I Love Oprah!
Those close to me know that I'm a huge Oprah fan. I love that (like my childhood hero Phil Donahue) Oprah brings subjects to the mainstream public that are often very controversial (ie. transexuals, economic reform, the war in Iraq, political strife in countries around the world and the effects on civilians, traditional cultural practices that regard women as disposable etc.); however, she presents these topics in a way that makes them accessible to people would not generally be open to learning about or exposed to such things. She also honors and brings visibility to many people who are doing amazingly inspiring work that often brings me to tears for their commitment and selflessness.
I also love that one of the most powerful people in the world is a black woman who comes from a background of many obstacles -- poverty, child abuse, drug addiction, and low self-esteem, yet she's risen to this unbelievable position of power and influence throughout the world. I've had a number of conversations with friends about the possiblity and hope of Oprah running for President (as have many others). She's adamant that she has no political aspirations. I also believe now that it would be a mistake -- I think she has much greater influence, in such a subversive way, doing exactly what she does now by reaching people daily through her personal approach and programming than she ever would as a political figure.
Often when I mention Oprah to those in the art world the response is that of disbelief that I'm a committed Oprah viewer -- as though that's soooo mainstream and frivolous. It reminds me of the Jonathan Franzen debacle in 2001 in which Franzen presented himself as being too cool for Oprah. The controversy began when Franzen's "The Corrections" was selected for one of Oprah's book club awards. On an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Franzen repeatedly asserted that he had never stooped so low as to actually watch the show and noted that he had already done some preliminary filming for his segment — "the sort of bogus thing where they follow you around with the camera and you try to look natural." He had yet to film a dinner where he met with readers — the "coffee klatsch," he called it. In the end the invitation was withdrawn by Oprah. I read Franzen's "The Corrections" and like Oprah, thought it was a great book. However, it was disappointing that Franzen believed he couldn't lower himself to such recognition by someone who has done so much to get folks to read quality works of literature.
Yesterday's show featured Elizabeth Edwards and Senator John Edwards sharing the loss of their son and Elizabeth's fight with breast cancer. It was refreshing to see political figures in such a personal and vulnerable light. She then had on two 9/11 widows -- Susan Retik and Patti Quigley created "Beyond the 11th," a charitable organization devoted to supporting widows in Afghanistan who have been affected by the horrors of war and terrorism.
"The terrorists may have killed our husbands on September 11th, but we can create our own future and destiny," says Susan. "The cycle of poverty and lack of education and all of those things that we take for granted here in the United States, if we can end that whole cycle, or help to in some small way, this isn't going to happen again." Over the past four years they've raised half a million dollars that they've taken over to Afghanistan to help the widows there. Their story was so inspiring and you could tell at several points that Oprah had to go to break because her eyes kept welling up with tears.