The Oprah Culture: Self-Love Before Self-Knowledge

Peter Birkenhead, in Salon, takes a whack at Oprah: he starts with her latest self-help project “The Secret” (which does sound pretty sketchy) and then zooms out and tries to tear down all of Oprah Culture:

For these believers, self-knowledge is much less important than self-“love.” But the question they never seem to ask themselves is: If you wouldn’t tell another person you loved her before you got to know her, why would you do that to yourself? Skipping the getting-to-know-you part has given us what we deserve: the Oprah culture. It’s a culture where superstition is “spirituality,” illiteracy is “authenticity,” and schoolmarm moralism is “character.” It’s a culture where people apologize by saying, “I’m sorry you took offense at what I said,” and forgive by saying, “I’m not angry at you anymore, I’m grateful to you for teaching me not to trust shitheads like you.” And that’s the part that should bother us most: the diminishing, even implicit mocking, of genuine goodness, and of authentic spiritual concerns and practices. Engagement, curiosity and active awe are in short supply these days, and it’s sickening to see them devalued and misrepresented.

He concludes by essentially calling for more scrutiny of Oprah’s humongous cultural influence:

If you reach more people than Bill O’Reilly, if you have better name recognition than Nelson Mandela, if the books you endorse sell more than Stephen King’s, you should take some responsibility for your effect on the culture. The most powerful woman in the world is taking advantage of people who are desperate for meaning, by passionately championing a product that mocks the very idea of a meaningful life.

Related Post: Lee Siegel TNR article on Oprah

(Hat tip for Salon article: Chris Yeh)

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