It's been a great week for lazy hack comedians all around the country, as Oprah announced that she has gained weight and now tips the scales at over two hundred lbs. Cor, eh? What a porker!
In the grand scheme of things, Oprah should be an easy target for criticism without resorting to jokes about weight. In so many ways, she has managed to piss away her legacy as an innovator and source of inspiration and has turned what could still be a decent afternoon show that tackles important issues and subjects into a "look at me! I'm rich, do you hear me? RICH!" showcase. Ditto, her eponymous magazine. How obsessed with oneself does one have to be to not only name a magazine after oneself, but to insist on dominating the cover every month? I'd wager 'very'.
I defy you to watch Oprah for two weeks. You don't have to watch the episodes end to end, just dip in to see what's being discussed. What you'll see in those two weeks is at least one or two episodes that prove she's still 'got it', shows that really address topics that could make a difference. She's never resorted to Geraldo or Springer style circus freak shows or "OMG UR LUVERS GAY LOL" shows. Watch the show and you'll see that in there, somewhere, Oprah still has it. She's still able to connect with her guests and her audience and produce a compelling show that's socially and/or politically and/or culturally relevant.
But mixed in with those rare episodes that could make a difference in someone's life are lengthy shots, practically in soft focus, of Oprah agreeing with the guest, or interrupting them to tell a barely related anecdote about herself. Or episodes featuring vacuous, pandering, fluff celebrity interviews. Either that, or entire episodes dedicated to little more than showcasing Oprah's opulence. I kid you not, there was a recent episode dedicated completely to her jetting off to Las Vegas in her private plane to appear on stage with Barbara Streisand and Cher, in front of people who have paid a price for tickets that could, collectively, build a wing of an AIDS hospital. And guess who got top billing...?
Is that what people really want to see? Is that what we want advanced civilisations who may visit our planet to think we're interested in? The country is in a recession. Jobs are being lost left and right. Houses are being foreclosed upon and people's morale is at an all-time low, and traditionally, people turn to entertainment to keep their spirits up. If I'm sitting in a house I know I'm losing, looking for a job I don't know that I'll get or keep, wondering how I'm going to feed my kids, believe me: the LAST thing in the world I want to see is someone using their vast personal wealth for something so shamefully pointless. Use it to stock a soup kitchen for seven years. Use it to build a homeless shelter. Use it to help set up some sort of resource center for people at the end of their tether. Far be it from me to dictate to you how to spend your billions in your spare time, but don't you think that broadcasting it is rubbing people's noses in it juuuuust a tiny bit?
If they would cut the show to twice a week - three times, max - ditch the hopeless, vacant celebrity interviews (another chance for a thumbed-nose at the plebs), move the focus of the show away from Oprah and on to the subject at hand, she could still be a player. She could still be relevant and important.
As part of a culture that rewards an unattainable personal image with adoration and praise, one that claims beauty belongs only to the airbrushed and photoshopped, I probably shouldn't be surprised that weight gain inspires ridicule. I learned a long time ago that when it comes to expecting the best from humanity, my pessimism never leads to disappointment, but really... if we're going to sit in our glass houses and throw stones at people for their faults and failings, can there at least be some substance behind it?
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