Explain the altar of Oprah Winfrey to me.


I understand she has a lot of money and that gives her a lot of power
— but why is she so ridiculously popular with women?
I don’t know any straight man that is even remotely as crazy about
Oprah as most women I’ve met — they worship at the altar of Oprah and
I don’t understand why.
What is her magic?
What spell does she cast over XX chromosomes?
Does she help Barack Obama or hurt him by campaigning for him?


56 Comments

  1. David,
    i suppose, if we see oprah’s popularity in a gender context, then just like there are men who value and deify other men for possessing skills and talents that are valued within the male construct, oprah’s show, where she often plays the role of a curator of shared, emotional experiences and displays pro-social sentience and empathic concern, is traditionally something that is valued by women.
    but this reasoning is of course very subliminal and approaches the issue from just one angle, her popularity and the almost religious following that she enjoys is obviously a complex phenomenon.

  2. Mike —
    I have the same reaction to her. She is such a preachy phony! I cringe when she begins to proselytize about how wonderful she is… when you dare to say that out loud to one of her acolytes you get looks of disbelief and sometimes even anger that you do not worship her.

  3. Nicola —
    She has never endorsed a political candidate before. She did this time, many of her fans feel, because Obama is Black. There’s a mini-revolt against her with some of her fans that she’s now politicized her show instead of it just being a sharing experience for growing… I’m actually glad she decided to endorse Obama because it gives her real substance… but others don’t want her playing kingmaker.

  4. So what we have is a clever woman who has built up a cult following by pandering to what her audience wants – rather than anything of real substance ?
    (ie she appeals to the masses? That wonderful goey soggy middle ground those that are lost and need something to believe in/relate to?)
    Getting serious might be too much for some of them and maybe they want her to play kingmaker for someone else ?

  5. Nicola —
    Oh, Oprah and her believers feel she is saving the world. I see her as a quieter Jerry Springer.
    If you write a book and she promotes it on her show, you sell a million copies and take top spot on the bestseller list. Her power to cajole popular culture her way is why she is so coveted by advertisers and politicians.
    Her fans see her as the Earth Mother of us all: Ancient, Wise, Rich, Full of Middling good taste. So when she prefers one candidate over another she changes the meme of belonging: You either go with her choice or you realize you’ve been taken along for a ride.

  6. David,
    i think the phenomenon is pretty much identical to any other personality driven cult, and her appeal works best on people who are susceptible or have been conditioned to respond to such stimulus. what i mean is, even if we take her persona at face value, it doesn’t take away from the fact that she is followed by followers.
    is it a co-incidence that much of her following comes from the parts of america that are also deeply religious? i remember reading recently, that when a devout, religious believer accepts any other ideology, his acceptance of the credo would be modeled on faith and not on rational appreciation.

  7. Dananjay —
    I know so many young, professional, women who are entranced by Oprah. They record her every day. They listen to what she preaches. They buy her magazines. They do as she says. It’s a bit of a mind-meld cult in some ways!
    These women are not really religious. They smart. They have their own money. They are independent.

  8. Oh, UGH!, Nicola! I couldn’t tolerate Posh and Becks! I’m so glad they flopped here and you have them both totally back in the UK. 😀
    Oprah and her “best friend Gayle” are just too much. Too precious. Too perfect. You know the secrets they hide are much more interested than what they reveal to us in real life.

  9. David,
    it’s interesting that you mentioned about her book club, and how her endorsement can single-handedly send a book to the best-sellers list. which is why she is eagerly courted by people who have something to sell. which is great for soap and various circus acts but isn’t it fascinating how a book that is sold like this, will satisfy all the signs of cultural significance (topping sales lists, amazon rank etc.), but not make any real impact because most of them would’ve been bought almost automatically and by people who believe “if oprah says so it must be something i should be reading…” and then never really get around to reading it. everybody has it but not many have actually read it. a sort of sleeper best-seller.

  10. I think that’s precisely it, Dananjay. They buy the books because Oprah tells them to but they never really get around to reading it. Oprah is all about the illusion of doing good and feeling fine — but there isn’t any verifiable substance to the real power she posses but chooses to keep hidden and private.

  11. David,
    i’m sure she saw it coming and decided to do the right thing anyways. once the day is over, all will be forgotten and they’ll be queuing up for tickets like they’ve always done. in a way, it’s better if oprah’s endorsement doesn’t work like the magic it always has. somehow i think it would devalue the importance and significance of obama’s candidature. far better that people who vote for him know what and why they are doing so. even if it means that he loses in the end.

