Tuesday, June 28, 2005

You go, girl! ...Honestly. We're closed. Go!

In light of Oprah Winfrey’s current crusade against the Paris boutique Hermès, Anne Kingston wonders whether the holding-forth-show host’s audience will themselves have a “‘crash’ moment, a tipping point in which an audience that has come to revere [Oprah] for her philanthropic good works is alienated by her disproportionate outrage over not getting her own way.” Alas! Would that even a fraction of Oprah Winfrey’s following had even a fraction of Ms. Kingston’s intelligence. Indeed, if only Oprah’s audience (nay, Oprah herself!) was possessed of the Post columnist’s great faith in humankind. For it seems to me that she gives these people way too much credit in assuming that the cause of their reverence is Oprah's "philanthropic good works.”

Rather, they revere Oprah because she’s got what they want: an almost absolute power. More importantly, she does with that power what they themselves so desperately want to do: wield it with abandon! The otherwise impotent threat to some chumpy retailer of, “You’ve lost my business!” actually means something when it’s coming from a person whose hypnotic sway over the rabble guarantees a more than considerable vengeance. Oprah is a beacon, an icon of the all-pervasive consumerist philosophy. She’s Socrates telling the Athenian court: “Hemlock?! Out of this glass?! Puh-lease!” to resounding applause, fist-pumping, and calls of “Take a flame-thrower to this place!”

After all, consider her peers in the great marketing co-option of feminist empowerment. Princess Di, whose death pre-empted Mother Teresa’s by a matter of days, didn’t completely eclipse the attention owed the latter because of, what?, a kind of mass-tacit proviso that the two be considered on an equal moral footing. Princess Diana touched people with AIDS, after all, just as Mother Teresa touched people with leprosy. Oh what a tragedy that we should lose them both on the same day! (And yet, what a blessing that Mother Teresa should make herself so handy in providing a fit symbolic underpinning for the life of the Beloved Adulteress.)

The terrifying spectacle of Kimora Lee Simmons looms large here too (who, as it happens, donated $25,000—of her estimated $500 million worth[1]—to Oprah’s Angel Network not so long ago). Or how about Martha Stewart? (Our Belinda Stronach might present a rather good example of an aspirant. A hopeful.)

Whether they admit it or not, the majority of the Oprah Winfrey audience sticks by their guru for that precise reason: her outrage over not getting her own way. And indeed, it is that very quality of disproportionateness with her Angel Network façade that makes her outrage so outrageously appealing. So enviable. For it is the apotheosis of decadence to be able to find favour, or withhold it, depending on criteria that you yourself decide. This is control. This is power. And such is the extent of this power that all Oprah has to do when making an aggressive stand for the exclusive rights of the privileged (so far above and beyond the rights of the average citizen that, one realizes, she’s shot the moon), is make a lip-service-appeal to hollow jargon and cliché to give the envious punters an excuse to go on being guiltlessly envious.

Look on her works, ye mighty, and despair!

[1] At a rough calculation, the equivalent to $1.50 to the person who earns $30,000 a year. American that is.