On this, the last day of her television show, Oprah might say her plan all along was to become an invisible conduit through which you, the simple viewer, could just believe in yourself—but don’t you fall for it.
Underneath the sincere sweep of false eyelashes is a brilliant saleswoman, an excellent actress and a shameless self-promoter, a woman whose wealth and power has been built by our belief in her.
She’s become one of the richest, most powerful media personalities in the world because we’ve hung on every sanguine word for 25 years.
Personally, I think this phenom of positivity exploded into success because she filled a vacuum left by the atheism of the Western world. We don’t believe in God anymore (at least, not in the way we used to) and it’s inevitable that people would be hungry to replace one deity with another. As Bob Dylan put it, “you gotta serve somebody.”
“…But she’s built schools in Africa and elevated the status of the teaching profession…”
“…But she’s stocked libraries in her own country and around the world…”
“…But she’s raised untold millions for disaster relief, given homes to the destitute, bestowed cars, trips and makeovers on the deserving…”
“…But she’s sent underprivileged African-American men and women to college (and possibly put the first African-American in the Whitehouse)…”
“…But she’s single-handedly revived publishing in America…”
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I would not for one minute devalue her financial contributions or her efforts to make the world a fair and equal place through her power and connections. Nor would I ignore her amazing ability to galvanize her viewers into doing similar acts of kindness and civic responsibility.
Is she inspiring, even a little chastening for the rest of us lazy clods sitting on our couches? Yes.
Is she worthy of worship? No.
But that’s exactly what people do.
Here in the Maritimes, the closest comparison I can think of is the Irving family. From humble beginnings in small-town New Brunswick they’ve built a business empire—I’m not sure if anybody knows how many companies they really own. They employ thousands of people in several different industries. They’re one of the richest families in Canada.
Despite this, people love to hate them—they’re sometimes seen as too powerful. Because they own all the dailies in the province of New Brunswick, people think the media is not truly free to be critical and because they control key industries and employ many taxpayers, they influence important government decisions.
This is what concerns me about Oprah and her media empire. When an unflattering, unauthorized biography was released last year by Kitty Kelley, some of my acquaintances were so loyal to her image they refused to read “such gossip.” But even more shocking to me, very few media outlets in the US interviewed the author (thus promoting the book) for fear of incurring Oprah’s wrath.
Now that’s power. Especially for a woman who undoubtedly still puts her trousers on a leg at a time.