Most of my life I have been a skeptic and a pessimist. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
This is why I dislike Oprah.
I’ve gotten into a bit of a tiff with a friend of mine because I mistakenly used the word “hate” while talking about Oprah, and I appearantly wasn’t clear that my dislike has nothing to do with Oprah Winfrey personally but only with the brand Oprah that she has created. Much the same way I have a dislike for Microsoft, or any large brand.
If you read up on Oprah, she has done some wonderful things with her life, her show, her magazines, her charities… she’s made a few mistakes along the way, most famously is James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces where she and her people didn’t bother to do the minimal background work that thesmokinggun.com did that proved his book was a pile of lies. But, overall, she does good, and that’s why when she suggests or recommends something I give it attention and look into it for myself.
Sounds like I don’t dislike her, right? Let me continue…
Where I start to get uncomfortable is the cult like following that she has engendered and nurtured. There are literally millions of people who will take her at her word and do what she says without thinking for themselves. She says a charity is worth giving to and suddenly that charity gets record donations. She’s probably not wrong, but I am worried by the blind faith that people have… almost the same problem I have with many organized religions. Follow, don’t question.
Is it really her fault? Can she stop people from just doing what she says? No, not really… people like knowing that other people know better, following a strong leader is easier than trying to lead themselves. But what I dislike is that Oprah, as a brand, seeks to gain by maintaining this blind following, and not once have I ever heard her openly state that people should do research on these ideas, books and charities themselves before acting. It would be bad for business to give people advice and in the same breath tell than that you could be wrong and they should really figure it out for themselves.
Most recently, Oprah has funded the building of a school. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. Building the school is clearly a good thing, but to prove a point, I discussed the school with some coworkers, and while all of them said it was good, not one of them could tell me why Oprah felt the school needed to be built beyond “because they needed a school for women.” No one could tell me why that school, why there, why now… all that was lost in the Oprah publicity of the school being built and how great it was.
Along with that, I find I am put off by the fact that she puts her name in the forefront of everything, on everything. I watched one of the TV specials about something she was doing, it may have even been the school, but I completely lost interest because in the ten minutes I watched, Oprah was always center frame, even when she was talking to someone who, in the context of the special, should have been more important than her. With Oprah, it seems that the subject is never “Here is something worth knowing about…” its always “I’m Oprah, and behind me is something worth knowing about…” There is a distinction there that I think is very important.
In this argument with my friend, she brought up other brands (Microsoft, Nike, etc) latching on to the idea that it must be brands that I “hated”, not Oprah. But the truth is, I bring the same skepticism to those brands. I never buy software because its Microsoft, I buy it because I need the functions that it does and from my research it fills my needs. Microsoft Office is a great example, I love the product, but only because I’ve gone down the road of using other software. I’ve installed Star Office and used other email readers, and in the end, after trying dozens of other products, it turns out that Microsoft Office is the one that does everything I need in the best way possible for me. And Nike, well, I’m a skinflint when it comes to shoes and refuse to spend more than $30 for any pair. I’m rough on shoes, and spending $100 for a pair is like throwing money out the window. Again, I’ve done the footwork, pardon the pun, and realized that buying Ocean Pacific sneakers for $19.99 was a much better fit for my lifestyle.
In a way however, these companies are more honest than Oprah, because they are trying to directly sell you on their products… Oprah, on the other hand, is often trying to sell you other people’s work, their books, their deeds, their charities. And while you can look into Oprah’s eyes and see if she is sincere, she has put a layer between you and the product, potentially hiding from you if the original purveyor was sincere, and you have to trust that she has done all the proper background work, which she has shown on occasion that she (or her staff) has not.
So what am I trying to get at with this blog? In the end I suppose the core of it is that I am adverse to any person or group that encourages, actively or passively, people to stop thinking for themselves.