June 30, 2004
Yes, oh yes, I know I risk the respect and affections of a lot of people who are dear to me with this column. I just can't keep it in any longer.
Oprah bugs the crap out of me.
It wasn't always like that. I was a faithful viewer for many years, through the fat times and the thin times and the fat times and then to the fit times. I've met SO many wonderful people through her, actual gurus in my life like Iyanla VanZant and Dr. Phil and Gary Zukov and Christiane Northrup. I can't imagine my life without their guidance. They have each and all sparked off huge litanies of inner wisdom in me and I consider them to be my very dear teachers.
Oprah has done amazing things in this country, despite the minority factors of being African American and being female AND being born dirt poor. I admire that greatly in her. Oprah makes a lot of my dear friends happy and for that, I am also grateful to her.
But Oprah just bugs the crap out of me.
I want to emphasize that anything I say here is simply my own impression, formulated during my journey out of avid fandom and into frustrated annoyance. I do NOT expect anyone to endorse my opinions and I gladly accept that others feel differently. I feel it is a matter of taste and personal preference. Again, this is just a rant of my own thoughts and not an attempt to sway the masses who adore her.
Have I mentioned that she bugs the crap out of me?
Many people have said that it happened when she lost weight, that suddenly, she wasn't "Oprah" any more. It's inevitable that when a person goes through such a life altering event, they will change. One must only watch the people in the Dr Phil Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge, on Discovery Health's "I Lost It" and other weight loss confessionals to hear about the changes in self-esteem and personal perspective after losing lots of weight.
I don't think it was about the weight. I think it was about the money.
My problem started last year when a program aired in which she interviewed singer, Celine Dion in her home. I had never once had an ill thought about Oprah until I saw her standing in Celine's huge, walk in closet (roughly the size of my downstairs), looking at her many beautiful clothes and listened to Oprah and Celine high five each other about their good fortune in life and in the same breath, start talking about spirituality.
OK, I filed that away and pretty much let it go for the moment.
One of the next episodes was called quite affably, "Whatcha Cookin'?" The premise was that Oprah was going unannounced to people's houses and asking, "Whatcha cookin'?" As in, for dinner. Every house they went to had to be in Beverly Hills, I swear. Everyone they talked to was cooking shrimp something something or braised lamb shanks or chicken cor don bleu or some other crap that nobody really cooks. I mean sure, some people do, but what are the chances that every frickin person she visited was cooking some kind of gourmet food? God forbid she go into some of the lower class housing of Chicago, where her show is taped, and ask some of those people what they were cooking! Did she edit out all the people who said, "OPRAH!!! AhhhhEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I'm makin' Kraft Mac and Cheese and hot dogs, come on in, baby!" Next house, "Well, Oprah, tonight, we're having gently cooked vermicelli with a light butter coating, salt and pepper and a lovely chilled tropical punch Kool-Aid." Next house, "Oprah!! Sure, come on in! We're having the giant can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Uncle Ben's Boil in the Bag Rice added after it's all heated up!"
Oh no. It was high class culinary cuisine all the way.
I frowned a bit more. >:<
Soon, it was time for her "My Favorite Things" show. Nope. I couldn't afford any of them. I wasn't sure anyone I knew could either. I thought about how those things had been given to her by the companies that made them, knowing fully well that they would receive orders out the wazoo as soon as the show aired... and as soon as the show reaired later that year. Anything mentioned on Oprah's show goes through the roof in sales. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Oprah is so kindly sharing her favorite things with all of her friends who are rich enough to buy them (or she gives them as Christmas presents... certainly not to me!).
I then remembered an episode I'd seen the year prior focusing on Richard and Rachael Heller, who developed the "Carbohydrate Addicts Diet." Carb Addicts Diet promises amazing results and it does work, just like all low carb diets work and all low fat diets work provided you stick with them. The difference with the Carb Addicts diet is that unlike many other diets, it is very carefully structured. The idea is to curb insulin spikes that are rampant and extreme in people who have abused carbs in the past. Their premise is that if you severely limit carbohydrates all day long (even below that of Atkins Induction), for your evening meal (or any one meal a day, as long as you keep it consistent) you can have a "reward meal," which means you can eat whatever you want and I mean WHATever you want provided you match it with equal amounts of salad and protein. It's a sound premise, but most people are uncomfortable consuming so few carbohydrates. The Hellers also list a few key foods that tend to aggravate the insulin levels a bit more and suggest that if you are having trouble losing weight, you should limit these items.
Oprah didn't lose weight on the diet and worked hard to make them look like asses. They asked her to keep a food diary and showed her the places nearly every day where she'd gone off the diet and eaten foods that would throw off the system and counteract the weight loss. They also pointed out places in the book where it was clear that doing this would be a problem. She totally ignored what they were saying and mugged around saying, "Surely a little bit of asparagus soup wouldn't throw off the diet!" "Well, yes, when you consider the cream base and other things in the soup, it would totally throw it off." "Awww, don't tell me that!!!" (cheers from the crowd) In the end, they were trying to defend their eating plan and she was taking nothing they said with any degree of credibility or seriousness. Their diet is difficult to follow, but again, for those who do, it does work and works well and because she didn't follow the direction of the diet and therefore, didn't lose weight, she denounced it.
I started listening to the shows on parenting, on women who were having a hard time coping with being stay at home moms and the stresses of motherhood. I watched her shows on parents trying to deal with children who are challenging. She had experts in the field on to give the facts and case studies and such, but I found it confusing to see her offering advice and platitudes to them when she has never had children. Ditto childbirth.
