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Oprah: A Post-Mortem May 27, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Observations, Popular Culture, Uncategorized.

So the Oprah Winfrey Show has aired its final episode. I decided to watch Oprah’s final episode and see how she’d end 25 years of being on television. Certainly, the promos for the final episode presented it as the End of All Things: she had clips from M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show, Cheers, and other beloved television shows and asked, “Where Will You Be?” Presumably, she was equating this final episode to those other television moments. I note she didn’t include any of the Star Trek series finales as “Where Will You Be?” moments. I am bummed. Anyway, I sat down and thought, “I can do this. I can watch an entire episode of Oprah.”

Turns out, I couldn’t—at least, I couldn’t watch it in one sitting. That was an hour of self-indulgent treacle the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on television. She was right about the finale in one respect; I would never forget it, but not because it was good or anything like that. You see, Oprah decided that she would spend her last episode preaching at her audience. Her grateful audience. Her audience of largely middle-class white women who do nothing but Oprah okays it. Her supplicants, happy to have gotten a ticket to the taping of this, her Final Episode, should have been as happy to hear from her as the supposed multitudes who flocked to hear Jesus of Nazareth—especially if it might mean they get Something(tm) from the Great and Powerful Oprah. So powerful and great is Oprah, that she was able to…um, persuade the Chicago Bulls to move their playoff game so that Oprah might make use of the United Center in order to trot out every celebrity in the known world to pay tribute to the Great and Powerful Oprah. Hell, she gave some of her devoted a trip to AUSTRAAAAALIAAAAA, so wouldn’t you expect to get something from Oprah on her final episode? Something memorable?

Well, folks, you did get something memorable. You got a forty-five minute sermon. You got Oprah virtually erasing the tabloid talk-show history of the show (she mentioned it briefly and dismissed it as her not knowing any better). You got Oprah spouting lame platitude after lame platitude and, at at least one point, dramatically pausing as though she had said The Most Profound Thing in the World and you would rapturously applaud. You didn’t. Your mistake, for your television savior would then go on and on and ON with Oprah’s Beatitudes.

After mangling a principle in physics, she told you that you “are responsible for the energy that you bring into a space.” Really? This is what Oprah thinks Newton’s Third Law of Motion means? Anyway, she then went on to tell you that you are responsible for your life. No one will save you. Or give you a free car in exchange for listening to this pedantic psychobabble. But wait—Oprah told you no one will save you, but she proceeded to subtly contradict that assertion with a brief clip show of many people disclosing Deep Dark Secrets…on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

You see, that’s the “genius” of the Gospel of Oprah and we saw that genius encapsulated in Oprah’s Sermon on the Mount. She spent the better part of twenty-five years telling you that “you” were responsible, you were capable, and you were special. However, you could only achieve such responsibility, capability and specialness via Oprah. Oprah’s Book Club, O Magazine, and, to the delight of shows like MadTV, Oprah’s Favorite Things promoted a gospel of consumption in which you could achieve all that specialness by buying stuff Oprah likes. As she ended her show, she dispensed more pop wisdom in the form of “you’re worthy.” Indeed, I saw Facebook status updates that contained some of the Beatitudes dispensed by Oprah. People responded as though those statements were the very soul of wisdom. I wanted to ask these people, “Did you really need Oprah to tell you that?”

Ah, a defender of Oprah says, she gave glory to God and Jesus! That proves that she’s humble enough to give glory to something larger than herself. Indeed. But God–that “presence bigger than herself”–deemed it so that a sperm and egg united and gave the world Oprah Winfrey! Applaud, meager supplicants! In this moment, if you were not clear that you were being preached at, it became unmistakable. The show and its history now becomes the inevitable result of divine providence.

What’s the word for that? Oh. Yes. Hubris.

By this point, a follower of the Gospel of Oprah becomes fairly indignant. “Oprah funded scholarships for young Black men!” “Oprah has done many charitable things–why do you need to tear her down?” “Oprah is one of two Black billionaires–we should honor her for her trailblazing success instead of acting like crabs in a barrel!” To all that, I say, “Poppycock!” Cultural criticism is not a zero-sum game. Oprah’s followers—and everyone else—are clearly aware of Oprah’s charitable giving, primarily because she’s let the world know that she’s engaged in charitable giving. I am much more concerned about the sheep-like devotion to Oprah I’ve seen in people. I’m irritated by statements that begin with “Well, Oprah says” as much as I’m irritated by statements that begin with “Well, pastor/bishop says,” because they are both devoid of any critical thinking. They are evidence of a slavish preoccupation with letting someone else direct, letting someone else provide pithy, one-line answers instead of doing the hard work of being honest with one’s self. Her extensive charity work doesn’t absolve her from a critical assessment of the show and the way in which she promoted a gospel of consumption and cheap self-help.

It’s interesting to note that, as she spent the hour preaching and using the twenty-five year history of the show as the focal point of her sermon, Oprah didn’t mention the controversies, the moments in which she was revealed as fallible (or, in my words, full of bullshit). What about her giving airtime to people like Jenny McCarthy, the anti-vaxer? What about her own promotion of pseudoscientific nonsense (i.e., “The Secret” or fad diets)? Oprah’s Sermon on the Mount now functions as a way of rewriting the history of the show itself and the leaving of the stage was full of religious symbolism; Oprah has now finished the course (of doing a daytime talk show) and is now ascending into her own private Heaven (control of a network). All praise your digital savior.



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