Monday, February 08, 2010

Oprah has landed

It's always intriguing for me to see how life influences the direction of one's work. When I was growing up in the 1980s, 4:00 p.m. meant one thing: The Oprah Winfrey Show would be on the television set in my home. Sometimes my mother would take a break from cooking to watch the show in our TV room. If the meal was complicated, she'd just turn the TV up and listen from the kitchen. Either way, 4 pm meant that it was her time -- and consequently my time -- with Oprah.

Plus or minus two decades later I published an article on Oprah's Book Club in an academic journal called Critical Studies in Media Communication and, later, a chapter on the same subject in my book, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (Columbia University Press, 2009).

Because I've been ensconced in Oprah for so long, both personally and professionally, it's difficult for me to understand why people refuse to take her seriously. I suspect a lot of it has to do with offhanded impressions about the The Oprah Winfrey Show, television talk shows in general, or indeed Oprah herself. Honestly, I don't have much tolerance for critics who disparage or dismiss the Oprah phenomenon without studying it intensively, in all of its complexity and over the long-term. I don't embrace all-things-Oprah by any means, yet it seems pretty clear to me that she's transformed and even enriched U.S. culture in countless ways.

I'm excited, therefore, to see this week's edition of the media blog In Medias Res devoted to the theme of Oprah. Here's the lineup:
  • Monday: "Stories of O: Oprah's Culture Industries" by Kimberly Springer
  • Tuesday: "Too Big to Fail" by Janice Peck
  • Wednesday: "For the Sake of the Children" by John Howard
  • Thursday: "I've Been Rich and I've Been Poor: The Economics of Oprah" by Vanessa Jackson
  • Friday: "Oprah's Got Beef?: Alleged Matriarchies and Masculinist Rhymes" by Kimberly Springer
I'm looking forward to seeing how the series of posts unfolds. I find that academic authors tend to be extremely cynical towards Oprah, both the person and the broader phenomenon, and so I'm keeping my fingers crossed here. Hopefully the contributors will give such complex subject matter its due.

You can expect to see me leaving comments on IMR throughout the week, since, clearly, this is a topic that's been with me for a good long while. I'd encourage you to chime in, too. In the meantime, enjoy the Letterman-Oprah-Leno ad from last night's Superbowl.


Conrad DiDiodato said...

Oprah is a cultural icon, sadly.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Maybe I'm a little too hard on Oprah, after all. Something in the title "Differences & Repetitions" reminded me of a point Deleuze made about difference as a positive quality of things. Oprah may just be the interesting 'difference' that spurs on media to more interesting cultural forms.

Sorry, Oprah!

Ted Striphas said...

Very kind of you to say, Conrad. Deleuze likely would have appreciated the spirit (though not likely the substance, given his disdain for TV) of your affirmativeness.