Msnowe's Blog

The Big O

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on December 10, 2007

Oprah, of course. Oh, celebrities. Some are better than others, some are downright obnoxious, some are completely enthralling – it usually depends on your angle of observation (and the formula is usually: the more celebrities you’re obsessed with is directly proportionate to the depletion of self-possession and IQ points hoarded). People get up in arms and legs and any other appendages they can think of when celebrities become attaches to political figures and campaigns. And this, thankfully is a sign that people are not completely metamorphosed into media drones. But it also proves a lack of rationality, in the fact that celebrities, just like politicians, are pandering to the crowds, often in insidious or well-plotted ways. Public figures in the entertainment field especially, have teams of people who perform the same kind of image lobotomies as politicos’ advisers do. Celebrities, are, in a sense, the most shrewd politicians, even if you think them ignorant party hounds or drunken slobs — those images too are carefully pruned and crafted by their teams. So in reality, politicking is nothing but a celebrity free-for-all with less glamour, and more dour speeches.

So back to Oprah. Oprah is, despite your personal opinions, quite a unique woman worthy of at least the bare minimum acknowledgement that she picked herself up and was able to achieve fame, fortune, and the ability to carry a country-wide audience of housewives and people home at around 4pm with nothing do to, and keep them entertained. Yes, as any intellectual will tell you, the dreaded line “I saw this story about (blank) on Oprah” kills a cocktail party dead upon arrival, but Oprah has woven herself into the national tapestry – a tapestry that still hits a few snags when it comes to providing women’s rights, and the rights of African-Americans. Oprah influences what people read, what they watch of television, what Broadway shows they go to, what meat they may or may not eat, and most importantly, what they think. This is both a blessing and a curse, and should be viewed as such by Oprah and the US at large. It could have been much worse, for sure — Oprah, on the whole, doles out pretty good advice. But the question becomes, should you take what she doles out – and if yes, what are Oprah’s motives, and what are yours? Because blindly follow anyone, and you will often smack square into an intellectual or ethical wall. This is the heart of the problem – and here is an example: Oprah’s book club. Despite a few hiccups (namely the Million Little Pieces drama), Oprah picks (probably with the help of a knowledgeable literary panel) fairly good, if not exceptional books – you can’t argue with Cormack McCarthy or John Steinbeck, really. And the end result, people reading classic American literature, is a good one. But, would people have chosen to read these books on their own? The answer is resolutely no. Because the people who already read these works for pleasure, would not be influenced by Oprah’s message to read them, on the whole. So what is the harm? – Oprah is opening up a new experience for thousands, if not millions of Americans who might not have ever picked up anything more literary than a bodice-ripping harlequin romance. Here’s the problem: do the people that listen to Oprah learn anything new other than what Oprah tells them? Do they form new interpretations, and grow as people independently, or do they themselves merely mimic the queen of daytime? If they do learn, then good on them. But does this blogger think that people go from reading John Steinbeck to Ralph Ellison, or Mary McCarthy, or Gloria Steinem? Most likely not.

So when it comes to celebrities endorsing political figures, the outcome is extremely mixed. It depends on how much we as Americans value the opinions and intellect of the celebrity doling out their support. Most gaff at Springsteen, but allow his antics so far as he keeps singing. People get hot and bothered, however, if they feel that the celebrity is being disingenuous, or ramming their political views down their fan’s throats (case in point: Babs.). The heft of the endorsement teeters on the heft of the public trust. In order for a celebrity to endorse successfully, they must be good politicians. In order for politicians to be endorsed by voters, they must handle and mould their own celebrity. All this celebrity leads to one question, though: what happened to cerebricity?

Oprah brings unfair advantage to the products she endorses. Look at the rise in sales of the certain books she endorses. People buy them because they know they’ll have a good read. So in a way, the poll numbers will go up for Obama, but it will be an artificial spike, and no one knows how long that spike will last – up until elections, or if it will peter out before-hand. So Obama still has something to prove, because even Oprah isn’t infallible. As sad as it is, people listening to others without forming their own political conscience, it could go much worse. If you’re going to buy the farm (or the book club book) just because someone tells you to, the least you can do is take off that dumb Oprah club sticker, and try to blend in with the people who, while standing next to you in the campaign trenches, stand miles away in the strength of their own reasoned convictions.