Oprah recently unveiled her Ultimate (and ultimately final) Favorite Things (UFT). In yesterday's post, we briefly summarized the history of this segment and the incredible revenue generation and exposure getting selected yields for a company. In 2008, The Oprah Winfrey Show toned down this segment in response to the sharp economic downturn. In 2009, the segment was canceled all together, presumably for the same reason (though the producers weren't explicit). This year, economic woes were forgotten as audience members received a haul worth nearly $47,000. Cue to shots of recipients losing it.
There are several things at play here.
1. Giving is fun. And no one is having more fun giving than Oprah. She wildly gesticulates, she enthusiastically sing-talks (it's yoooooooouuuuuur favorite thiiiiiinnnngsss!) and she interacts with the audience in a way that makes you feel like you're at a party. A party where you get a bunch of dazzling free stuff.
2. But the message is supposedly about giving back. There were two episodes devoted to UFT this year and in both, Oprah tricks the audience into thinking it's about giving back. She relays that audience members were people who were nominated and selected as "hometown heroes"–those who have made a difference in their communities. But instead of giving to the causes or organizations that audience members supported, she gives stuff to the people who were active in their support. Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not. But does the message of "giving back" get lost? Absolutely yes.
3. This feeds into our entitlement culture. There is no shortage of research or philosophical pondering about the pervasive sense of entitlement in American culture, and Oprah contributes to this. When she received the Kennedy Center Honor earlier this month, she was asked what it meant to her. "It means that all of the hours and all of the sacrifice and all of the lack of balance and all of the giving, giving, giving, giving to other people and not taking time for yourself actually paid off because some people were actually paying attention." Certainly recognition is important, but has Oprah really suffered from lack of recognition? I'm not even sure if Oprah is conscious of this, but she puts that "I deserve this" (starts at 1:07) message out there and it feeds into our own feelings of entitlement, as does the Favorite Things series.
A local Wisconsin news station caught up with an UFT audience member and interviewed her on the phone. She said, "I'm so thankful and grateful for what God put me on this earth for, is to help the elderly to help anybody, and for, give it to God because I have been repaid this week." Again, there's nothing wrong with recognizing people who do good, but the message here is that giving back should be rewarded with, or even replaced with, material gain.
4. Still, there is giving going on. While the vast majority of Oprah's Favorite Things have been consumer products big and small, she has done much to promote giving. One example is through Kiva, is a micro-financing organization that links donors with micro entrepreneurs in developing countries. Nearly since its inception, Oprah has promoted the organization and this year named Kiva as one of her Favorite Things. As a result, donations have spiked considerably. We'll focus fully on Oprah's philanthropic pursuits in tomorrow's post.
Oprah ends the final UFT by asking, "Has this been a wild ride?" It sure has, but you know what would have made it even wilder? Bees!