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Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

Kathryn Lofton
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    "Today onOprah," intoned the TV announcer, and all over America viewers tuned in to learn, empathize, and celebrate. In this book, Kathryn Lofton investigates the Oprah phenomenon and finds in Winfrey's empire-Harpo Productions,O Magazine, and her new television network-an uncanny reflection of religion in modern society. Lofton shows that when Oprah liked, needed, or believed something, she offered her audience nothing less than spiritual revolution, reinforced by practices that fuse consumer behavior, celebrity ambition, and religious idiom. In short, Oprah Winfrey is a media messiah for a secular age. Lofton's unique approach also situates the Oprah enterprise culturally, illuminating how Winfrey reflects and continues historical patterns of American religions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94824-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    What is Oprah? A noun. A name. A misspelling. Oprah is a person we know because of her publicity, a pioneer we recognize because of her accolades, and a personage we respect because of her embodied endurance, her passionate care, her industrious production. First and foremost, though, Oprah is a woman. An African American woman with a story broadcast by her own engines, with ideas inspired by her unceasing consumption, and with a self magnified by the media mechanics that make tabloid her every gesture. Before that broadcast, before that spectacle, she did possess particularity: a place of birth, a...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Practicing Purchase: The Prosperity Gospel of a Spiritual Capitalism
    (pp. 20-50)

    The long story of free markets in the West deposits us at the door of Oprah Winfrey. Even in the face of such an anesthetizing clearinghouse as Harpo, Incorporated, the nature of capitalism is too ubiquitous to say anything simple about it. Capitalism may be adjudicated on numerical grounds; it may be observed as a historical factor; it may breathe and it may beget; it may manifest and exclude; it may transfix and enchant; it may be magical, cruel, relentless, calculating, incoherent, and organizing; it may produce certain sociologies, certain anthropologies, and certain ecologies; likewise, it may be seen to...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Celebrity Spirit: The Incorporation of Your Best Life
    (pp. 51-81)

    Any story of American religions over the last quarter of the twentieth century would necessarily need to acknowledge the aftereffects of Sixties political radicalism, the domestic consequences of demographic shifts, and the plurality of options available for the wandering believer. Scholars contributing to the study of Oprah Winfrey have pointed to the symbolic date of her origins, sitting as she did in the immediate backwash of these changes, in the heart of the Reagan Revolution.¹ From her 1986 syndication, it is possible to perceive hers as a climax in a certain history, one that includes the civil rights movement, the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Diverting Conversions: The Makeover as Social Rite
    (pp. 82-117)

    It was just another episode, a day like so many other days withThe Oprah Winfrey Show.This particular show in 2003 devoted itself to crowning four women as princesses. “I love surprising people,” Oprah said in her opening voice-over. “I love making them happy.” And make them happy she did. The first princess, Ashley Smith, earned an audition forAmerican Idol;the second, Fannie Eugene, received weekly Merry Maid service, a $23,700 Ford Windstar minivan for her long workday commute, and a deluxe trip for two to New York City, accessorized with new luggage; the third, Linda Feinstein, received...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Preacher Queen: The Race and Gender of America’s Confessor
    (pp. 118-147)

    On September 23, 2001, mourners gathered at Yankee Stadium to remember the missing and the dead. Just two weeks after planes crashed into the Twin Towers, organizers assembled a five-hour interfaith ceremony titled “A Prayer for America,” which offered a series of speeches, benedictions, and songs. TheNew York Timeswould call the Bronx rally akin to an Olympic event, as the crowd broke into chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Pleas for tolerance blended with prayers for unification by a cornucopia of religious representatives, who sat on the dais in rows alongside the governors and mayors. Included in the collected...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Reading Religiously: The Reformations of Oprah’s Book Club
    (pp. 148-189)

    The book club was back, and Oprah was happy. She hummed gospel tunes, she distributed carefully packaged print material, and she redressed her audience to clothe them for receipt of this, her old mission made new:

    Winfrey: [Singing]“Oh, happy day.” Hey, everybody. It’s a happy day for me. Because in case you haven’t heard, the book club is back, and I am on a mission. My mission is to make this the biggest book club in the world and get people reading again—not just reading, but reading great books.

    On June 18, 2003, Oprah Winfrey announced the return...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Missionary Gift: The Globalization of Inspiration
    (pp. 190-205)

    Since the first deported Africans arrived enslaved on New World shores, African Americans hatched plans to return to their native homes and tribal communities. An optimistic sense of individual transformation drove these “back to Africa” colonization efforts. Their African American and Anglo-American organizers believed that through removal from their enslaved geography they could rid themselves of the brutalizing consequences of that past while also establishing new all-black nations. Like these repatriating dreamers, Oprah Winfrey perceived in Africa the possibility of a fresh start for eventual race redemption. In South Africa, she claimed to have found needy students who wanted something...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 206-212)

    In some circles of the American academy, some circles of religious America, and some circles of bourgeois America, the discussion between Bebe and Shanell, contestants on the 2009 season of Logo Network’sRuPaul’s Drag Race,might cause a minor bit of stomach churning. The reasons for the indigestion are multiple, but one of them might be called the intensity of their shallowness. Is weight loss guidance reason enough to name your inspiration a god? When everything is sacred—later Shanell also refers to the singer Cher as “a god”—how can anything be? The relentless personalism of these two drag...

  12. Epilogue: Political Spirituality, or the Oprahfication of Obama
    (pp. 213-222)

    First, you need a name. Not just any name. An unusual name: a biblical misspelling, maybe, or an invocation of some distant land. No matter what, the name needs anO.TheOwill come in handy when you need to summon a common sphere, encourage chanting, or design an expansive logo. Never deny the utility of its replication, never avoid its allusion, and never miss an opportunity for its branding.¹ AnOis a space anyone can fill with anything.

    Second, you need a life. Not just any life. A life that is ready to be a story, prepared...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 223-274)
  14. Index
    (pp. 275-288)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)