  12. David – as a Canadian, I watch the Oprah phenomenon from a distance. She has been on our TV channels here as well for many years, and I have yet to be able to sit through one whole show, or love-fest. I do wonder how many people would pay rapt attention to her pronouncements if she looked like plain wrinkly Mrs. Johnson down the block – minus the clown makeup, the bleached teeth, the rags-to-riches -good girl- pulling herself up by her boot-straps-myth. I have met many remarkable women in my day, but their glamour pales in comparison with Oprah and has not resulted in cult-like followers. Image seems to be paramount, and image sells goods, ideas and ways of living and thinking. If I were Barak Obama I may not have tied my fortunes to the tail of Oprah’s comet. What appears to be endorsement could be taken as collusion and manipulation of sympathy; that can back-fire so easily. G

  13. suburban —
    I agree Oprah — THE REAL OPRAH — is not the glitz and makeup you see on TV and that is a sad disconnect. She is very careful to protect her private life and many people — even expensive stores where she tries to shop out of character after they close — don’t seem to recognize her “out of makeup” and yet she still expects them to bow on bended knee to her.
    I think it was a difficult decision for Oprah and Barack just for the reasons you mention. Oprah — a safe and valued commodity for middle class white women — gambled she could make Obama a safe vote for them to cast… but many of those working women want Hillary, not Obama.
    Obama needs Oprah in that she can give him great access and a world stage — but to have her actually endorse and campaign for him in her TV-preacher style did not go over well with the adoring masses.

  14. I am commenting without reading the other comments first…

    Explain the altar of Oprah Winfrey to me.

    Hope.
    I think she gives woman hope that they can have more in their miserable little lives than they currently have. And she portrays this gloriously, with magnitude and (mostly) humilty. She exudes feminine power, whereas alot of other people (men and woman alike) only exude masculine power. That is a turn off for a lot of woman.

  15. David, a comment you made higher up…

    her alleged empathy is incredibly fake and false that one can see straight through it.

    I’m not so sure that the masses can see straight through it. I think many people are fooled by her.

  16. David, I didn’t phrase that quite correctly. I think she shows humility. Whether she truly has it or not, I don’t know. Sometimes she has me convinced, other times not, and then I wonder what’s behind all that.
    And no, I am not an Oprah supporter, but neither am I a non-supporter. I have only watched a handful of her shows and she doesn’t elicit much of an emotion in me personally, either good, nor bad. I have my own life to lead, and don’t need to live through anyone or anything else, much less her (which is what I also think people are doing). I think she is a good marketer and a symptom of our mass unconscious society.
    Feminine vs masculine power? Now THAT I’m finding hard to put into words 🙂 I’ll get back to you on that one.

  17. natzgal —
    If you are acting as if you have humility does that mean you have humility? That’s where I’m getting confused! 😀 I think she pretends to be humble but we see through her. Is showing the same as being?
    I agree she’s a great actress and marketer — I keep hoping for something more substantial from here apart from smoke and mirrors.

  18. David–
    As usual you are as timely as ever with your topics!
    I agree. The Big O seems to have her hand in just about everything these days.
    And I resent being told what to read, watch, think, and now who to vote for.
    But otherwise I like Oprah. And tune in every now and then for some mindless diversion.
    And I don’t think she’s a phony in the least as long as you recognize that her show reflects her own personal tastes and preferences. Clearly the woman brings alot of her celebrity friends on the show and promotes their latest movie or book. She doesn’t attempt to hide that IMO.
    I personally prefer when she uses her show to inform the public. One example was a show she did on how children could protect themselves from predators. It was excellent and I wish I had taped it. It was that good. But those types of shows are farther and fewer between.
    That’s unfortunate about her Leadership School. Because that was a truly noble endeavor . . . And I believe her heart was in the right place.

  19. Hiya dmtessi!
    I love it Oprah is using her money and power to perpetuate her fame. I just find it the cheapest sort of entertainment value. Anyone can sell a hotdog to hungry people, but to sell a piece of fruit back to the tree is something to be admired.
    The show is her — and I find her sort of vacant. Sure, she’s topical when the world tells her what’s important, but I don’t see much prescience in her shows that show us how to predict a new way of thinking and how to deal with heartache in an ever-darkening world.
    She did a great thing with the girls school — no doubt about that — but there should have been better policing in place just based on her personal history of growing up with abuse from those in power above her.

  20. That is an interesting speech/video – and interesting mix of self effacement ( not quite humility ) – she uses her groups of three well – punch punch punch the points home.
    She is using the *dream theme* well. She is also almost doing a good cop bad cop thing, she builds then up , knocks them back – telling them she is challenging them to think – but also giving them the answer too.
    Smart operator.

  21. It was a terrific speech, Nicola — and I believed every word she uttered was heartfelt and genuine. I wish she were more like that on her show. Some make fun of her “Southern Preacher’s Drawl” at times — but it’s part of her effect and it’s on purpose so you can’t accuse her of being scheming when she’s so obvious. She has so many gifts. I hope she uses them more in the political arena in the future. I actually think she’d make an excellent president.

