Oprah’s Nation

Oprah's Nation

by Jack Donovan on November 1, 2009

On Oprah’s Feel-Good Epilogue to The Shriver Report

It was an obvious choice to wrap up The Shriver Report with a feel-good sermon by Oprah Winfrey. If, as the report suggests, “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” who better to give us a glimpse into the heart and soul of this new matriarchy than its most influential matriarch?

Oprah,whose show is created by women, for women, and has been unwaveringly beloved by millions of women each week for over twenty years clearly has her finger on the pulse of American women. She knows who they are, and what they want. She knows what moves them. Oprah was selling American women hope while Barack Obama was still in college. Hope for youth, for weight loss, for health, for money, for beauty, for happiness, hope for the “Best Life.”

A good friend who works in the education industry, long dominated by women, once told me that working with women was like being part of a circle.  He said that, “The female ideal is for every woman, young and old, short and tall, fat and thin, beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb, to be able to gather round in a circle, hold hands, be equal, be at peace, and feel the same. It is very important for women, when they meet to discuss something of significance, to feel as though they have reached an emotional consensus. It often seems as though whether the solution is workable or logical is less important than the sense that everyone in the room feels good about it.”

And that’s exactly how Oprah works; the show is not so much about sharing information as it is about sharing an emotional experience. The shared emotional experience is the real product. You could say the same thing about Monday Night Football. But you can learn just about everything you need to know about the differences between men and women by contrasting Oprah’s show with talk shows on ESPN.

Men want to spar with each other and they want to see a good sparring match. They want facts and numbers and statistics and odds. They don’t want to feel the same. They want to win. They want someone else to lose. They don’t want circles, they want winners and losers and players and fans. They want hierarchy, even if it means they’re not always or ever going to be on top.

Oprah hosts her show, but she hosts it like a woman hosting dessert night for her girlfriends. She may be a celebrity billionaire in real life, but on Oprah she’s just one of the girls. She’s no Jim Rome, aggressively telling his audience what’s what. She’s a guide, a storyteller, an adept conductor of emotions who is loved and believed by women because she seems to get caught up in the moment along with them. She laughs and cries and feels with them. The content doesn’t matter, so long as everyone feels the same about it.

Indeed, Oprah has come under fire recently because the stories she gets caught up in often end up being complete bullshit. While she famously confronted author James Frey for fabricating incidents in his Oprah Book Club recommended memoir, a May 2009 Newsweek article noted many other instances in which Oprah’s feelings led herand her audience astray.

Like many of her celebrity girlfriends, Oprah will jump on just about any alternative or exotic medicine bandwagon that passes by. The obviously crazy Suzanne Somers encouraged estrogen pill popping as a cure-all to the cooing approval of Oprah and her audience, even though medical experts strongly advise against taking hormones unnecessarily due to dangerous potential side effects. Jenny McCarthy convinced many of Oprah’s viewers that her science was her unfounded theory that her son became autistic after getting his measles, mumps and rubella vaccination. Despite a statement from the CDC saying McCarthy had no idea what she was talking about, many of Oprah’s viewers are now concerned about vaccinating their children. She’s also promoted miracle face-lifts and cosmetic procedures that have ended up being extremely painful, harmful or a complete waste of time.

Oprah, her guests and her audience too often end up trusting what earlier female chauvinists would have called “a woman’s intuition.” She routinely relies on the new-agey advice of Dr. Christiane Northrup, who sells “women’s wisdom” healing tarot cards and tells Oprah that many of women’s health problems are manifestations of problems with their souls. Along the same lines, Oprah also famously and wholeheartedly endorsed The Secret, Rhonda Byrne’s book which advocated thinking positive thoughts with the belief that positive vibrations will somehow attract positive outcomes. She was forced to backpedal a bit, though, when one of her viewers wrote to say she was refusing chemotherapy and was planning to cure her breast cancer using the power of The Secret.

When asked to ponder the significance of “A Woman’s Nation,” Oprah’s offering conjured up more nonsense and glowing, soft-focus spirituality. In her signature style, she opened with a quote from her guiding magic negress, Sojourner Truth, an illiterate former slave and suffragette who believed that Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden proved women were “strong enough to turn the world upside down.”  That’s one way to look at it. Oprah then revealed to us that there is “no real power without spiritual power,” a power which is “connected to the source of things.” Oprah is magic, because says she can see this supernatural power “shining through” people. She wraps up with a quote from self-help guru Gary Zukav, who tells us that authentic empowerment comes only when personality serves the energy of its soul. Whatever that means.

Oprah represents and holds great sway with American women. Her book recommendations go straight to number one. She has her own channel, her own magazine, her own radio station. Virtually any product she touches turns to gold and flies off the shelves. It’s entirely possible that her endorsement delivered the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination to Barak Obama.

American women still can’t get enough of Oprah, after all of these years. In her Epilogue to The Shriver Report, she asked women to let the conversation begin about what it means to live in a woman’s nation.

If The Shriver Report truly offers us a glimpse of what’s to come, of what Oprah’s nation might look like, then instead of dispelling concerns and discrediting stereotypes, it seems to validate the very fears men have always had about putting women in power.

Oprah’s nation is a nation where emotion wins over reason, where intuition rules over science and where new age spiritualist mumbo jumbo reigns supreme. Oprah’s nation is unconcerned with the harsh realities of the world. Oprah’s nation is a nation of talkers and feelers who are worried most about finding love, finding happiness, feeling pretty and keeping off those pounds. It’s a nation led by women desperately trying to live their “best life.”

Oprah’s nation, a woman’s nation, is a nation of passive, emotional consumers who have absolutely no common sense.

The whole world must be laughing.

Jack Donovan is the author of Androphilia and the co-author of Blood-Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance. He lives in Portland, Oregon and works in the fitness industry.


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