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The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the…

The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era (Media and Power) (2008)

by Janice Peck

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I was surprised at how much I liked this book. It was meticulously researched, and decidedly scholarly, but a well written and interesting read. The author of The Age of Oprah, Janice Peck, teaches journalism and media at the U of Colorado, and she has never been a fan of Oprah. That does not mean that this book is a smear job; this is not a personal attack. Instead, Peck unpretentiously but scrupulously traces Oprah’s shadow through Reaganomics, the Clinton years and up to the present, and situates her within a broader political milieu.

The author gives a great crash course on the changes to US social and economic policy brought on my neo-liberalism, a political philosophy that views the world entirely through the lens of economics (and is not in opposition to neo-conservatism, as I once assumed). She traces the development of Oprah’s worldview that everyone can be empowered by positive thinking. She shows with specific examples how Winfrey resisted efforts by her guest experts to connect whatever issue was under discussion with the broader political and economic issues. For Oprah, right thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit solve all problems. According to Peck (and I agree now that she’s pointed this out), Winfrey subtly distances herself from feminist politics and the radicalism of the Civil Rights movement. Further, she has a “propensity to valorize individual volunteerism approaches to systemic social problems.” Through thinking, acting, doing, it is up to each individual to overcome inequalities of race, class and gender: after all, Oprah did it herself. What’s your problem? The downside to this way of thinking is that it has a strong “depoliticizing power” that results in a society of consumers rather than citizens. (And consumerism is another thing that Oprah is definitely a cheerleader for--an aspect of her that has bothered me for many years).

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Oprah. I admire that she at least tries to send a positive message, because that’s a rare thing to see on TV. And I’ve certainly seen some interesting things over the years of her shows. But I’ve often been annoyed by her, and I think her ego is larger than her bank account. So, in other words, I neither loved nor hated her. After the Age of Oprah, however, I know I will never see her in such a benign light ever again. From now on, colour me skeptical. ( )
8 vote Nickelini | Mar 27, 2010 |
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Examines Oprah Winfrey's impact on the economic, social, and political areas of American life and looks at how her talk show, website, magazine, and other public extensions contribute to the rise of neo-liberalism in American politics and culture.

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