21 November 2009
What?! No More Oprah?
(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)
Well, it's true, all true. The rumors that have been roaring around Chicago for months have been proven right. Oprah Winfrey is shutting down the show. It's been 25 years, and according to the lady herself, that seems a nice, round number for the last show. Of course the last show isn't going to happen until AFTER the 2010-2011 season is over. You all know this, it's been all over the news. We heard about the "tearful goodbye", all of the emotions flinging around and all the drama. Apparently the networks are scrambling, business people are freaking out, and according to a bunch or articles in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicagoan on the street thinks it's all pretty much no big deal.
See, Chicago likes to "claim" Oprah, but Is she really a Chicagoan? Consensus is not really. Yes, she DOES own a ridiculously expensive condo in a downtown tower and she can certainly afford it. If nothing else, she's a smart business woman. Sure, she occasionally shows up in the city - mostly to film her shows in the windowless studio she built in the relative wilderness of the Near South Side.
As for where she LIVES - well that would be California. Has done for many, many years. I can't say I blame her for that. The winters here can be pretty awful. I guess I can't blame her for never mentioning any of her supposed home city's world class restaurants, history, architecture or museums. I haven't watched the show for (ok, I'll admit it) a good decade and a half. Maybe I missed it. After all, it's a national show and it wouldn't do to appear to "local" in character, right? The viewers probably couldn't be expected to process that the show is created in the vacuum of the tasteful, yet bland studio that is actually in the third largest city in the US.
Oh! I forgot. She DID have that massive, self-consciously "cool" party on Michigan Avenue this summer. Now THAT was an event all right. Hundreds of police and armed guards zealously guarded the Port-a-Potties against people who had been standing outdoors for twelve or so hours waiting to see the fun. Even AFTER the people were allowed to pee, they found that there were nowhere near as many as needed. Oh yeah, I did mention that the party was on Michigan Avenue, right? Yes kids, that party made it virtually impossible to enter many office towers for literally thousands of people who actually had to get to work that day. That was fun, too.
That party caused a whole bunch of disasters for the people who actually LIVE in this city, but hey, it was great fun, right? And it wasn't Oprah's fault - it's not like she even knew any of the bad stuff was going on until the next day. No, her priorities were right where they've always been; with the celebrities that she imported for the show, the cameras, and making sure that all of the people who were invited to the party were smiling for the cameras. Nothing was allowed to interfere with making a perfect show, including the people who live here.
You might already have guessed that I don't have much time for Oprah and her show. I always thought that she was just a little too...too... I don't know...self conscious? That doesn't sound right. She always seems to me to have gone straight for the schmaltz and substance be damned. For years she's filled the air with horrible, ghastly stories told by people who she hugs and calls "survivors". I can't help but think that she studied ratings, had a bunch of focus groups and built a guest profile that would appeal to the most possible number of people. The guest had to be:
1. Either attractive adult or a cute child,
2. Had to either suffer a horrendous illness or injury,
3. OR had to be an abused woman (more on that later).
This person was absolutely required to cry attractively without getting swollen eyes or a drippy nose for one full hour if necessary. Oprah would then hug them, wipe off a tear or two (thank you Maybelline for that waterproof mascara), talk to some sort of "expert" or two about the problem, then shill for the expert's new book on that very subject.
There were celebrity interviews, too. Everyone who was anyone had to be on the Oprah show if their movie or book was coming out. That's life on talk shows in general. I feel for the actors/writers, etc. who have to schlep around the country flogging their work and having to answer the same insipid questions a thousand times. I found it all pretty tedious to watch. Who wants to hear people talking about their book? READ the bloody thing!
She's crossed some lines, though, and this is where my boredom started to become active dislike. Her trite yet popular talk show seemed to morph into something that I was truly uncomfortable with. There was the disaster of a school that she started in Africa which ended up being a "dating" pool for pedophiles and it just got creepier and creepier as far as I'm concerned.
The book club, for example. An endorsement by Oprah could send a writer to the top of the bestseller charts, guaranteeing for some that their (very and perhaps more worthy) books would never be published because they were too much of a risk. Initially all of these books were the same. Someone gets the crap kicked out of them and lives to tell the tale. The end. Then there was the great car giveaway fiasco, wherein the mighty Oprah gave everyone in the audience a car.....THEN found out that the audience would have to pay tax on it as income. She offered to take the cars back, but those that opted to keep them had to suck it up.
Lately there's been the kerfuffle about her celebrity "causes". Perhaps the biggest screwup in the history of the show was the Jenny McCarthy fiasco. For those of you who don't know, dear Jenny believes that she personally cured her son of autism, which she blamed on vaccinations. When it came out later that her son had never had autism, but a seizure disorder that was easily treated, the silence from Oprah and her crew was deafening. No, Oprah had a NEW cause - an anti-science, conspiracy theory driven, dangerous cause that got her massive amounts of attention - vaccines are evil, kids and it's ok if thousands of children die of preventable childhood illnesses as long as the evil pharmaceutical companies are prevented from sticking them in the arm! I found this jaw-droppingly awful. I still can't process that Oprah seems to believe this. I thought she was smarter than that.
It seemed that every celebrity with a crackpot diet, cancer "cure", fitness plan, New Agey bullshit happiness plan, you name it, just went to give Oprah higher ratings. If it sounded too good to be true, she was on it like white on rice, baby. The wackier the better and she applauded all of them, no matter how moronic they sounded. It didn't matter that it was all crap and that she was actually damaging the people who took it seriously. She used her power (I can't resist) for evil, all in the name of ratings and money AND PEOPLE LET HER DO IT.
Oprah has no real science education. She's not particularly brilliant when it comes to literature, or history. She is in the media, though - that's her real metier. Say things that SOUND convincing to a large enough audience and the content is actually meaningless, right?
So. Now she's going off-air. There's still the magazine. She gets to be on the cover every month, too. She's starting her own television network. The New York Times pointed out that these things are full-time jobs and not to be undertaken with the distraction of a TV show. I have to admire her ability to take a silly half hour of TV and turn it into a media empire. When it comes to making money, Oprah could give lessons to just about anyone.
I have to believe it was all calculated. ALL of it. The causes, the giveaways (Lady Bountiful clearly was an appealing alter ego), the parties, all of these are monuments to a massive ego with terrific business sense. Standing back, it's hard to swallow the carefully crafted image of the last 25 years wasn't a massive and very clever manipulation of public opinion for the sole purpose of making money. I think that the mind behind them is extremely clever and the people Oprah has working for her are no slouches. But then, I'm no fan. It all looked so blatant and obvious to me that I chose not to buy into it.
Now fans of Oprah, relax. I'm an opinionated old thing, as you can see if you read all of the above. I hope it doesn't sound like a rant - like I said, I'm opinionated and I hate feeling as if someone were trying to orchestrate my opinion. Besides, the show has another year and a bit to run, and I suspect it will be in syndication for decades to come...Ok, rethink that last. Oprah is too smart for that. The show will be on repeats on HER network for years to come.