Monday, September 13, 2004

What the Hell is Wrong with Oprah?!?!?


Has Oprah lost her damn mind? No, really.

I'm sitting here, sick as a dog (i'll do my Baker's Dozen about it later), trying to convince myself i'm doing better after having slept only about three hours, so i decide to turn on Oprah's season premiere for the 19th year of her show. Apparently this is her "Wildest Dreams" season, where she's going to spend the year making people's dreams come true.

I guess i dream in different colors than other folks.

Oprah starts out by calling a woman out of the audience by name and bringing her down to the stage. The middle-aged, black woman is in tears with joy as Oprah greets her and asks her what her dream is. She (still tearfully) says her dream was just to be on the show.


Of course, that ain't the end of it. Oprah goes on to call 11 other folks out of the audience by name. Once the dozen folks are on stage behind her, she tells them they've been brought to the show under false pretenses. She asks her people to bring in the real surprise.

In drives a brand new Pontiac G6 as Oprah announces that each of the dozen people is receiving a much-needed car. The audience, of course, screams and goes wild at the shocked looks, hugs, and tears of the people on stage over their big surprise.

Hmmm. But this is Oprah and it's the season premiere. So big isn't quite big enough.

After the break (of course) Oprah announces that there is one more car to be given away, and that one lucky member of the audience will win it. Models come pouring out of the causeways and pass out small boxes with ribbons on them, which Oprah instructs everyone in the audience not to shake, not to open. (Do you see it coming like i did?) One box, she says, has the key to the car. The person who has the car key in their box wins a new car too. (Oh yeah, you see it coming.) So, Oprah tells everyone to go ahead and open the boxes, and ... yup, everyone has a key.

Oprah gave a new car to each and every member of her studio audience.

Seems she had actually padded the audience with folks who had either written to Oprah themselves or had other people write on their behalves about needing cars. Of course, a key is a nice symbol of having a car, but it just doesn't have the same impact as actually having the car. So Oprah takes the entire audience out to the parking lot, which she's had turned into a new car show lot. New cars for everybody! And you can drive it home today!! Whooee!!!

Of course, there were more surprises. The Black girl (and yes, it's important that she's Black) who overcame life in an abusive home and homelessness since the age of 13 to focus on her grades and earn her way into college. Her wish was just to get a makeover before going back to school, but you know Oprah.

Tyra Banks was called in to give her an America's Next Top Model style makeover, including a glamour photo shoot. (The girl is actually quite beautiful.) Then Tyra told her she was actually going to be featured in a spread in some magazine (Glamour or Marie Claire or something; i can't remember.) Then Oprah told her that she bought her a $10,000 new wardrobe for going back to school. Then she called up some woman from some foundation who told her that they were giving her a full four-year scholarship, including books and room & board, to the university of her choice. The girl could hardly speak through her sobbing.

Then there was the Black family in Michigan who has taken in scores of foster children over the years. They were living in a house they were about to be forced out of because the owner wanted to sell it. Oprah sent Gail to represent her. She, of course, bought the house for them. And gave them an additional $30,000 to do some much-needed repairs on it. And had Home Depot and Best Buy and some furniture store kick in thousands of dollars worth of stuff to fill it with.

What's the point of all this?

I'm not sure. Oprah said what gives her joy is helping make other people's dreams come true. It's why she started her Angel Network. (Ironic that i'm watching Angel on TNT now?) It's why she's doing this "Wildest Dreams" season. Oprah, more than almost anyone, has the power to make other people's dreams come true. So why was i a little uneasy about the orgy of giving today?

Maybe it was the fact that a lot of the folks who needed the cars so badly also had enough resources to videotape the condition of their current cars. Hmmm. Or that they had so many shots of the college-bound young woman walking along, looking dejected, with Oprah narrating about how tough her life was. But wait ... didn't they surprise her with this whole makeover thing? Doesn't that mean somebody had to tell her, "Okay, look depressed and down on your luck now. That's it."

Or maybe it was watching those foster kids looking at all the stuff they now had to fill their lives.

Don't get me wrong; Oprah is a maestro. Her instrument: the heartstrings. (Okay, so i cried just a little bit over the girl who's getting a full ride to college. Okay, i blubbered like a fool.) And her ostensible aim is to encourage other people to engage in philanthropic efforts. I just wonder at the focus on materialism that is at the heart of Oprah's power. I know she didn't create the capitalist society we live in, but she is one of it's most visible embodiments. She is powerful because of her abilty to generate money for herself and others.

I am not an Oprah-phile. Generally, i don't watch the show, don't subscribe to the magazine, don't follow her latest life strategies (though i suspect she's been pretty consistent over the years for anyone who really cared to listen). I don't know to what extent Oprah uses her money to fight for social justice and address the core causes of the inequities that drive our society. I just know feel-good efforts like the ones she engaged in today can't be the only answer.

But, um ... if you see me on the Oprah show one day, jumping up and down and tearfully thanking her for some wild dream of mine she's helped to make come true, don't hate on me ... i'm just trying to get mine.

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