So Long, Oprah

Oprah Winfrey has announced that she is bringing her long-running TV show to an end. One of the factors that apparently led to this decision was her discovery that her own father is writing a tell-all book about her. (Ah, the life of a celebrity!)

If you ask me, Winfrey’s decision doesn’t come a moment too soon. In recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that Winfrey is an evil influence on our society. Among other things, she started the media hysteria over the absurd New Age book, The Secret. This learned tome claims, among other things, that thinking positive thoughts will cause good things to happen to you. Conversely, bad things will happen to you if you have negative thoughts. I suppose Winfrey believes that all the people in Hiroshima were having negative thoughts just before the atom bomb was dropped on them.

Newsweek has documented Winfrey’s practice of featuring dubious “alternative” medical ideas on her show – including the unproven claim that vaccines can cause autism. I know, people will argue that she isn’t as bad as Montel Williams or Maury Povich, who have had all sorts of quacks and frauds on their shows. I would argue that Winfrey is worse than these two precisely because she has a patina of respectability. People are more likely to believe nonsense when it’s on her show.

Late night talk shows don’t pretend to be anything more than entertainment. (Dick Cavett was accused of taking himself too seriously when he began having writers and intellectuals on his show.) Yet there is a widespread assumption that daytime talk shows can’t be just about celebrity chitchat, they have to be in some way educational. (I have no idea why people think this.) The problem is that, for the producers of these shows, “educational” usually means self-help books, fad diets, “alternative” medicine, New Age sophistry, and, of course, “psychics”. Sylvia Browne is a popular guest on these shows. In earlier days, it was Jeanne Dixon. The claims of these people are always treated uncritically.

Mike Douglas, who was sort of the Oprah Winfrey of his time, would bring Criswell on his show. (Yes, that’s the same Criswell who will be forever remembered for his deliriously bombastic speech at the beginning of Plan 9 from Outer Space. “Some day we will all live in the future!”) Douglas enthusiastically promoted the book, Criswell Predicts, which, among other things, prophecied that the world would come to an end in 1999. I seem to recall that Criswell also predicted that World War Three would be fought using insects that drill through people’s skulls, and that the first human on the moon would be a pregnant woman. Truly, this man was uncanny.

One thing I will say for Douglas is that he didn’t take himself too seriously, at least not nearly as seriously as Winfrey takes herself. One thing that really always annoys me about Winfrey is the attitude of moral seriousness that she exudes. One of the silliest things I have ever seen was the contrived outrage that she showed when it was revealed that James Frey had embellished some incidents of his life in A Million Little Pieces. Of course, people often change details of their lives in their autobiographies. Yet Winfrey reacted almost as if Frey had committed rape. Interestingly, after Winfrey excoriated Frey on her show, sales of his book skyrocketed. Perhaps this shows that some people can recognize grandstanding when they see it.

To be fair, Winfrey did express reservations about the impending invasion of Iraq, which is more than can be said for the execrable Jay Leno. (I’m pleased to note that Leno’s new show is bombing. Heh-heh.) It’s unfortunate that Winfrey can’t show a similar skepticism towards pernicious trash like The Secret.

Update: on Counterpunch, Ishmael Reed has a revealing article about Winfrey’s association with the film, Precious. Worth reading.

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