Oprah in one word? Gluttonous
I’ve been watching Oprah ever since her show went into syndication over twenty years ago. I spent countless afternoons with my grandmother, watching in amazement as the scandalous scenarios played out on Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, and Oprah Winfrey. Talk TV was my lifeline to grownup happenings, and I felt like I was defying childhood by being able to watch it.
Oprah was always my favourite. There was something about seeing a fearless, heavyset, black woman on TV, when all I had been used to seeing were skinny, coquettish, white women, that empowered me and gave me a sense that not all was lost in the world. Even as a young, white tween I was proud of Oprah and what she stood for as a role model to females everywhere, regardless of their ethnicity. I saw her show as a place where all women could come together as sisters, and bridge the gap between the races. This was a feeling that I carried with me well into the new millennium when I became an occasional viewer but remained a devoted fan.
Over the last five or six years I have found myself pulling away from Oprah. There is something about her unabashed arrogance that has been grating on my nerves. I wonder who she thinks she is when she stops one of her ‘expert’ guests mid sentence to put in her all important two cents. Although it took me a long time to realize it, it would appear Oprah’s fame and power have gotten to her head. As Kelley mentions in the book, “Shakespeare says it best; ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”
Even though I don’t read tabloids, I know that gossip often leaks out to the mainstream media surrounding highly influential people, but somehow Oprah seemed to stay off the radar for her first ten or so years. I figured this must have been a testament to her purity and philanthropic ways. If I am to believe Kitty Kelley, this had more to do with the omnipresent, controlling grasp of one of the most powerful women in the world, who held the media and entertainment industries in her clutches like a vulture on its prey.
Oprah is a private person who has fought tooth and nail to keep her secrets out of the limelight… at least those that she has not divulged to her audience at various key moments, like sweeps week. Kelley professes that working at Harpo Studios is akin to being part of a cult. Employees are made to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibit them from ever discussing Oprah or any facet of her company. The imperial restrictions she puts on her staff are proof of an extreme paranoia that has daunted her as rogue journalists have tried to break down her seemingly impenetrable walls of silence. I can only imagine the despair that she is feeling with the publishing of this book.
Kelley walks us through Oprah’s life step-by-step, from her humble beginnings, to her hard working and positive attitude that moved her swiftly up the ranks in the television world. We learn of the tragic sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of family members, and her consequential promiscuity. We feel sympathetic for her bad choices surrounding men, drugs, and an unyielding food addiction, and sit like voyeurs through the details of her awkward relationships with Steadman and Gail.
None of these things had me disappointed by Oprah. What really crushed my opinion of her was more the prima donna-like behaviour that seemed to become more and more prevalent with each passing year, and every additional dollar. The book is full of her snooty antics. In one instance she showed up extremely late to an appointment at an art gallery, where she had her assistant phone ahead of time and make a big stink about them needing to be ready for her arrival, and that she mustn't be kept waiting. Upon her hours late arrival she then proceeded to tell the staff there that “Oprah does not do stairs,” when she was asked to look at things on another floor of the establishment. I’m flabbergasted by her temerity, especially when part of Oprah’s image over the years has shown her as ‘every woman.’
At least as Oprah got richer, her donations to charity got larger. That doesn’t take away from the fact that she is in my opinion the queen of wastefulness. To hear of the millions of dollars spent on lavish parties and gifts for her wealthy friends is enough to make you dizzy. She just doesn’t seem to recognize the value of money and what it can do when used thoughtfully. It is certainly admirable that she has built a school for girls in South Africa, but with the money that she spent on this one facility, she could have built twenty more frugal educational centres. This would have been a lot less insulting to the many disenfranchised observers who stood to benefit nothing from this grand castle, that was erected for a few hundred overly-spoiled girls.
Oprah: A Biography is a large and long book, and I’m glad I didn’t have to lug it around, as I listened to it in audio book format. Kelley is the reader, so we are able to get the properly intended emphasis on her words. If I had been reading it from the book, I’m sure I would have gotten bored at times, as she tends to jump back and forth in her laying out of the story. (The beauty of listening to a book while cooking dinner or washing dishes is you can tune out the slow parts.) Kelley offers her disapproving opinions of Oprah’s actions on more than one occasion, but she more or less sticks to ‘the facts’ as she has compiled them, and appears to be fairly unbiased in her delivery.
This is a very informative book for those that want the scoop on Oprah, but for those who consider themselves devout followers of this blinding star, be forewarned: you may end up angry, hurt and even disappointed. Although I am proud of her self-made success, and the message that regardless of where you come from you can rise to the top, I’m not ashamed to say that Oprah is no longer one of my heroes.
Title: Oprah: A Biography
Author: Kitty Kelley