Can Oprah give some advice
Oprah or our last dream
It all started when I was in fourth grade. My father appeared on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. I don't remember exactly why he was invited, I think he was in the studio as an "ethics expert". Anyway, a transformation, something magical, happened to me.
Oprah wasn't the all-powerful queen of the American media world she is today. Even so, that brief moment in her presence was enough to put me, at least for a few days, in a position of previously unknown popularity in my class. Sure, within a week I was the outcast again, brooding over his books. Oprah couldn't do magic. But the fact that she had managed to intervene in my life I took to be evidence of superhuman strength.
Oprah, the Mighty: I have often wondered how she got there, in the place of an icon of our time. Oprah Winfrey is not just one of the richest women in America, but I'm sure the most influential of them all. She has her own production company, makes films and publishes a magazine. Above all, however, she has an unbelievable attraction: every American knows that a single appearance on her, no matter how short it is, has an immediate effect: a book or a song can become a bestseller or a super hit. A star can be popular or ridiculed, as the love vow of Tom Cruise hysterically jumping around on the talk sofa showed. When Winfrey announced he was behind Obama's presidential candidacy, he really gained weight and momentum. By the way, she is also said to have started the trend for these strange açai berries, from which she has distanced herself, however.
At the beginning of her career, there was talk of a success story that was as improbable as it was unusual: - because she is black, loud, direct and not exactly thin and athletic. These are all qualities that were rare twenty-five years ago when she started. Today one is looking for strategies to replicate their success.
Oprah Winfrey started out as an announcer on local television. Pretty quickly though, she got her own talk show. The reason: She invented the talk show model as a therapy session. The therapy session started out as a blasphemy: some came to come out to their families, but actually to everyone who sat in front of the television between Maine and California; others stepped in to plump strange opinions into the studio microphones. Over time, the show grew: suddenly it was about moving, inspiring, transforming. We learned from freaks and misfits while Oprah's team of experts helped them into better lives. Oprah gave us experts, sometimes gurus, although sometimes the difference wasn't that clear. It showed how we could change our lives, just like that. When she told viewers at her book club to read Faulkner and Hemingway, the classics of our literature rather than the freshest bestsellers, they did. How did we find the right bra for the shape of the breast? Oprah knew what to do.
Even if it can hardly be imitated - many have tried - its formula for success is not particularly coded. Oprah is about empathy. Whether she is talking to a star or a fate-stricken woman from the provinces, she is always empathetic, never judgmental. And mostly quickly moved to tears. Despite her success, she is always on par with her audience. What's more, she is a survivor herself, one who has endured poverty, racism and all kinds of abuse. The fact that she not only simply overcame these hurdles, but did so without any bitterness, somehow has a calming effect on us: Oprah is the American dream come true.
Actually, it has to be formulated so pathetically: Oprah rules her kingdom like a benevolent deity, with the same gentle spirituality that pervades her television sermon-like presentations. Her gifts are legendary: Enthusiastic and, by the way, mostly female viewers, she gives clothes, books and, as the legend would have it, even a car in one case (it shone while those she received dissolved into hysterical tears).
Women in general: Oprah inspires an almost fanatical loyalty to a certain type of American woman. "Oprah has always been the one defining constant in my life," a teacher told the New York Post after the last "Oprah Winfrey Show" on Wednesday. She stated that Oprah's constant presence on television helped her get over her husband's death. "Living Oprah," a special in which a woman lived by the talk host's tips and recommendations for a year, was so popular that it was almost impossible to get tickets to the show.
Of course, there has long been a backlash of Oprah haters: people who greedily devoured Kitty Kelly's revelation book, in which you can read about their tyrannical management style and an unpredictable temperament. Many believe the rumors about their unconventional love life. Her long-time partner has his own house on Winfrey's property, which some suggests she is secretly in a lesbian relationship with her best friend, Gayle King. Winfrey's somewhat uncritical support for the pseudo-scientific esotericism of "positive thinking" does the rest. For some, she is the irresponsible demagogue. For others, the embodiment of empathy and compassion.
Well, I have to admit one thing at the end: It is absolutely uncool to like Oprah. At least among younger people, and probably especially among those who live in New York. Isn't it just an entertainment machine for bored mothers in wide bootcut jeans in front of the TVs in our suburbs? The emotion it causes in so many of its viewers is uncomfortable for anyone who somehow wants to see themselves as an intellectual (when Oprah wanted to select Jonathan Franzen's "corrections" for her book club, he declined, with the excuse that it was terribly masculine Reader).
Still, I'm sure I'm not the only one who was shocked by the news that Oprah is quitting. On Wednesday I sat in front of the TV and saw their last show. Actually, it was nothing but a series of clips of her greatest triumphs. To speak of the end of an era would be a cliché. But in this case it fits because it is true. Television without Oprah: This is the end of an institution and the end of honest, simple, understandable sentimentality. And with it the end of an American dream.
Sadie Stein, born in 1981, is editor of the American literary magazine "The Paris Review". She lives in New York.
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