Oprah Winfrey, courtesy of Oprah.com
Oprah Winfrey, television tycoon,
reaches millions of people with not only her words, but also her actions. The
foundation of Oprah’s ethos is her stance in which she teaches us all how to
live a better, more fulfilling life. Her self-improvement guide, successful and
often times innovative, has made Oprah an authority and has given her the
influence that she employs today. The nation willingly trusts this influence;
but is this really a safe choice? Many will concede that time and time again
Oprah has proven herself worthy of authority. Yet others deviate and question
whether the impact Oprah has over so many Americans is really warranted. Oprah
has ascended from life below the poverty line to an astonishing wealth that
isolates her from the society over which she carries so much influence.
Newly created, “Oprah’s Great Closet
Clean-out” will go towards funding her extravagant South African Leadership
Academy for Girls. Yes, much of her old clothing, probably worn once by the
mogul, if ever at all, are up on eBAY awaiting the eager masses of Oprah
followers dying for a little piece of the superstar (Oprah.com). Didn’t we once
follow Oprah for what she did like, not for the items she discards?
Nevertheless, these items associate us with Oprah, and therefore, we do not ask
Wrong. Oprah has become one of the
richest celebrities on the planet. In fact, this leader of the Forbes list
raked in roughly $275 million in 2009 (Forbes.com). With such enormous revenue
to support her profligate lifestyle, Oprah cannot possibly relate to the
everyday American that comprises her television audience and following. Even
her designer items that are being sold in an online auction, whether worn or
not, soar above middle class Americas’
price range. This seems a little odd based on Oprah’s interest in helping
Americans learn to “Save Money, Save Yourself” (Oprah.com). Oprah’s haughty
lifestyle is well above her television audience’s heads.
Oprah's Mansion, Courtesy of suntimes.com
One of the most popular and
buzzed-about episodes of The Oprah Winfrey
Show is her annual special, “Oprah’s Favorite Things”. In this episode,
Oprah picks dozens of items to display to her audience as her favorite items of
the year. She continues to give away every item on the list to her in-studio
audience and extols each item’s value. This episode portrays Oprah as extremely
generous and her endorsement helps business for many companies, but it also
displays high-priced items for high budgets only. Included on such lists is an
$800 video recorder, fashionable boots for $120, a display of watches ranging
from $150-$1500, and $60 cupcakes (Oprah.com). One thing that these items all
have in common: outlandish prices. Are
these the things that her audience would normally purchase for themselves? It
is not likely. These items, unnecessary indulgences, are made attractive by the
power of Oprah’s authority and status in relation to her lower and middle class
following. Though she possesses a strong ethos, Oprah’s influencing platform
encourages consumerism, a luxury that many cannot afford in this dire economy.
"Oprah's Favorite Things" on Oprah.com displays an $800 Samsung Video Recorder with Oprah's face displayed on the screen, Courtesy of Oprah.com
“The Oprah Effect”
In fact, the significance of Oprah’s
platform is astonishing. A testament to her influence is the success of items
that she endorses on her talk show. This success has come to be known as, “The
Oprah Effect”. When Oprah appeared on her show talking about Carol’s Daughter,
a bath and body products business, excitement caused a flooding of visitors to
the business’s web site, nearly causing a crash, and sales went through the
roof. When Oprah raved about the Kindle portable reading device from Amazon.com
on her talk show, it took only hours for the item to sell out
(Entrepreneur.com). For businesses, Oprah’s endorsements have been
extraordinary, but “The Oprah Effect” applies to more than just products. Oprah
is a leader in upcoming artists, books, political figures, industries, and even
medical advice. Anything portrayed on Oprah’s bright stage in front of her logo
that permanently flashes across the screen in the background becomes buzzed
about. It has become difficult today for anyone to escape Oprah’s reach
Oprah greets various celebrities at her annual luncheon for the famous, Courtesy of Oprah.com
Oprah’s ability to relate to others
is essential to why she has maintained such a large following. Before The Oprah Winfrey Show amassed such
massive popularity, Oprah grew up in inner-city Chicago. She has shared evidence of a rough
childhood, raped at an early age and how she struggled to gain a foothold in
the industry in her early career. Oprah was once below the poverty line and has
truly lived the African American experience, a credit to her ethos that makes
her believable and worthy. Overall, Oprah’s intentions remain dignified. After
all, very few dislike the television queen.
Yet, Oprah, having risen to the top of the social classes, has become
too isolated from the average American to truly understand their lifestyle
today. Perhaps she is indulging in the luxuries she has come so far to enjoy.
In a class-scared American society,
the subject of social class is often avoided or simply overlooked. The Oprah Winfrey Show, however, has a
strong undercurrent of the social classes that are undenyingly prominent in our
society. Oprah, once from a lower class, has been catapulted into the highest
realm of social class and has become the authority on advice for middle class
living. Her high status and fine tastes appear in the designer clothes that she
wears, the high price items she endorses, and the elaborate parties that she
displays on her show. Different classes may interpret Oprah’s ethos is
different ways; the lower or middle class may base Oprah’s credibility and
indulgence entirely on money and value, whereas those at the top or Oprah
herself may see her prominence as a display of taste, values, or behavior
(McQuade and McQuade 479). Perhaps the notion of social class is a hidden
aspect of The Oprah Winfrey Show that
has more influence than we know. Nevertheless, Oprah’s audience must understand
this disconnect between higher and lower classes because Oprah pushes a type of
consumerism that many cannot afford in this economy.
of this matter is reflected by recent years’ polls that report the numbers of
Americans that tune in to watch The Oprah
Winfrey Show. The breakdown includes a majority of white and black female
women over the age of 50 comprising Oprah’s millions of daily viewers. Oprah’s
followers show a fairly balanced distribution across income level brackets of
$0-30k, $30-60k, $60-100k, and $100k+ (quantcast.com). With followers of all
income levels, it seems Oprah’s “favorite things” are somewhat unbalanced,
speaking to only those with the $100k+ salaries. Oprah’s lower and middle class viewers must
try to find the difference between the lifestyle Oprah portrays and their own
items being flashed under “Oprah’s Favorite Things” and its ensuing “Oprah
Effect” come at an inconvenient time as many struggling Americans are bringing
home smaller paychecks. We all love the television queen and recognize her
authority in great taste and style but realizing Oprah’s consumerism is too
lofty for today’s economy is essential to the loyal viewers that tune in to The Oprah Winfrey Show every day. Perhaps viewers may need to learn to live vicariously through Winfrey, instead
of struggling to mimic her every purchase.
Oprah fans will always adore the superstar but should think twice before following her consumerism and every influence. Video courtesy of Youtube.com, dirtyrobby34.
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