Monday, July 20, 2009

Oprah Winfrey: Refuge of bored housewives and pretend intellectuals

Oprah Winfrey, queen of talk show, billionaire, arbiter of everything under and above the sun and above all just mediocre. Oprah, to be sure, has a compelling life story. Abused as a child she has risen, as an Afro-American, to dizzying heights. Presidential contenders appear on her show. Corporates jockey to have their products featured in her magazine or better still on her show. Publishers pray to have their books chosen by her and skyrocket to bestseller list. She is therapist supreme, along with one time acolyte Dr Phil. Bored housewives, her mainstay, drool over her. Sometimes I think of the many jokes that are heaped at housewives in Tamil Nadu obsessed about serials, the American counterparts are not much different when they swoon over Oprah and other soaps. Of course Oprah is any day a shade finer than a crude Tamil serial but only by a shade.

What Oprah achieved is hugely creditable. No doubt. An Afro-American woman beamed into the living rooms of America managed to surmount racial divides and touch something in every heart (I specifically avoided saying "mind").

Jeremiah Wright hit the headlines as the bigoted screaming pastor when Obama ran for President. Obama feigned ignorance of Wright's hateful speeches and finally at a convenient moment dumped his pastor who had outlived his purpose of giving Obama, an upcoming politician in CHicago, a foothold in the community. Little is known of Oprah's own association with Wright. She too, mindful that any association with the fiery pastor would undermine cutting across the racial lines, dumped him very early on. Poor Wright. Some character of Oprah.

As her empire expanded Oprah became the high priestess of everything. In order to provide some intellectual fig leaf to her audiences she started a "Book Club" and critiqued books. Any book selected by her became instant bestseller. I am amused seeing publications of Elie Wiesel's "Night" with the label "Oprah' book club selection". Weisel's holocaust memoir was a best seller decades ago and still is a powerful book that somebody needed Oprah's stamp to pick it up is disgusting. I wish publishers did not use that label, and I wish bookstores refused to sell it to anyone inquiring it as "oh is it selected by Oprah". Likewise for Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others. Nobody goes to a church via gutter. Anyone who chose these books based on just Oprah's advice does not deserve to be within 100 feet of a decomposed copy of those books. Jonathan Franzen, author of bestseller 'Corrections, snubbed Oprah by refusing to appear on her show when she tempted him with her offer to select his book. People like Howard Roark do exist.

Oprah's hubris finally had its comeuppance in James Frey's pseudo-autobiography "A million little pieces". James Frey's supposed memoir, filled with anecdotes from his life, was exposed as total fraud. Even while book critics were murmuring the fraud the pretentious Oprah selected the book, interviewed Frey on her and conferred stardom. When he was exposed Oprah became furious and hauled him again to her show and berated him on live TV. No apology from herself though.

As her empire grew into a media conglomerate she cheapened herself into giving freebies for her shows attendees "cars for everyone". Then followed ill managed scandal haunted charity schools.

Her show was the platform for quack theories. She had a show that had "experts" opine that mercury in vaccines caused autism. People who were invited to give the 'other view' were muzzled. The show and the theory was widely panned. Then followed dubious psychological counseling Dr Phil, a columnist dubbed him as 'Oprah's Oprah'. Dr Phil is now running his own controversy ridden show now. Newsweek recently an extensive cover story on the seamy side of Oprah.

Oprah's advocacy of Barack touched heights of hypocrisy. I can totally understand her supporting him but to pretend that his race had nothing to do with it was baloney. She drooled over him, calling him "the One", she claimed "the truth led me to Barack Obama". When a woman asked her why she is not supporting Hillary a woman, Oprah recounted it as "she 'dared' to ask me...". How dare the viewer ask her. When somebody endorsing a candidate speaks of the candidate in messianic terms we have to politely infer the objectivity involved.

Anyway she has brought happiness to many a housewife and for that America loves her

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