Goodbye Oprah

I have to admit that were it not for the Conan O’Brien Show, I would not have realized until now that this was the final week of the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Today National Review Online ran a symposium about her.  My response would have been simply: “Good Riddance.”  Alas other writers offered more detailed thoughts about her.  It was an interesting mix of reviews, some of them positive and others more critical.  While I appreciate some of the good that Oprah has done in promoting literacy, I am squarely in the camp of people who think Oprah’s net influence on the culture has been abysmal.

Several of her critics in this symposium discussed her left-wing politics.  The most succinct summary was Ben Shapiro’s towards the end of the symposium.  While she did indeed shill endlessly for the Chosen One in 2008, her politics never really bothered me.  The popular culture is littered with leftist clown acts.  Instead, her baleful influence on the culture runs much deeper.

Danielle Bean has one of the more insightful commentaries.  She discusses Oprah’s “spiritual” rather than religious side.

When we weren’t looking, Oprah transformed her image into something close to a spiritual icon. Her book recommendations included not only chick-lit fiction titles, but New Age spiritual resources. Her show’s tagline became “Live Your Best Life Now,” a directive that included a spirituality based on the works of New Age notables Marriane Williamson, Betty Eadie, and Sophy Burnham, among others.

In every human heart there is a void — a longing for emotional happiness, personal fulfillment, and spiritual wholeness. Our empty, aching hearts are made for communion with our Creator. Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, can make us whole.

Oprah is a funny, smart, charismatic, and real American woman who has found commercial success by tapping into a human need for “soul food.” When popular culture feeds us New Age mumbo-jumbo, feel-good speak, and words of affirmation, we might be temporarily satiated, but in the end we come away empty again.

Oprah fills our hearts and minds with fleeting feelings. Only Christ can feed our souls.

Oprah is just the most notable representation of our culture’s affinity for new-age spirituality.  We see it everywhere.  Generic mumbo jumbo about getting in touch with our inner feelings has replaced the meatier aspects of religious formation.  Sadly this mentality is not just limited to popular culture.  It’s infected many of our parishes – just look at some of the offerings of our faith formation committees and the bland nonsense which they pass of as religious instruction.  Oprah has fed this beast better than anyone, and that is much more harmful than any of the good she may have accomplished.

Lisa Schiffren gets to the heart of why I’ve always found Oprah so odious.

Enter Oprah. Her personal confessions, tears, and overflowing emotions (delivered articulately enough to suggest preparation), changed the style of casual discourse — and, ultimately, political speech too.

Of course, the feminization of American culture had been underway for a century, episodically, before she showed up. Historian Ann Douglas had ascribed it (partly) to an alliance between victimized women and preachers, attempting to sissify a rugged pioneer culture (e.g. Prohibition or the peace movement).

On her show, Oprah got to be the hurt woman and the preacher. She talked about depression, weight, and sexual abuse, in a manner familiar to women from the intense, intimate confidences of deep female friendship. Those agonies and confessions won the love and allegiance of millions of American women, who were a little lost at whatever point in their lives they were home, watching. It worked because, in the same show, she’d go from victim to healer, offering a female version of the deeply American boot-strapper archetype.

The triumph of her style has helped de-stigmatize real victimization — which is a clear good. Alas, it has made life that much harder for conservatives and others who prefer the rational to the emotional, who don’t think that understanding necessarily equals forgiveness, and who think that there are constraints to material reality, even if there aren’t with love and forgiveness.

There are positive elements of the  feminization of the American culture, as Lisa points, but the overall effect of the Oprah-ization of America has been completely destructive.  Weepy sentimentality has become prevalent. Yeah, it’s good to deal with your emotions, but there is much more to life than perpetual group therapy.

Mollie Ziegler Hemmingway offers the most succinct summary:

If you support the widespread practice of pseudo-confessional but ultimately self-justifying defensiveness, the unleashing of hayseed morons such as Dr. Phil and trust-fund prevaricators such as James Frey, the spreading the New Age teachings of “The Secret” and normalization of a generic spirituality that views all religions as equally truthful, and encouraging grab-bag materialism over time-honored virtue, there is no question that Oprah Winfrey has had a net positive on American culture.

Amen sister.