Of course, Oprah has presumably never had AIDS or fallen from an airplane or done the other things that her guests have experience. It stands to reason that she can't walk in the shoes of everyone she interviews, but the whole point I saw was that she, in my opinion, was sympathizing to the point that she acted as though she knew or understood what they felt. Some of the parents, she definitely was judging and finding lacking and in some cases, talking to them as though they were just stupid. I can tell you, there is nothing more eye-roll-inducing than to have a person who has no children telling you how to parent, especially when you're having a tough time.
And what about that tough time? We all know about Oprah's struggles with weight loss. She's been up and down and has tried many things and now appears to be in the best condition of her public life. She's back to being buddy buddy with temporarily estranged personal trainer, Bob Greene and who knows whether or not personal chef, Rosie Daley, is still in the kitchen. Both of them made a good bit of money off of the books they wrote during their time with Oprah. There's nothing at all wrong with that and I'm not saying there is. It bothers me when Oprah acts like she can relate to the rest of us who have eating/exercise issues who can't afford personal trainers and personal chefs and the finest gym accommodations.
I also noticed that in her episode about outstanding weight loss, all of those people also had personal trainers. *sigh*
Gary Zukav is a very spiritual, amazing person. He wrote such books as Seat of the Soul and The Dancing Wu Li Masters. His gig is an incredible mixture of spirituality with physics that is right up my husband's alley, but leaves me feeling like my brain is way too full. I still admire him immensely and consider him to be a very holy person. I was excited to see him on her show a few times. Gary is a very, very slow talker. He weighs every word he says with extreme consideration. His sentences are like this: "There... is... an... energy... ... ... around... success... that... when... a... person... [Gary excuses himself and goes out for a latte at Starbuck's, then returns] ... experiences it... with... openness... and.. joy... the... [Gary goes to pee and returns] ...world... rejoices... with... them. [Gary smiles] He's just lovely and I very much want to be a person whose words hold such impact that I have to think about them and fill them with portent before I speak them.
Oprah would not stop finishing the man's sentences, cutting him off and substituting her ideas for his. Ultimately, Gary ended up saying things like, "Sure... Oprah... that.. works." I wanted to hear GARY'S thoughts, no matter how long it took him to spit them out. I know Oprah has a time limit and Gary would likely get out 2-3 sentences before it was time for another commercial break. I know it's "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and not "The Gary Zukav Show," so ultimately, whatever Oprah thinks is what's most important. Even though I realize all those things, I really wanted to hear Gary speak Gary's thoughts and not be treated as though he's verbally handicapped and Oprah has to help him out.
I noticed that Oprah interrupts people a lot and not just those who speak very slowly and deliberately. Personally, I feel that interrupting someone is the absolute height of arrogance. It implies that what they are saying has no worth, that what you think or have to say is so more important and that they are so damned predictable that they shouldn't waste their breath because you already know what they'll say and it's not worth hearing, unlike what YOU have to say! Yeah, that bugs me.
Next were the star interviews. Tom Cruise, for instance. Love me some Tom Cruise! I started noticing how many of the stars on the show, Tom included, would mention how much money Oprah makes, that she's richer than God, that she has people on staff to count her money every day and cutesy remarks like that. It would elicit a giant laugh from the audience and the guest and Oprah would grin really big and maybe paw playfully at the air and demure. If it were me and I had any interest in connecting with my "not as rich as me" fans, I'd be telling guests before the show taped "Don't you DARE mention how rich I am, you hear me?" Can't control what the guests say? It can surely be edited out. I realize it is likely intended to give us po' folk hope that we too can grow up to be a richer than rich TV mogul too if we just work hard enough! We're supposed to understand that Oprah is "one of us who made good." Despite her whole gurrrrlfriennnnd persona, I feel Oprah is anything but "one of us." She has a vagina, I presume, but that's about where any resemblance ends.
I stopped watching Oprah at some point along the way. I realized I was asking, begging her, to redeem herself to me, to help me like her again. I didn't set out with an objective to find things I don't like about Oprah. It wasn't a mission to disparage her in my own eyes. I was extremely disappointed as the evidence just kept compounding. Oprah was NOT someone I'd want to hang out with, even to get good Christmas gifts!!
I was devastated, really.
(I'm not being trite here, damnable lack of inflection in the written word!)
Now, I just don't watch because I don't want thinking bad of her to go on for a full hour. I know that there have been plenty of warm, touching moments on her show. I know armies of people adore her and would follow her to the ends of the earth. Again, I'm not saying they shouldn't or encouraging anyone away from her. I'm not saying she's evil. I know she does a lot of good for people. I just find so many things that are bugging me that I can't NOT see them now. It's like some kind of filter either went on or came off and now I just see a lot of fake, phony opportunism wrapped up in layers of materialism and dipped in a sheen of insincere, over-extended false-empathy.
I do realize them's fighting words to most of the vulva-sporting population, but hey, I guess I'm born to be a rebel.
The main accusation I expect to hear is that I "just don't get Oprah." I have to say that's true. I don't. Or they don't. I'm not even sure Oprah gets Oprah or knows or cares how she comes across. Regardless, someone amongst us doesn't really get Oprah and we'll just have to agree to disagree.
I'm still filled with love, peace and harmony, even though I don't, apparently, "get" Oprah.
Don't get me started on the movie "Dune." Bene Jesuits be damned, that movie sucked out loud. Enter Eric to debate it ad nauseum with me...