David M. Brown's Blog

May 26, 2011


Filed under: Media and journalism,Society and culture,Television — davidmbrowndotcom @ 3:55 am

Oprah Winfrey’s unwatchable talk show is finally, finally, finally OVER.

Reports of its long-delayed demise yielded little in the way of critical assessment of the show, plenty in the way of somberly reflective heralding of all Oprah incarnated. She became America’s mommy, she jumped up and down, she gave away cars to audience members. What more is there to say? Phenom-ville.

Never give up. Never lose hope. Never surrender. Because eventually you, too, will find the online reprint of a 1998 National Review article by Mark Steyn, posted at National Review Online to commemorate the faux-honest confessionalism that is the hallmark of the Oprah era.

Oprah’s program was a kinder and gentler version of other let-it-all-hang-out, let-the-bullshit-flow talkfests. You emote, I emote, you’re okay, I’m okay, whatever we may do or say.

Being not infallible, only seeming so, Oprah can screw up too. But when Oprah sins, it’s about having lapsed in the bogus-compassion department, as when she got mad at some memoirist who, it turned out, had made up a lot of the stuff he wrote in his memoir; then repented for having so sternly reprimanded him.

Although I have not done the research, I suspect that few of the blatant liars she showcased were thus chastised. Almost none–or, more probably, none–of the persons who blatantly babbled about things about which they should not have been blatantly babbling on national television were told that they shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing. Of course, Oprah also interviewed serious and interesting people with serious and interesting, legitimately public purposes. But it was the mommy-to-the-nation thing that was her stock-in-trade.


What can we learn from this new confessional? Mostly that, unlike the old confessional, it uses the appearance of personal honesty as a form of evasion. By 1992, when Oprah went to Los Angeles for a post-riot update, her guests—the cream of the neighborhood’s pillagers and looters—had mastered the buzzwords of the format. “I looted,” said one, stabbing the air emphatically, “because I felt it was a cause that had to be met.” Amid all the hapless Korean storekeepers there was a black businessman whose shop had also been razed. The chief looter had a ready answer: “All businesses were burnt, of course, in a situation that was perpetuated therein, you know, in a situation, we cannot, uh, say, okay, we are not going to have a black business burnt.”

In olden days, your average looter preferred to give the media a wide berth and melt back into the anonymity of the crowd, but now the prospect of adding a second string to his brick as TV’s Mister Riot more than outweighs any fear that appearing on a coast-to-coast talk show might prejudice any forthcoming trial. Producers are, after all, easily impressed: “Hey, get this guy! Not only can he pillage, he can also say ‘perpetuated therein.’ ” But, in the years since, the Oprah form of public discourse has been perpetuated throughout: O.J. uses it, and the Duchess of York, and President Clinton. “Personal honesty” is the best way to dodge personal responsibility.

I’m still puzzling over that “second string to his brick” metaphor, but I wouldn’t go on national television to whine about it. I would not go on “Oprah” to tell Oprah and the nation my “problems.” My life has been perfect from Day One.

Well, there has been one blight. That friggin’ show! But now it’s gone. I no longer have to stab frantically at my remote control when I accidentally surf into some gooey installment of it. Thank you, Oprah. You changed my life!


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