the hell out of her? I don’t even know if that’s the right word. But when you grow up poor as hell in the projects, Oprah is one of those figureheads held up on a This Is What You Can Achieve If You Try totem. Not nearly always or even nearly often enough correct, but fuck me if it doesn’t give you some hope, sometimes.

  38. Jill

    Bad bad person? I think not. If you can get something useful out of Oprah, by all means take it. Lard knows she probably won’t be buying you a Buick.

  39. Jane Q Public

    Laura- Oprah seems to possess a new age spirituality but it’s actually just Christianity with a bunch of Enya CD’s stacked around it. To me, anyone who regularly talks about praying, a higher power, and souls in a personal context is a godbag regardless of what religion they subscribe to. All that spirituality noise sounds like religious code words for god to me.

    I don’t hate her or think she’s evil. I respect Oprah. I admire her generosity. I like her well enough. All I’m saying is: she’s a godbag. And that much influence mixed with religious tendencies make me a mite nervous.

  40. Pinko Punko

    You need to minus points for The Secret too. A lot of points.

  41. Pinko Punko

    I thought there would be more love for “Oprahtheosis” too, I mean good neologisms don’t grow on trees like ellipses do.

  42. PandanCat

    Oprahtheosis is brilliant. That’s what they’re not giving away: the secret final episode where she is assumed, bodily, into heaven. Angels, beams of light, the clouds dramatically opening and everything.

    Just wait. Soon enough, you’ll have magazine-toting missionaries at your door. Have you heard the good word, sister?

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