The Oprah Phenomenon

The Oprah Phenomenon

The Oprah Phenomenon

The Oprah Phenomenon

Synopsis

Her image is iconic: Oprah Winfrey has built an empire on her ability to connect with and inspire her audience. No longer just a name, "Oprah" has become a brand representing the talk show host's unique style of self-actualizing individualism. The cultural and economic power wielded by Winfrey merits critical evaluation. The contributors to The Oprah Phenomenon examine the origins of her public image and its substantial influence on politics, entertainment, and popular opinion. Contributors address praise from her many supporters and weigh criticisms from her detractors. Winfrey's ability to create a feeling of intimacy with her audience has long been cited as one of the foundations of her popularity. She has repeatedly made national headlines by engaging and informing her audience with respect to her personal relationships to race, gender, feminism, and New Age culture.The Oprah Phenomenonexplores these relationships in detail. At the root of Winfrey's message to her vast audience is her assertion that anyone can be a success regardless of background or upbringing. The contributors scrutinize this message: What does this success entail? Is the motivation behind self-actualization, in fact, merely the hope of replicating Winfrey's purchasing power? Is it just a prescription to buy the products she recommends and heed the advice of people she admires, or is it a lifestyle change of meaningful spiritual benefit? The Oprah Phenomenonasks these and many other difficult questions to promote a greater understanding of Winfrey's influence on the American consciousness. Elwood Watson,associate professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is the editor of several books, including"There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageantand Searching The Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays.

Excerpt

To speak of Oprah Winfrey is to speak in superlatives. She’s the richest this, the most powerful that; the first this, the greatest influence on that. What Caesar was to geography, it would seem, Winfrey is to turn-of-the-twenty-first-century culture. Commentators refer to the “Oprahfication” of America much like historians refer to the hellenization of Europe and Asia under Alexander. Winfrey positioned herself at the head of a vast cultural empire and then convinced everybody to confirm that she’d done so. A discussion of Oprah Winfrey nearly always begins with hyperbole.

Oprah Winfrey starts out with one extraordinary gift: the ability to talk to millions of people as though she were directly addressing each of them. Others have had this talent, of course: Arthur Godfrey, Johnny Carson, Fred Rogers, even Walter Cronkite. As these media personalities did, Winfrey uses candor and a virtuoso fluency with the American vernacular to transcend the impersonal nature of electronic media. Television is the perfect medium for her: millions watch it, but they watch one or two at a time, usually in personal domestic spaces. Unlike her TV-savvy predecessors, Winfrey took her ability to be “someone we’d want to invite into our living rooms” and used it as a base camp from which to launch sorties into every nook and cranny of modern communications. With stunning speed, she applied the sophisticated tools of the modern entertainment-industrial complex to become not just a TV star but a lifestyle. It turned out, needless to say, that she was very good at very many things, from acting to publishing.

Long before makeover shows hit prime time, Winfrey realized that a principal theme of the American story is reinvention. From the earliest days of colonial settlement to the mass immigrations of the nine-

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