Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

By Kathryn Lofton | Go to book overview

Introduction

What is Oprah? A noun. A name. A misspelling. Oprah is a person we know because of her publicity, a pioneer we recognize because of her accolades, and a personage we respect because of her embodied endurance, her passionate care, her industrious production. First and foremost, though, Oprah is a woman. An African American woman with a story broadcast by her own engines, with ideas inspired by her unceasing consumption, and with a self magnified by the media mechanics that make tabloid her every gesture. Before that broadcast, before that spectacle, she did possess particularity: a place of birth, a date of origin, a story of parentage, abuse, and utter destitution. The terms of her subsequent uplift are so ritually inspirational as to be mythic; the results of her rise are so idiosyncratic as to be impossible. What is Oprah? Oprah is an instance of American astonishment at what can be.

From the start, it should be clear: this Oprah is maybe not your Oprah. She is most likely nothing like the Oprah you recollect, the one who hugs and helps and heals the world, one sympathizing smile at a time. For the purposes of this work, the materiality of Oprah Winfrey—her body, her biography, and her singularity—is interesting only insofar as it documents and creates Oprah.1 Shifting from her to it is not easy, since Oprah is a professionally lovable sort of she. But the move is necessary if we are to know just what it is, exactly, that she sells. Because whatever Oprah is, it will be, in perpetuity, a product. This book examines a person who is also a product, a woman who blends,

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