Some will defend Oprah by saying she is a marked improvement over Jerry Springer and that brand of trash daytime television.  But a clear majority of people looked upon shows of its ilk for the trash that it was and is.  Oprah’s version of the daytime format is more nefarious because so many people actually buy into it.  In other words, almost all of America recognized that Jerry Springer was a clown.  Not so many recognize the same in Oprah.

  1. I can never forgive Oprah for convincing legions of brain-dead TV-watchers to vote for Obama. She has harmed our country. And furthermore, the channel she took over (formerly Discovery Health) was much better than OWN.

  2. Oprah is basically a female Phil Donahue. He pioneered in Chicago what she perfected: a talk show with pretensions, spiced with emotional outbursts, fake rage by Donahue and fake weeping and joy by Oprah. Donahue was more overtly left wing than Oprah, but otherwise the formats were the same. I was on a panel of guests on the Donahue show in 1979, (it was a show on conservative youth), and I left thinking what a truly smooth huckster he was. Donahue basically played to the same audience as Oprah: white middle class to upper class suburban women. It will be interesting to see how long it takes someone else in Chicago to latch on to the same tried and true format.

  3. I doubt if it is Paul. I think the politics are less important than the entertainment and emotional aspects of the package. Using the same techniques, I think a talented conservative host could make a similar go of it with precisely the same audience.

  4. Humanity will never be confused with Vulcans Paul! Intelligent leaders have understood the use of humor and emotion since human history began. Lincoln and Reagan for example were grand masters at it. The techniques can be put to good or ill use, but the basic approaches remain the same: Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry and get them to agree with what you propose.

  5. I wish she was gone, she’s not. She now has an entire network to promote her garbage. Madame Blavatsky would be proud of her evil spawn. Oprah is one of the most dangerous people in the world. She is mainstreaming Theosophy and may likely be the instrument that Satan uses to have humanity declare an open rebellion against God.

    If this were Medieval Christendom, we’d have her investigated by the Inquisition and burned at the stake.

  6. A couple of the NRO writers commented about Oprah being the standard-bearer for feeling over thinking. They’re right. Whatever intellectual gains may have come from her book club, the damage she did to the whole idea of intellect was far greater. When you promote that kind of feel-good dippiness, new age religion is pretty much inevitable.

    One peeve of mine was the over-the-top materialism interspersed between the lessons on what’s important. Finding balance in life! Yay! Remembering what matters! Yay! $50,000-a-day spa treatment! Yay!

    Now that I think about it, if you’ve got a non-judgemental feeling-driven philosophy, you probably don’t have the ability to distinguish between the satisfaction of a good family life and the satisfaction of a roast duck from the world’s best chef.

  7. One peeve of mine was the over-the-top materialism interspersed between the lessons on what’s important. Finding balance in life! Yay! Remembering what matters! Yay! $50,000-a-day spa treatment! Yay!

    That’s a really excellent observation. Oprah also has those giveaway episodes where the audience is showered with the latest trendy objects and appliances, too. An interesting juxtaposition.

  8. “That’s a really excellent observation. Oprah also has those giveaway episodes where the audience is showered with the latest trendy objects and appliances, too. An interesting juxtaposition.”

    It is almost Ophrah meets Prosperity Gospel. Be a true fan of Oprah and one day you may be in an Oprah audience and get a car!

  9. I suspect you all have overstated her influence by an order of magnitude and attributed to her an assist to a cultural shift which was largely complete six or seven years before she was ever on the air. There have been some incremental adjustments in a disagreeable direction since (re the prevalence of a blase attitude toward homosexuality, bastardy, and of adultery by public figures – all still the subject of considerable embarrassment in 1986), but the malignancy was already large. Phil Donohue’s career was an indicator of that, as was the evolution of Esther Lederer’s (“Ann Landers”) stated views over time.

    I cannot imagine what sort of person would wish to air their family dysfunctions on national television, but I cannot see how Dr. McGraw qualifies as a hayseed or a moron.

  10. Perhaps Oprah was simply in the right place at the right time, otherwise she might never have been anything other than a second-string news/morning show anchor in medium to large markets. I remember watching her VERY FIRST “A.M. Chicago” show in 1984 and her name stuck in my mind simply because it was so unusual. She seemed bubbly and friendly enough but not extraordinary in any way.

