Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

By Kathryn Lofton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Diverting Conversions
The Makeover as Social Rite

It was just another episode, a day like so many other days with The Oprah Winfrey Show. This particular show in 2003 devoted itself to crowning four women as princesses. “I love surprising people,” Oprah said in her opening voice-over. “I love making them happy.” And make them happy she did. The first princess, Ashley Smith, earned an audition for American Idol; the second, Fannie Eugene, received weekly Merry Maid service, a $23,700 Ford Windstar minivan for her long workday commute, and a deluxe trip for two to New York City, accessorized with new luggage; the third, Linda Feinstein, received a total home makeover, including wall-to-wall carpeting, a new dining room set (matching china, silverware, linens, pots and pans, all courtesy of Crate and Barrel), and a new washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave; finally, Laurie Mullick received a complete wardrobe from Dana Buchman.1 None of this was unusual, and despite its relentlessly dramatic reveals (“a complete wardrobe?”), none of it was very surprising. All resonated with what had come before: the goods, the excess, the gifting, and the spectacular casting. The ritual of her generosity is what is so resonant to the cultural observer: the care of the managers, the timing of the process, and the seriousness of their steps. The room knows what to expect from Oprah, and they know how it will come.

To begin, the Oprah show conducts the event with giddy ritual care. Each time a new princess is announced, she receives a large tiara and a sash (e.g., “princess fannie”), and she remains on a center-stage

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