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Stories of Oprah

Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Stories of Oprah
    Book Description:

    Stories of Oprahis a collection of essays that explores Oprah Winfrey's broad reach as an industry and media brand. Contributors analyze a number of topics touching on the ways in which her cultural output shapes contemporary America. The volume examines how Oprah has fashioned a persona--which emphasizes her rural, poverty-stricken roots over other factors--that helper her popularize her unique blend of New Age spirituality, neoliberal politics, and African American preaching. She packages New Age spirituality through the rhetoric of race, gender, and the black preacher tradition. Oprah's Book Club has reshaped literary publishing, bringing Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy to a broad number of readers. Her brand extends worldwide through the internet. In this volume, writers analyze her positions on teen sexuality, gender, race, and politics, and the impact of Winfrey's confessional mode on mainstream television news.

    The book also addresses twenty-first century issues, showing Winfrey's influence on how Americans and Europeans responded to 9/11, and how Harpo Productions created a deracialized film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's classic novelTheir Eyes Were Watching Godin 2005. Throughout,Stories of Oprahchallenges readers to reflect on how Oprah the Industry has reshaped America's culture, history, and politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-408-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Introduction Delineating the Contours of the Oprah Culture Industry
    (pp. VII-XX)

    What Would Oprah Do? That is what actress Robin Okrant set out to discover on January 1, 2008. She launched her blog,, to detail her attempt to “live the [her] best life.” More than a riff, Okrant set out to use Oprah Winfrey’s tips, admonishments, and claims to expert knowledge for how she should shop, dress, behave, and think. Adopting the name LO (Living Oprah), she wrote in her mission statement, “I am performing an experiment: for one year, I will live as Oprah advises on her television show, on her website and in the pages of her magazines....

  4. Part I. Oprah the Woman, Oprah the Empire

    • CHAPTER ONE Beginnings with O
      (pp. 3-18)

      A new century’s rags-to-riches narrative features not a street-smart white shoeshine boy with moxy but a bookish black farm girl with a painful secret. A fictional account, perfected by a defrocked minister accused of “unnatural” acts with his young male charges, the older model emphasized gumption, virtue, and—above all—hard work:Shine your shoes, mister?(Trachtenberg 1990, vi). At the feet of his superiors, the resourceful bootblack overheard and absorbed the lessons of the robber barons, helping him to master the diction and get a leg up. A “true” story, by contrast, told about one of its real-life inheritors,...

    • CHAPTER TWO “I’m Everywoman” Oprah Winfrey and Feminist Identification
      (pp. 19-32)

      Although Oprah Winfrey is not a publicly identified feminist, her comprehensive societal influence can be extrapolated to the United States women’s movement. To borrow a term from Patricia Misciagno, she is the nation’s foremost de facto feminist (Misciagno 1997). In the alternative, discursive social and political space created for women byThe Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah promotes feminist ideology and practice without explicitly acknowledging the fact that she is endorsing either feminism or the United States women’s movement; in doing so, Oprah promotes de facto feminism on a regular basis in the homes of millions of “everywomen” in the United...

    • CHAPTER THREE New Age Soul The Gendered Translation of New Age Spirituality on The Oprah Winfrey Show
      (pp. 33-48)

      Recently Oprah Winfrey held a web seminar on the New Age guru, Eckart Tolle, and his 2008 book,A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Potential. Tolle is a German-born, Cambridge-educated spiritual leader, who writes about the “spiritual awakening” that he feels is the “next step in human evolution” (Oprah’s Book Club 2008a). Oprah touted his book as “her boldest choice yet” and raved about the book’s ability to awaken readers to “the possibilities of their lives” (Oprah’s Book Club 2008c). She began the seminar by talking about Tolle’s ideas and their central importance in her life: “The one thing...

  5. Part II. Contesting the Oprah Experts

    • CHAPTER FOUR Post[ed]structuralism? Oprah’s Message Boards, Soul Stories, and the Everyday Lives of Women
      (pp. 51-64)

      Fifty-eight-year-old Judy writes “I have tried suicide at least five or six times through the course of my life.”¹ A young mother, Gail, questions life’s lessons after the birth of her Down’s Syndrome daughter. Peggy’s “soul crys” because she feels that her nineteen-year-old son will soon die. A woman grieves the choice she made years ago, to divorce her husband, when she says, “My life has never been the same nor will ever be again. I think about him everyday and have wished a million trillion times that I had stayed, and fought . . . * The result has...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Oprah para Mujeres Chicanas A Survey of the Impact of Oprah’s Message on Chicanas
      (pp. 65-84)

      Oprah’s success in a predominantly man’s world and in a predominantly white U.S. environment has been attributed to her ability to reach a diverse segment of the U.S. society and the global community at large. Sociologists such as Katrina Bell McDonald further argue that virtually everyone in the United States—black, white, Latino/a, or Asian—embraces Oprah’s persona and message (2007, 1). Oprah’s supposed ability to reach women of all ethnicities relies on the assumption that women’s suffering and women’s issues are universal. Indeed Oprah claims in her television show that “I’m every woman” (the advertising theme song played in...

