By PAT WATSON
Fans of the immensely successful Oprah Winfrey Show are about to go into withdrawal perhaps the likes of which has been the subject of discussion among some of the people who have for 25 years shared their life’s struggles and triumphs on that show. This coming week marks the end of an era when the ‘Queen of daytime television’ bows out.
There is no shortage of regular viewers for whom the 4 to 5 p.m. time slot on a weekday has held a special place of respite, emotional connections and as Winfrey has described it, ‘aha moments’. Except for what will be left of reruns after the finale, Oprah viewers in the 146 countries where the syndicated program airs will have to find another fixture for their daily emotional and spiritual uplift.
How many of us have found our eyes welling up, as Winfrey and her audience members regularly do, in empathy for yet another person talking about yet another aspect of the human condition. Or with compassion as the Oprah Show generously gifts them homes, cars and university scholarships. Or watched as the audience went into happiness overdrive from Oprah’s generosity.
Old and young, Black, White and Brown, gay, straight and transgender, rich and poor, able-bodied or disabled, female and male, the famous or just plain folks have crossed that stage in Chicago to talk to Winfrey.
You have to wonder with all the accolades that are lavished on her as a ‘force for good’ how she keeps grounded.
One of the remarkable qualities of this American television icon is that as an interviewer she has always found a way to get even the most uncomfortable or controversial personalities to speak with honesty and with a sense of acceptance about themselves.
She has taken on racists, criminals and homophobes without baiting them or making them into caricatures. That takes some deftness. Yet for all her apparent warmth, for the most part she has maintained a professional distance between herself and her guests.
After 25 years of the sometimes heavy emotional topics and exuding the kind of energy that needs to be projected through the television medium, it is understandable that she is ready to step away from being in front of the cameras.
Others have tried to do what she has done but Winfrey has managed to do it better than anyone else. The lesson in that, which has certainly been echoed by other successful people, is that to be a winner means not trying to beat others at their game but to continue to be the best you can be at your own game; that the only person one should be competing with is oneself, to keep being better than the last time. When Winfrey stepped away from imitating other daytime talk shows and chose to refashion her show into ‘change-your-life’ television with the consistently optimistic message to the world at large to live your best life, she tapped into a need that had not been addressed before in such a medium. Viewers came for the message and stayed for the ride.
Winfrey is to be admired for what she has created and what she has accomplished. She is a highly visible example of a fully self-actualized human being. That she is both Black and female only makes ‘Oprah, the phenomenon’ that much more interesting. She herself seems at times to be astounded at how far she has come from the poverty and uncertain times of a small Mississippi town. Her medium has made her a force not only for good but surely a force that commands respect. The great and the mighty who have sat on the Oprah stage are evidence of how powerful and influential Winfrey is. After all, there is hardly a corner of the Earth where her show is not viewed.
The success of her current venture into television network ownership is uncertain, but Winfrey certainly has carried the face of Black America with dignity to another level, and by so doing, as with the civil rights movement, carried a large portion of the U.S. and the rest of the world along.
A note on acronyms…
So the chief of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been charged with having committed a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, some of us have long held that IMF has more than one interpretation.