Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Self-Rescuing Princess of the Week: Oprah

What do you think about when you think of Oprah? If you're like most of my friends, you probably have some rather negative or neutral thoughts about Oprah and her media empire. And probably not completely unjustified.

But maybe you'll indulge me for a short list of the things I love best about Oprah.

She tackled the really tough issues. She was one of the first to bring the issues of sexual abuse, AIDS, racism, and domestic abuse, among many others. Think back to the the 1980s and early 1990s. As a country, we weren't really talking much about AIDS, aside from the very vocal fringe groups within the gay community. But Oprah was. And she was one of the first public figures to start combating the rampant misinformation.

She shared her experiences with childhood sexual abuse so that others would have the courage to seek the help they needed. And recently she even tackled the issue around male abuse victims, helping to give many men the strength to admit their shame and start the healing process.

In my mind, this is part and parcel with her overarching trait: an unrelenting focus on education. Her school in Africa, her scholarships to black colleges, her dedication to providing books for school children, and even her work with the (in my opinion misguided) Waiting for Superman group, all point to her unwavering dedication to education.

She used her strength, her power, her gifts to create a brand that at its core was designed to empower and educate the widest audience possible. Sure, she also sold lipsticks and talked about her favorite shoes, but that's just part of the whole package. Even the smartest, most dedicated, most powerful people have moments of whimsy. Just because her idea of whimsy doesn't match mine doesn't mean the rest of her message is undermined.

There was a time in my previous career in the magazine business where I dreamed of moving to New York and working for O magazine. Any magazine that could appeal to the fashionistas AND the biblioholics must be a good magazine. Sure, O's got 30 pages of consumerist photo-shoots of $400 purses and stilettos, but it also has reviews for 30+ books in each issue. Think about that for a minute. Each month, over a million women are getting a subscription to a magazine that talks about books as though reading was something as ordinary as picking out a new nail color. Think about other mainstream women's magazines. Do they have ANY book reviews?

Sure, there were shows I didn't watch. Lots of them, in fact. But that's to be expected, really. Think about the sheer number of shows she put on. They can't all be about my personal favorite issues. It's not a show just for me. It's for everyone. And as such, there will be stories that appeal to them more than others.

I have to admit that what little I've watched on the OWN channel hasn't inspired me in the way that the Oprah show has. I'll keep checking it out, of course. I guess I'll have to turn to the magazine for inspiration, and wait to see what happens now.

So, what do you think now that Ms O is leaving the afternoon time slot? What will come next?


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