    What really put her on the map, in my opinion, was that she managed to score a supporting part in the film “The Color Purple” in 1985, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. (She was good, and I rather wish she had stuck to acting.) After that, the network/Hollywood bigwigs took notice of her and the rest is history.

  11. Those who cooperate with evil receive their reward in this life and pay for it in the next and forever. The devil has dominion of this world for a short while, he even tried to tempt Christ with the power to rule. When a no-talent, obscure, moron like Oprah gets picked up for international fame from the local Baltimore TV market, something stinks.

    She is the high priestess of the New Age/Masonic/Occult propaganda machine. Follow her and you too could become a god. Yuck!

    If you don’t believe me, you need your Chakras realigned and your aura cleansed.

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  13. I love Oprah for spoiling the Clintons (plural) bid to re-take the White House. Her support for Obama was early and crucial and gave those of us voting in the “Potamac Primary” that year a true alternative to Hillary.

    I’ve said this before, I credit her with helping George W. Bush improve his standing among women voters in 2001. She invited him on her show, and was widely seen as likeable and engaging. As I recall, his fading support among women voters turned around from that point on.

  14. From the Oprah finale: “People often ask me ‘What is the secret to the success of this show? How have we lasted 25 years?’ I non-jokingly say: My team and Jesus. Because nothing but the hand of God has made this possible for me.”

    Her final words were “To God be the glory.”

  15. RR,

    That may be hope, but it is probably naivete on your part. She has denied Christ numerous times and very publicly and she espouses all sorts of New Age/Occult/Satanic drivel. Furthermore, occultists and Satanists often use Christian words and mean something vastly different. Mormons, who are heavily influences by the Masons, refer to the Trinity as three gods with one purpose. Yet, the average Christian thinks Mormons believe in the Trinity as we understand Him.

    To people like Oprah, God is often a force or energy and often is actually Lucifer himself. Jesus is one of the enlightened ones, but he is not the Christ. So someone like Oprah can sound pretty pious, but if you look at her fruits, she’s the devil’s priestess. The best thing we can do is pray for her soul and the fools who follow her.

  16. I have to agree with Matt. I doubt W would have won the 2000 election without kissing Oprah (and let’s not debate whether he actually won or not – the point is it wouldn’t have even been that close). I truly believe that. That’s a fairly sad statement about our society that politicians have had to move from kissing babies to kissing Oprah in order to get elected.

  17. I think calling Oprah “the devil’s priestess” may be a little EXTREME. Granted her mumbo-jumbo about “energy” and “life force” is B/S… call “energy” what it really is… time for others, kindess to others, gentleness, goodness, Godliness, warmth… we can’t forget that she is God’s daughter too. It’s easy here to throw stones and condemn her for being so New Age… which she is. I think though, on her behalf, she DID expose millions of people to stories about peoples struggles, victories, and personal lives HAS done some good and maybe have actually drawn people to God. While I am often put off, by people who claim to just be “spiritual” (like Oprah…) who is it to say that Christ himself did not lead people to her show, to grow curious about their own latent Christian faiths…. She DID have a group of Nuns on and showed a beautiful inside look at their lives….
    Is she off base and swept up in a fake general “spirituality”? YES YES YES
    Does that mean that she is evil and cries fake tears on her show… NO WAY.
    I think she is VERY sincere… off base… but sincere.
    Lost. But not Vicious.

  18. Extreme! OK. Guilty as charged. Better to be hot or cold, than lukewarm.

    Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Everything else is from the devil.

    Oprah couches the evil she spews with sentimental niceties. This is the devils cunning. Is she evil? I hope not and I pray she will be saved, but I am not giving her a pass. She is the devil’s high priestess, whether she knows it or not.

  19. Anyone who has $2 billion, puts herself on the cover of every one of her magazines clearly has a massive ego that needs constant attention. Johnny Carson used to make me laugh; Oprah made me wince. When she devoted a full hour to porn “star” Jenna Jamieson that was the last straw.

  20. I had always been horrified when I heard the O being discussed by relatively intelligent women.For the life of me I could mot figure out how these women could not see through this Cultist Charlatan.I think emotionalism has a lot to do with it and women generally have been given free reign to be as emotional as they care to be.Men just roll their eyes.
    Whenever I heard a woman extolling her virtues I instantly put her into the reasons why women should not be allowed the vote drawer.