On Sunday, December 5, Oprah Winfrey was among the five recipients of this year's Kennedy Center Honors. The Honors recognize an individual's "lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts–whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television." Certainly, Oprah has had a profound impact on television over the last 25 years, but I'm not sure she reflects the criteria. Perhaps it's cynical, but it appears that Oprah was selected simply because she's Oprah.
"It's amazing to look up and see the most powerful person in the world," said Chris Rock referencing Winfrey. "And she's sitting next to Barack Obama!"
It's not that Oprah's accomplishments don't astound. It's that she seems to get everything, and now in turn seems to believe she deserves it. "This feels like an official American citizenship in a very exclusive club of artists and contributors to the nation in a very special way," Oprah said. "It feels like an elevated kind of award and there aren't many in this category. They look at your work, your life work, who you are as a human being and the spirit of who you are as a human being. Not many honors look at that depth."
Much of the press coverage of the event led with Oprah.
Robin Givhan's article for the Washington Post reveals some incredible insights on Oprah and ego. When discussing the hyper worship of audience members as Oprah walks through the crowd at the beginning of each Oprah Show, she says: "…I could feel the energy saying: 'Look at me. Look at me.' I do feel that. I do sense that. I do try to give people what I think they want, if I can. In order to remain true to who you are, you have to be aware of it, but you can't buy into it."
It's quite the paradox, to be a private person making herself available for public consumption. And to do that so publicly and for so long. Oprah is her own solar system by now. There are so many subsidiaries to her and she continues to draw people into her orbit. Plus, how many times can you hear "You are the most incredible person in the world!" before you start to believe it?
"You see daughters my age looking at their mothers with tears in their eyes and you realize the center of their relationship is this woman. They say, 'Did you see Oprah today?' What a powerful effect she has on people's relationship with each other!" says her friend, actress Julia Roberts, in a telephone interview. "She's a remarkable human being."
I'm sorry Julia, what? You're saying that a generalized group of mothers and their daughters has Oprah at the center of their relationship? And to think I once wanted you to play the movie version of me...
Yet, with all of the praise, Oprah claims she's in check. "I'm absolutely a person who has not let ego run amok," she says. "I see the demands other people make. I see all the other stuff. I've had to say that—take it down a notch—to other people."
Gayle King says: "I realize that she's a 'bad mama jama' and she holds the clout and influence she does…but when you see someone in pajamas, you see the core of who she is." (Not true! I have pajamas with Santas on them! If they represent my core, then I have seriously veered off path in life.)
In Givhan's article, Oprah reveals an epiphany. And it's about James Frey. But also about Sarah Palin and whether to bow to pressure to book her.
"I remember sitting in my living room…where I meditate. James Frey came into my mind…do not make the same mistake you made with James Frey…I did not know what the mistake was…I went to take a shower. What does that mean? The word came to me: ego. People saw my full-blown ego at work. I wasn't allowing him to be heard. I'd already judged him."
She apologized to Frey and booked Palin. Palin aside, it still begs the questions: If it really was about the absolution of ego, why not do it publicly? The flogging was public, but not the apology?
Given her status as a very public figure, it's no surprise that Oprah's ego is often evident in press coverage and on her show. The ways in which chooses to address (or dismiss) it are curious though, don't you think?