    • CHAPTER SIX Confessions from At-Risk Teens Abstinence, the Social Construction of Promiscuity, and The Oprah Winfrey Show
      (pp. 85-98)

      “Abstain from sex to attain your goals,” reads a billboard along a highway in central Illinois. Associating abstinence and economic/educational potential for young females is unavoidable when addressing teen sexuality in the United States. From public service announcements advocated by public health departments to emotional confessions disclosed onThe Oprah Winfrey Show, the media climate suggests multiple strategies for instructing teens to abstain from sex rather than face the consequences of their sexuality. Sound bites, like those heard onThe Oprah Winfrey Show, warn teens—disarmed without the knowledge of safe sex practices—of a recipe for failure awaiting those...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Oprah Goes to Africa Philanthropic Consumption and Political (Dis)Engagement
      (pp. 99-112)

      In 2005,Time Magazinenamed as its Persons of the Year rock legend Bono of U2 fame and Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Melinda Gates, cofounders of the world’s wealthiest charity. Bono was honored for his contributions to the One Campaign, while the Gates were honored for their global philanthropic work. The September 2006 issue ofIn Stylecarried a story about the “cause celeb” [sic] of the One Campaign, featuring “countless stars” dedicated to eliminating poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. The story featured well-groomed celebrities in black and white “One” t-shirts—which, according to a sidebar, can be purchased...

  6. Part III. The Oprahfication of Media

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Oprah and the New News
      (pp. 115-130)

      In March 2002, Matthew A. Baum reported in theAmerican Political Science Reviewthat increasing numbers of Americans were acquiring their news from so-called “soft” news sources. These sources, according to Baum, are primarily “daytime and late-night talk shows and entertainment and tabloid news programs.” Citing Neilson ratings from 1999, Baum points out thatWinfrey, with more than 6.4 million households viewing the program, was “watched by about as many households as the evening newscasts of the major networks” and hadseventeen timesas many viewers as CNN for the same six-month period (92). His argument is that media sources,...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Oprahfication of 9/11 September 11, the War in Iraq, and The Oprah Winfrey Show
      (pp. 131-144)

      On September 11 and 12, 2001, for the first time in its fifteen-year run,The Oprah Winfrey Showwas cancelled. The talk show resumed its daily broadcast on September 13 with an episode aptly entitled “America Under Attack,” which was repeated the next day. The cancellation ofOprahfit the state of confusion that American television immediately found itself in right after the terrorist attacks. On the one hand, 9/11 was a television event. From the moment the first plane hit the Twin Towers, millions of viewers around the world stayed glued to their television sets to capture the latest...

    • CHAPTER TEN From the Nobel to Oprah Toni Morrison, Body Politics, and Oprah’s Book Club
      (pp. 145-160)

      InThe Nobel Lecture in Literatureof 1993, Toni Morrison indicts “the faux language of mindless media,” which, along with other dehumanizing discourses, she says, “must be rejected, altered, and exposed,” in its relentless perpetuation of the “bottomed-out mind” (16). Given this statement, it might at first seem paradoxical that Morrison has been a highly visible participant in one of the most notable phenomena in the history of television, Oprah’s Book Club. This literary enterprise of Oprah Winfrey has been criticized alternately as lowbrow, hyper-commercialized, or patronizing of viewer/readers. But exploration of the Book Club’s engagement with the novelSong...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Lost in Translation Irony and Contradiction in Harpo’s Production of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
      (pp. 161-178)

      On March 6, 2005, at 9 P.M. ABC network aired the movieTheir Eyes Were Watching God, a screen adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel (by the same name) produced by Oprah Winfrey’s media production company, Harpo, Inc. Hurston’s novel was adapted to screenplay by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and writers/producers Misan Sagay and Bobby Smith Jr., who have a long list of awards and achievements in both Hollywood and foreign cinema. It is not clear what role Oprah Winfrey played in the film’s production, but it seems safe to say (at the very least) that she had a heavy...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 179-182)
  8. Index
    (pp. 183-188)