Monday, May 16, 2011

No Tears for Oprah

Unless you have been under a rock and/or don't watch TV, it's impossible to escape the fact that Oprah (Winfrey) is ends the network run of her talk show this week after 25 years on-air.

I will preface these points by saying my words here are not about being a hater. I respect Oprah's accomplishments and believe she has worked hard for everything she has. For the most part, she appears to have a good heart but has suffered from some misguidance as she's gone about her career.

Although it may be overstating the obvious, Oprah deserves props for bringing our attention to many issues that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. However, I jumped off the Oprah bandwagon a few years ago. You will figure out why as you scan through the list below.

(Vogue Managing Editor) Andre Leon Talley. I stopped watching Oprah when her guest was this pompous arbiter of all that is fashion and womanhood, who was able to declare, unchallenged: "A woman is nothing without a pair of Manolos in her closet." Now as we all know, the Talleys of this world are pretty much paid to promote "high fashion," "haute couture," or whatever they're calling it these days. (Frankly, I call it misogynistic, size-biased, overpriced, budget-killing "stuff," at best.) If a woman needs fashion to feel like a woman, she should take a big step backward and find some real meaning in her life because it sure isn't in her closet.

Oprah made the Talleys of the world that much more powerful and never used her journalistic skills or impartiality to make valid points contesting such ridiculous assertions. Yet in a world with such increasingly precarious economic fragility, the need for more practical positions is becoming glaringly obvious with each passing day.

The hypocrisy in declaring the importance of "angel networks" and "now you know" and being aghast at the number of families going into debt due to "overspending" were clear to me, if not to the rest of her fans. I wrote, I expressed my concerns, no one paid attention. So I stopped paying attention too… to Oprah. I just couldn't stand the ridiculousness of the contrasts.

Target audience. In my opinion, although Oprah is indeed a proud Black woman who has never forgotten her life growing up with modest means in Black America, her target audience has obviously been middle to upper middle class white women. Many people of color have remained faithful fans over the years but in my opinion, I don't really believe Oprah has consistently used her juice to fully embrace and serve those who are still struggling with the kind of life she had been living before she started on her road to stardom.

To me, if anyone needs unending support and guidance, it's those trying to find a way out of despera­tion or a place from where they don't believe they'll ever emerge. Let's just say Oprah could focus a little more on those who seek direction and support than catering to those who already have the advantage of being able to tune in to her daily.

Commercialization. Those "My Favorite Things" segments have largely been focused on items embraced and affordable mostly by her middle to upper middle class devotees. While those episodes seem to be exciting and entertaining to watch—not a dry eye or seat in the audience—they were really hour-long commercials featuring pricier products that were more trendy than practical. It's not like Oprah paid full price for every item out of her own deep pockets; there were advertising trade-offs by the companies involved and lots of freebies for the privilege, and so on.

Actually, when any show concentrates on a certain person or group of persons that then receives huge rewards for their experiences, there's always that bittersweet sense of exclusion everyone else feels… as if they haven't done enough to benefit, they aren't worthy. Truth be told, I've stopped watching most shows like that because I'm just an all-exclusive kind of chick and I feel like others are being exploited for my entertainment.

Celebrity. In such a ridiculously celebrity-focused society such as ours, I'm sure topic-driven shows had to take second place to celebrity-driven shows. This no doubt included pressure from the network and staff. But Oprah took a turn somewhere along the line and her shows became more about fabulousness than real people. If someone with her juice didn't try to upset the apple cart and push the boundaries, then her mission to be real is still left somewhat unaccomplished. In a world where (literally) 1000 people can be bought for the price of one high-in-demand Hermes bag, Oprah still has some explaining to do for some degree of selling out.

Even if Oprah had taken her thyroid issues to a public audience more conscientiously, she could have made a significant difference for so many viewers. I contacted the show years before she was diagnosed because of what I saw to be an overwhelming prevalence of autoimmune diseases, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and similar medical conditions often categorized as "hypochondria" or "imagined." There seems to be astonishingly little information offered by broadcast media to help sufferers to understand what's happening to them and what can be done about it. Ironically (and tragically), it is largely Oprah's target audience that become primary sufferers from these conditions and could benefit the most from this kind of attention. The one episode or two done on Oprah's condition was so much more about her than about the condition.

Money. Again, Oprah deserves her billions, although I admit I giggled at her tear-laden declaration that her life has been so "enriched" by her audience. We should only see a drop in the bucket of the riches she has accumulated since her first show aired 25 years ago. But here's the reality: By having her own cable network (OWN—Oprah Winfrey Network), she stands to multiply her billions, especially when the time comes, I have no doubt, she announces that "The Oprah Winfrey Show" will see a new life on OWN.

So Hasta la vista, Oprah. Congratulations on your achievements. I know the networks are sad but I'm sure you're not disappearing off the face of the earth, either. Paraphrasing what your old pal Arnold has said: "You'll be back."