By the time Oprah Winfrey's television program went off the air, she had become almost mythical, an iconic pop figure who drew as much criticism as praise. Mari-Beth Slade stripped aside the hyperbole about 'The Oprah Effect' and examined the woman's true impact.
|Toni Morrison & Oprah|
It’s no coincidence that Oprah.com is the first site to pop up when you Google “live your best life.” Living fully is Oprah’s calling card. Living fully is easier when you’re a billionaire with a personal chef and a payroll full of experts. It’s much more difficult for the ordinary person. As much as Oprah does connect with women of North America, her daily show is also a sense of escape for ordinary women. For example, one contributor to the online forum thriftyfun.com wondered how often she should change bed sheets. Another member responded “I saw Oprah say on her show once that she does them every other day. But she is Oprah and can do that. LOL. Or have that done, I should say.” Exactly. Many of us enjoy Oprah, but we also realize that her reality is not ours.
Living Oprah (now a book of the same name). She embodied every lifestyle suggestion made by Oprah and reported how much money, energy, and time it took. It turns out that it’s very expensive to live Oprah and the majority of us simply cannot afford to live our best lives as prescribed by the Queen of Talk.
It’s incomplete to discuss money and Oprah without mentioning what has been dubbed “The Oprah Effect.” When Oprah endorses a product, sales skyrocket. This says more about our consumerist and celebrity-obsessed culture than it does about Oprah’s discerning taste. In fact, rumor has it that Oprah’s personal taste is actually quite gaudy and horrid. But when you have dozens of people ensuring that you live your best life, apparently this doesn’t matter.
Oprah certainly changed hers. For a name that means “runaway,” Oprah has runaway - with society’s collective soul, from the childhood she was born into, and now into a lucrative new undertaking with OWN. She is the quintessential self-made woman. From skinny jeans to fat clothes, she has been part of our culture for 25 years. I don’t know if she is elitist, escapist, or an everywoman; ultimately she’s an enigma. I still cannot articulate how I feel about the richest and most influential woman of our time. But instead of joining the anti- or pro-Oprah parades, I’ll live my own life: take what works for me, leave what doesn’t, and resist the urge to ridicule. Oprah would be proud.
- originally published on May 31, 2011 in Critics at Large.