I have mixed feelings about Oprah– conflicting opinions, I should say. While I think that her show is uplifting, and does a lot of good for a lot of people, at the same time, I think that the show has become little more than a vehicle for perpetuating fluff, under the guise of trying to get people to improve themselves. I've watched her show off and on through the years, and there were a few good years. But now, the show seems to have a scattered focus. One day, we are watching people nominate worthy individuals in their community for recognition through Oprah's Angel Network; the next day, we are subject to hearing yet another boring story about how Oprah's best friend, Gayle, can't find a man. But we all lose focus and wander from time to time, so it's no big deal, and other shows have done worse.
My biggest complaint about the Oprah Show is the fact that she is constantly talking about weddings, marriage, marital relationships, and raising children, yet she has done none of these things herself. I often wonder, why are these women listening to her? Doesn't it occur to them that Oprah is not even married herself? Then I realize, that Oprah has never claimed to be an expert on any of these topics. She always invites a panel of experts, or people who have "been there" to relate their stories or to share their expertise with the audience. Oprah only acts as the faciliator.
My only other complaint about Oprah is about the show where she had Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger on, in the middle of the whole Gray Davis Recall embarrassment. Now, if she'd only had Maria on, I would have no complaints, because it's a well-known fact that Oprah and Maria are close friends. But to have Arnold on in the middle of all that seemed to set a political tone to the show, and it seemed (at least to me) that Oprah was, indirectly, endorsing Arnold's run for governor of California. Frankly, I think his visit to her show contributed a great deal to his victory. I find it interesting that few people commented on this.
It seems that people are content to continue bashing her Book Club, the books she chooses, her ending of the first book club, and her spat with Jonathan Franzen:
When Oprah petulantly cancelled her Book Club, she acted out TV's norm in the real world– the norm that consequence need not be considered. There were consequences, of course: if Oprah really had the ability to make eight million people believe literature was important, she also had the ability to make them believe the world's writers couldn't collectively produce twelve good books a year. This is damning, and damaging, and really pisses me off. She has the right– is allowed– to discuss books; she has no right to casually dismiss contemporary writers en masse, especially when her dismissal has real consequences in the real world of literature. So, yes, the lit crowd is suspicious of Oprah, and with good reason. Is this suspicion based, in part, in snobbery? You bet.
This is an excerpt of a debate on the matter (link via Bookslut).
Some people seem to think that just because Oprah has a large amount of influence over her audience, or rather, that her audience likes to emulate her in a big way, that Oprah is maliciously trying to control the publishing industry (and a laundry list of other industries). Someone once said to me, "Oprah has just gone too far! Someone needs to stop her." When I first heard it, I laughed, thinking that it was odd that someone would actually say that in a serious tone of voice. Just how has she gone too far? Just who is it that is going to stop her?
The cattlemen in Texas tried that, and failed miserably. Oprah is indeed bulletproof; even as her show gets schmaltzier, she gains more fans. Who wouldn't be a fan of someone who threw money out like she grew it on trees on her ranch? So, some of us joke that her fans are just mindless bots who can't think for themselves. I'm guilty of harboring these thoughts, especially of the people who hang on her every word. And describing some of the guests on her show as being clueless would definitely be an understatement. I often wonder just how some of these people manage to read the books that Oprah picks for her club. Yes, the books are mostly depressing or schmaltzy, but quite a few of them are very challenging to read. Reading Toni Morrison is no easy feat, even for the educated.
So, I refuse to complain about Oprah's book club; she's getting people to read. Isn't that always a good thing? It is not Oprah's fault the the publishing industry is losing sales to other media; it's not Oprah's fault that publishers have decided to focus on a few top selling and famous authors, to the detriment of new, or lesser known writers. It's not Oprah's fault that literature is to reading as jazz is to music: a little understood, little appreciated art form. It's not Oprah's fault that publishers, like most other businesses, are content to go after the fast buck and instant profits, instead of investing in a diverse array of literary works.
This debate is similar to the one about the lack of quality or "high brow" films being produced today. People wonder why studios pour money into cheesy/tasteless films. Which films make the most money week after week? As was widely reported after this year's Oscars ceremony, "high brow" films may be the darlings of the critics, but fluff is what people are most willing to pay to see. It would be so refreshing to see people stop trying to blame Oprah for the downfall of whatever entity they can think of, but I know that it will continue unchecked (people are blaming Bill Clinton for things that happened after his presidency, so I know that the Oprah bashing is here to stay).