Oprah Winfrey epitomises all that is good and not so good about America today, which probably explains why opinion over her Australian tour is split.
I wonder if her studio audience were visualising kangaroos, shrimps on a barbie and Aussies sporting Akubras before Oprah announced that they were heading to Oz?
There are those who see her visit as a way of encouraging cashed-up Americans to spend their devalued leisure dollar on propping up our flagging tourist industry. Others see it as an opportunity for Oprah to expand her billion-dollar media empire on the back of our need to be liked by Americans.
Oprah seems to like us. She certainly showed a fondness for Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Baz Luhrmann when she gave them precious airtime to flog Australia (the movie) to Americans. Oprah also likes John Travolta who endeared himself to Australians when Danny Zuko courted ‘our’ Sandy in Grease – which was incidentally produced by Australian Robert Stigwood. To complete this cosy trans-pacific dalliance, Travolta (who looks more like the bloke from the Flight Centre ads these days) was pulled onstage in a mock Qantas airplane as part of Oprah’s ultimate Australian adventure announcement.
Her 300 studio guests were not the only ones in raptures upon discovering that they would be accompanying the high priestess of US television to Australia. The Minister for Tourism, Martin Ferguson, was also elated upon hearing that Oprah likes us enough to pay us a visit, suggesting that her 40 million-strong US following coupled with her global appeal would go some way to healing our ailing tourist industry.
Being endorsed by Oprah is like being endorsed by God. She can turn impoverished writers into millionaires purely because she likes their work. She even had a hand in convincing Americans that Barack Obama is more likeable than Hilary Clinton at a time when most political pundits were not giving him a chance – baring a miracle.
Although Oprah would not call herself a miracle worker she has, as Australian personal organiser Peter Walsh puts it, “the capacity to change lives”. Oprah fans cite social programs like Oprah’s Angel Network and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy as examples of her commitment to helping people realise their dreams. I even had a struggling student explain how a visit to Oprah’s Finding Your Calling webpage on Oprah.com helped her identify her career path.
Cynics regard such projects as nothing more than an attempt to drum up business for Oprah-endorsed merchandise. One such product is The Secret, which is based on a ‘philosophy’ cobbled together by Australian talk-show producer, Rhonda Byrne. It essentially tells us that anything we like can be attained through visualisation – such is the power of The Law of Attraction.
I wonder if her studio audience were visualising kangaroos, shrimps on a barbie and Aussies sporting Akubras before Oprah announced that they were heading to Oz? Probably not, but if we are to believe Tourism Australia, there is a good chance that all things Australian will be on the minds of many more Americans once Oprah is done with her $4 million tax-payer-funded spruik.
The Law of Attraction does indeed work in mysterious ways.
Much to the annoyance of high rating US tele-evangelists, Oprah has managed to encroach on their turf by inviting ‘spiritual’ types on her show to inspire acts of contrition, self-love and spiritual transcendence among her flock.
I particularly recall an Oprah Winfrey Show that had a Dr Brian L. Weiss proclaiming the transformative power of ‘past life regression’. His Oprah endorsed book, Many Lives, Many Masters, asserts that deep regression can transport us to a previous life, enabling us to address issues of self-loathing and emotional distress at its source.
As we know, The Church of Oprah is also open to celebrities of the likes of Nicole Kidman and hubby Keith where they can talk candidly about their personal issues to the great Mother Confessor in the hope of winning public adoration.
Although devout Oprah fans see their charismatic leader as a philanthropist, life coach, modern day guru and secular saint, others recognise her as nothing more than the face of a blue chip infomercial, which will only become more pervasive after Oprah launches her evening show called Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) in the new year.
Australians are free to accept new-age merchants as saviours – they are also free to dismiss them as hucksters. Our Government, however, is not free to dip into the public purse to pay to hear the oracle of Chicago tell us how much she likes us.
Chris Fotinopoulos is a Melbourne writer and teacher.
This article first appeared on The Drum.