As Feministing highlighted leading up to the trip to Oz, many Australians weren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of Oprah coming to town—but you wouldn't have guessed that from the throngs of people who came to her shows there this week. And what a show she gave: Hugh Jackman came in on a zip line (and busted his ass up), Russell Crowe took her sailing, thousands of diamond necklaces were given away. There were many fun moments within this mainly done-to-death travelogue (Opera House, vegemite, koalas and the Outback). Oprah is an entertainer, after all, and she's really, really good at it.
But it's the seemingly insatiable need to present herself as so much more that is at the crux of the Oprah paradox.
Take for instance the surprises she heaped on people. It wasn't enough that several high-wattage celebrities took the stage. She also gave away diamond necklaces to 6,000 audience members one day, and pearl necklaces to another group of 6,000 the next. Each—of course—accompanied with a silver O engraved with Oprah's Final Season "to remember this day, to remember this time." This after she explained that it takes oysters two years to produce one pearl.
Some gifts were altruistic. She provided laptops to school students and teachers and gave $250,000 to a couple who could use it, but I couldn't help viewing that instance with a cynical eye. The couple's bills were already being paid by church and community members, but instead of focusing on the spirit of that generosity, she had to bring the couple on stage, swoop in hero-style and say, "Quit your jobs! Here's a quarter million dollars (also brought to you by X-Box 360)."
Giving to those who need it is not wrong, nor is giving something material for the pure pleasure of it. It's just that these gifts are soooo over-the-top lavish, it starts to create a weird relationship between Oprah and her fans, at least for this viewer. If I went to an Oprah Show taping, I'm pretty sure I'd expect to be given something now, because the materialism this season has been that rampant.
This unbridled gift-giving implies to me a deep need to be liked; Oprah seems to seek constant validation—in Australia she surprises a pregnant mom super fan and says, "It's me! It's me! It's Oprah!" to the shocked woman—and creates frequent situations that allow her to have those validating moments, which she then broadcasts to millions of people. You know, the usual.
Yet Oprah doesn't doesn't acknowledge this part of herself, even when asked directly. The day after seeing U2 in concert, Oprah brings Bono out on stage and says "You are a rock star! Does it feel huge?" Bono says, "It is an other worldly feeling. To need 60,000 people screaming your name every night to feel normal is probably not normal. I hope I know that. I think I know that," and then he turns to Oprah and gestures towards the crowd, "but what's this like your majesty-ness?"
"Did you see my [big red] O on the [Sydney Harbor] bridge?" she replies and moves on.
Let me just point out, Oprah looks like a blast to hang out with. If I got a free trip to Australia where I got to take field trips with Oprah, I'm pretty sure I'd say yes. That's not my beef. My interest lies in the inherent contradiction that is Oprah herself. She proselytizes the virtues of being "one's best self," but the message from today's Oprah is that the peak of that achievement is extravagance. The peak is a regatta with numerous sails reading "Oprah's Final Season." Several times, at various mixers, Oprah addressed the 300 U.S. viewers who traveled to Oz with her. She stands with a mic, and says to them, "I did it, I came from Mississippi and I couldn't find a key chain with my name on it and now look...I've got a regatta with my name on it. You can too!"
But really, not everyone can. And shouldn't finding your "best self" be about something more, anyway?