27 January, 2006

When False Gods Can't Light The Altar

I'm a reformed Oprah fan. I fell in love with her during The Color Purple when she was fat and strong and spoke her mind. When her show was first syndicated out of Chicago it came to Fort Wayne as a Donohue-style debate--but seamier!!! More tawdry for your dollar. Oprah was the personifcation of every raw-boned midwestern worman shocked by tales of incest, bigamy and husbands who spend the grocery money on whores. Before Law & Order, Oprah was the place to get your boring life's shot in the arm of tawdry, tantilising, titillating junk. I love stories, and these were good ones.

Somewhere down the line, after her clones were too numerous and cop shows started to out-bawdy her, she got a watered-down brand of religion. First, she lost weight. Just as I was packing the freshman 15 (which were the Freshman 30 in my case) onto my belly, out rolls the fatwagon. This new sleek and skinny Oprah was all about size 10 jeans. And she lost a bit of my interest. (I see skinny girls on TV all the time, thanks.) Perched invisibly on top of the 67 pounds of fat was a large part of Oprah's ability to act as Everywoman's interlocuter. I've since lost track of the fat/thin seismic graphs of her waistline. She was fat and I was fat and I was fine with my being fat because there was a fat girl who made good. Once she publicly announced her fatshame I was done with it. If I wanna hear someone whine about their weight I've got nearly every woman I've ever met to turn to.

Then she decided, about 9 years into her run, that we'd all heard everything before. We all knew, thanks to her show and its many imitators, that some housewives turned tricks for mad money and that normal-looking people had gay family members. Conveniently she decided to be born again into the Remembering Your Spirit Oprah who burned incense, got you to decorate A Room Of One's Own and very publicly patted herself on the back for giving sheets to orphanages. She disavowed Trash TV and aimed to create a better world. Everyone lauded her for ending racism, homophobia and heck...world hunger. Long about this time (1998), I created my first public website and dedicated it to debunking the New And Improved Oprah. Patrick refers to that period of my life as my 15 minutes of fame, although he's wrong. It was only about 3 minutes and I was only famous if you read The National Enquirer or E! Online. But it was still enough to get death threats from poor spellers who loved Ms. Winfrey and were apparently Remembering Their Spirit by advocating my demise.

I stopped the website when I lost interest, and moved on to other things. I also stopped watching Oprah, but friends and family keep me up to date--almost gleefully. As though my Quixotic fixation with her windmill is their greatest entertainment. I'm puzzled by the 'new and improved' less tawdry version who couches her seamy topics in a good-for-you shell. It's like finding a box full of Lucky Charms marshmallows with a few twigs of All-bran for legitimacy. I've heard tell that Ms. O has done stories on The Down Low, the Rainbow Party and other highly-sexualised topics. Of course instead of just being the "Girlfriend, Do you believe this?!?" freak show of the mid-80s fat Oprah, it's now in the guise of Public Service. You should be aware that your husband MIGHT be having sex with men and giving you AIDS. You should know that your teenager MIGHT be getting/giving blowjobs with multiple partners. Of course, instead of watching 40 minutes of television you could get to know your husband, your teenager, yourself. That would be too easy. And face it. We're all pretty darned dull.

Then there's the bookclub. The point of this particular wordy screed, the thorn in this bitchy lion's paw. Books are, to put it crudely for those who don't know, my life. I read them to much success, write them to small success and read about them for fun. The book world is starving to death, and gladly accepts crumbs from the television table. Oprah has been lauded in publishing circles far and wide as the Saviour of The Book. Can I not escape the clutches of this woman? I do understand her interest in a book club though. Books have an air of legitimacy and seriousness that television has always lacked. It may not be fair and it may not be right but that's the way it is. And it's no coincidence in my mind that Oprah's sudden interest in the world of print came about at nearly the same time as her change in tenor for the show. It was a covert message to her fans. "We are now serious tv, stepping away from the tawdriness of life to answer the call to a higher plane."

Rest assured, fair fans, this higher plane will be just as fun. (And the first book is about a fat girl.) With inerring accuracy she selected one book after another which mirrored the themes of shows in ages past. Incest, addiction, non-traditional sex activity, depression, murder, suicide, AIDS. It was the same Oprah show under the covers, and the readers ate it up. If Oprah recommended a book it was sure to be more interesting than your carpool-lane tuna casserole existence.