  22. It’s a tragedy that sexual abuse has come back to haunt in a project that is so near and dear to her.
    Perpetrators are smart ones for sure. So schools and organizations need to protect kids at multiple levels. I’d be interested to know what her school did pre versus post. Then we’d be in a better position to judge.
    You may disagree with me, David, but I thought that the Oprah Book Club, in the beginning, was a novel concept in that it created a book club among her viewer audience and then invited them for an actual get together to discuss the book with the author. I don’t think a “talk show” had ever done anything like this before and so it was groundbreaking. I’m not sure but I suspect it also inspired the One City, One Book concept.
    But then it became The Big O Book Club and, as you say, more about “hotdogs” than the “fruit.”
    To her credit, she brought back the idea in the format of reading the classics like Anna Karenina and A Hundred Years of Solitude. And so she could not be accused of trying to promote dead authors.
    Incidentally, the latter book by Garcia-Marquez singlehandedly destroyed a once-lively book club held at my house.
    But I cannot blame Oprah. We had selected that one before Oprah and all by our brilliant selves!
    If anyone needs copies of this classic, let me know–

  23. Hi David,
    I think Oprah’s personal achievement plays a big role in the “magic” created by her – people, women to be precise – find an icon to look upon.
    I loved her movies – especially “Color Purple”; don’t have much to say about her talk shows – because I don’t watch those.
    She is not a “what you see is what you get” kind of character, in fact no public personality is!

  24. The problem with the book club, dmtessi, is that for new books to be on her show, she required that the author assign production rights to her company. So you could get access to her audience, have her make you a bestselling author — but you had to have her produce your book if you wanted that access to fame.
    If she were truly being honorable and transparent, why not let the authors on her show get the promotion and the good luck in the bookstore without requiring a backend deal on her side? Is that good business? Sure. Is it proper behavior for a public “Book Club” when few of the followers who watch and buy on order from her do not know the details of her private benefit?
    Why did the Garcia-Marquez book destroy your book club?

  25. Whatever the cause, her support of Obama is neither harmful nor beneficial for him. What she brings to his campaign is buzz, but if there is one thing his campaign already has it is buzz. Beyond that, keep in mind that Oprah has taken a lot of flack from female viewers for not supporting Hillary. It is very likely that despite her endorsement, her viewers will still vote for Hillary come primary day.
    Bottom line, Obama has become a rock star candidate, and rock star candidates don’t need star power. What they need is cash and intelligent policy advisors. Oprah can only give so much thanks to campaign contribution laws, and she is not an expert on almost any kind of policy other than empathizing with the folks who sit on the couch across from her.

  26. David–
    I still think Oprah’s intent in the beginning was pure and simple. To get folks reading again.
    And she did, exposing a lot of wonderful authors and books in the process. She definitely increased the popularity of book clubs in my area. I never got into it because I worked and preferred to read what I wanted in my own time.
    Who could argue that reading and getting folks together to discuss books is a bad thing??
    But somehow that got diluted along the way, as so many things do, and as her interests expanded.
    I don’t have the statistics relating to how many of her Oprah Book Club selections she acquired production rights to. That would be interesting data.
    She certainly has had many authors on the show that were not Oprah Book Club-selected authors and she may have cut many more deals there.
    As to Garcia-Marquez: Unfortunately, only one out of seven members of the now-defunct book club were able to get through A Hundred Years . . . And he cursed us all when he learned none of us had even read half the book. It was my husband, and his personal mantra is always to finish something he started. The yearling book club never recovered . . .
    This is my first thought on Oprah and Obama. The Big O and Starbucks don’t seem to be all that different these days. They’re everywhere!
    I’m just wondering when Oprah’s going to market her own line of coffees and begin opening cafes. And who Starbucks will endorse as their candidate . . .

  27. dmtessi!
    I agree Oprah is doing good in helping people start reading again — as long as people are actually not just buying the books so they can pretend they are really reading. 😀
    Gabriel García Márquez is one of the great world writers. If you haven’t read “Love in the time of Cholera” I urge you to pick it up and give it a go. I taught that book in a literature class at NJIT and it was always a spectacular piece to explore the yearning inside us all.
    Oprah is everywhere. She does risk the fate of Starbucks: On every corner and challenged to a death match by McDonald’s!

  28. Hi David,
    I will give “Cholera” a shot. Do you have any idea how it compares to A Hundred Years of Solitude which felt like a hundred years of solitude to get through . . . And it wasn’t a tremendously long book.
    I’m a literary sort of person but I simply could not get through that book. Maybe with the help of a teacher, it might have been different.
    But obviously there are many people who love A Hundred Years . . . The members of my book club were not among them . . .

  29. UPDATE:

    AMERICA’S favourite television presenter is paying a painful price for her intervention in the US presidential campaign last month. Oprah Winfrey has been dubbed a “traitor” by some of her female fans for supporting Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.
    Winfrey’s website, Oprah.com, has been flooded with a barrage of abuse since the queen of daytime chat shows joined Obama on a tour of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in mid-December.
    Her intervention was widely credited with broadening Obama’s national appeal – especially among women – and with helping him to an upset victory over Clinton in the first vote of the election year in Iowa.
    Yet a backlash by Clinton supporters appears to have prompted a rethink by Winfrey, the African-American media titan who is routinely described as the most influential woman on television.
    She did not reappear in the final days before the New Hampshire primary – which Obama lost to Clinton – and has been absent from the most recent campaigning in South Carolina, which votes next weekend.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article3216586.ece