Monday, March 1, 2010

Stories of O: Oprah's Culture Industries

Kimberly Springer, co-editor of Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture, recenlty curated a Oprah-themed presentation at In Media Res.

Below is Springer's curator's note which raises several questions and touches on the same issues that are discussed in the book.  Also, below the jump is a video clip that speaks to Oprah's omnipresence.

Why do Americans care so much about Oprah,” is a question I hear with surprising regularity. A more precise question is, how does Oprah get people to care about her? In both constructions “care” is the operative. Care can denote attention to paid to Oprah, her show, and her actions. Care can signify disdain for blackness, femaleness, or class status implicit in tone as in “Why do Americans care what Oprah thinks?” This disdain requires its own interrogation. Care also stands for respect and reverence. In each instance, “Oprah” is imbued with flexible meaning.

As I note in the introduction to Stories of Oprah: the Oprahfication of American Culture, regardless of one’s personal feelings about Oprah Winfrey, we must be quite specific in which Oprah we’re discussing. As many are aware, Oprah, the woman, has cultural reach across many aspects of production, distribution, and consumption. We should consider the designation “Oprah” more than a brand, but also a culture industry in itself: television, radio, magazines, world wide web, films, and publishing are all media marked by Oprah-ness.

The accompanying clip from Scrubs states the obvious by speaking to the omnipresence of Oprah. Despite playing herself in a number of televisions shows, Oprah is name-checked in an endless array of sitcoms, films, news reports, and product endorsements. She has such attained a level of brand recognition that we rarely question, exactly what is the Oprah product?

The contributors to this theme week on Oprah move beyond the omnipresence and question the assumed omnipotence of Oprah Winfrey’s message and culture industries. Oprah is never out of the news, as a daily Google News Alert attests. And, yet, with the announcement of the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011, what Oprah will do next is a frequent topic of speculation in the media.

To continue to rephrase the question, not only what will Oprah do next, but how will the Oprah culture industry function if the place where she started (syndicated network television) is no longer her main point of entry into American lives?

Stories of Oprah is now available from UPM.

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