My Sunday School teacher's wife has been after me for a solid six months to read A Million Little Pieces. I refuse politely but firmly each time. People chalk it up to my Oprah hatred, and that is part of the issue. I don't read her book recommendations because they are inherently depressing. But more than that, I don't read books about/by junkies anymore. I read Man With the Golden Arm in high school. And of course I had to read Go Ask Alice in 7th grade health class. I may have decided to not do drugs after these books, but they did absolutely nothing good for my seasonal depression.

Besides, I'm a deadhead. I have been for a long time. That means that many of my close friends were junkies, that I've seen people OD and that I've had people I love steal from me, lie to me and flake out. I've been a designated driver through life, and it's not fun. I'm not about to find the Tales of A Junkie's Drama intriguing or interesting. And frankly, I don't believe it. None of the junkies I've known--even my uncle, who went to jail--led such an interesting life as James Frey puported. A true junkie's memoir would be about stealing twenties out of your mother's purse, getting high and spending all afternoon at the Sizzler in Muncie. High-speed police chases, drunken brawls and whatever else Frey lied about are just movie fodder, as far as I'm concerned. So when I heard that he was selling this interesting life on Oprah I just rolled my eyes.

When I heard that he got caught in the lie and was dragging Oprah down with him I laughed.

When I heard that she finally ate crow on yesterday's show I was about the happiest I've ever been.

But now I'm back to being ticked. Because her next book is Night, which deserves to be taken seriously. I fully expect a passel of Holocaust Deniers to use the Frey scandal in an attempt to "debunk" Wiesel's masterpiece.

Society turns on a twisted axis.


At 11:43 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Lee said...

I really couldn't care about Oprah either way. Not enough estrogen in my system, I guess.

But what was infuriating was watching cable news last night, and having programs LEAD with the Oprah/Frey story.

On the same day a terrorist organization just won an overwhelming election in the most unstable part of the whole freakin' world, 'serious' news outlets were discussing the repurcussions of Oprah?


At 1:00 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger reader_iam said...

Thanks for the link. I have to run to a meeting (about editing a handbook, as it happens), so I comment on your post right now. But it's a good one.

At 2:28 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Peggasus said...

I, too, admit to being more than a little gleeful over this debacle.

The Beast lists her as #20 of the Most Loathesome People of 2005, and illustrate my sentiments towards her perfectly:

Charges: Winfrey’s entire life is an exercise in self-aggrandizement, from the TV show which tells us what to read and how to live to her eponymous magazine, every issue of which features her smug countenance on its cover. More than just another insufferable Hollywood egotist, Oprah is something more akin to a housewife messiah, providing false hope and faux spirituality for experience-deprived worshippers. Everything she does is strategically designed to draw more praise, more devotees, and of course more money. Recently had celebrated poet Maya Angelou on her program to promote her new poem, which Oprah read for the audience as if she wrote it herself, as she seems to actually believe.

But what I've really enjoyed is the incredulous look on her face, as if she can't believe that she would, could possibly be subject to anyone even TRYING to trick her, you know, like what happens occasionaly to us lesser mortals.

But giving credit where credit is due, I must admit that her hair looked fabulous.

At 3:07 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Lee, you're lucky. I cannot escape her.

But honestly, what do you expect from the news? People care about Oprah, either to the good or the bad. But Hamas and Palestine are, for much of the country, obscure glaze-over topics.

Now if the Hamas-led Palestinians had Rainbow parties....maybe then this radical paradigm shift would make the top story.

Reader, thank YOU for your coverage of the show. You saved me much time...;=p Please feel free to come back. I know I'll be back to visit you. Even though you LIKE Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. (It's my least favourite Mozart piece, for reasons I don't even know....)

Peggasus, I echo The Beast on this and am glad to have you share my bliss. And yes, you're right. Her hair looked good in the pictures. ;=p

At 2:14 PM, January 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with Oprah is that she puts a little bit of one-sided information out there and a LOT of ignorant women who are too busy or too lazy to get news from anywhere else accept everything she says as gospel. If Oprah says it, it must be so. The truth often gets lost along the way, and women who should know better believe in the hype and falsehood.


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