Hi, I'm Jen. I write creative non-fiction stories and pop culture commentary in various anthologies, magazines and websites. And I'll be covering Oprah's farewell here over the next several weeks in this guest blog series, which I'm calling "The Long Goodbye." Before starting this blog, I was an infrequent Oprah Show viewer. I'd record an episode here and there and watch clips of people—famous and not—share their stories with Oprah like no one else was watching. Yet even though I chose the passive route when it came to Ms. Winfrey, she was still…present. And she was never more present than when she announced her final season late last year, to the dismay of many of her fans. (It's OK, "Oprah's Favorite Things" audience members: Life will go on.)
So, drawn in by the "Oprahcolypse" chatter I decided to start watching…actively. Here are some preliminary observations, which we'll be looking at more closely throughout this series:
Oprah is America's therapist. If you get booked on Oprah, you better be prepared to spill. An example: Reading from her memoir on November 1, Portia de Rossi said "it's not the weight gain from the 6 oz. of yogurt that worries me. It's the loss of self control. It crosses my mind to vocalize my thoughts of self loathing because speaking the thoughts would have to burn more calories than just thinking the thoughts and so I say: 'You are nothing. You're average. You're an ordinary average fat piece of shit. You have no self control. You're a stupid, fat, disgusting dyke. You ugly stupid bitch.' As I reached the bathroom and wiped away the last of my tears, I'm alarmed by the silence. The voice has stopped. When it's quiet in my head like this, that's when the voice doesn't need to tell me how pathetic I am. I know it in the deepest part of me. When it's quiet like this, that's when I truly hate myself."
Oprah is a narcissist. Sometimes it's endearing, like in a recent episode where she and BFF Gayle King traveled to Yosemite at the request of Ranger Shelton Johnson in an effort to attract African Americans to our nation's parks. "Two black people on the way!" Oprah shouted. Shelton greeted them when they arrived, and Oprah couldn't help but comment on his lack of excitement. "Listen, I don't think you have to genuflect when you see Oprah, but he's acting like he just saw us yesterday at dinner!" exclaimed Gayle. "He didn't seem to be that surprised actually," Oprah agreed.
This narcissism is fueled by those around her: Nearly every guest heaps on concentrated praise. On the October 27 episode, Jane Fonda tells Oprah she inspired her to write her memoirs. "Me?" Oprah exclaims in mock surprise. Yet the conversation that emerged rang true.
Jane: The challenge is to be whole. And I think it takes a lot of work to be whole. You have to live an examined life…and as I entered my third act in life…I needed to know where I've been in order to know where I was going.
Oprah: You consider the second act to be age 30-59: the building act, where you produce.
Jane: And you're building, and creating…it's hard for women, particularly in this culture, to own themselves and know who they are and feel whole. It takes time...not to be impatient when you're in your second act. The second act is the hardest.
Then they begin talking about Jane's parents, which leads to the topic of narcissism. Oprah opens a dictionary to the word and points to a picture of herself. Then she shifts gears and asks how many audience members had coming to The Oprah Show on their bucket list. I swear, more than half the audience raised their hands or clapped. At least she said thank you.
In all seriousness, if I came from such humble beginnings and built an empire, I would think a lot of myself, too (hell, I think a lot of myself if I wash and put away the laundry in the same day).
Oprah is not really saying goodbye. She is documenting her last season as a reality series to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, which launches on 1.1.11 and promises to be "a 24/7 cable network devoted to self-discovery, to connecting you to your best self and to the world." We're on to you Oprah.
Oprah has power. As discussed in a recent New York Times article, Oprah is responsible for skyrocketing the profile of numerous books, personalities and products in the mainstream. I was surprised by the significant position "getting on Oprah" held in various business models. In fact, the aspiration to be touched by the "Oprah Effect," was so common amongst her life coaching clients, that one woman decided to write a how-to-guide. It won't be easy: the clock is ticking, competition is intensifying and many guest slots for the season are already filled. But it's like gambling…sometimes you win big.
In the coming weeks, I'll be producing a weekly round-up, exploring the media's take on Ms. Winfrey, and also looking back on some of Oprah's most significant moments. Where did I cull this list you ask? Why from Oprah herself…naturally!
Until next time…