It must be that time again to forecast Oprah Winfrey’s demise.
The press was buzzing last weekend about Winfrey’s media empire in decline. This despite the fact that it is still ever expanding. Oprah may have her own cable network on the horizon, but it doesn’t stop journalists from turning on the Doppler-less radar of celebrity prognostication.
The New York Times lays out the dire truths of a media mogul in decline:
The average audience for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has fallen nearly 7 percent this year, according to Nielsen Media Research — its third straight year of decline. “Oprah’s Big Give,” an ABC philanthropic reality show … steadily lost nearly one-third of its audience during the rest of its eight-week run, according to Nielsen.
The circulation of O, The Oprah Magazine, has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last three years …
“Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” rarely criticized by her ardent supporters, said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass communication at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Age of Oprah,” a new book on Ms. Winfrey’s cultural influence.
The Visigoths of Gannett and the Times attacked from all sides, piling on with news of her unfavorable rating jumping from 17 to 26 percent.
What’s a billionairess to do?
People are blaming a lot of things for this crash in personal stock, but enemy number one is The Great Hope Mongerer and the dastardly act of her effusing, gushing, public endorsement of candidacy.
Her endorsement of the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama appears to have alienated some of the middle-aged white women who make up the bulk of her television audience, many of whom support Senator Hillary Clinton. (NY Times)
That bitch. How dare she have opinions! I always saw her as one of my down-to-earth, insanely “Nuevo Riche” girlfriends. I thought she only cared about money and pseudo-therapy. What gives, O? Where’s the vapidness? Where’s the placation? Where’s my free car? And her free car? And her free car?
Dance, puppet! Dance!
But the other O-Dog doesn’t take all the credit for the dent in Oprah’s Roberto Cavalli designed halo. Oh, no. The press has a lot of blame to spread around.
Other culprits include:
Her narcissism which includes her name and face on the cover of her magazine every month, a failed reality TV show and her coming cable network
As comedian Kathy Griffin fondly (or fondly enough) likes to say: “Oprah thinks she’s Jesus.” Sooner or later, that quality was bound to grate on someone other than your snarkier lifestyle columnists and TV critics. (The Sacramento Bee)
Her emphasis on New Age sounding “spirituality,” irking some Christian viewers
Another hefty chunk of middle America who Oprah has recently succeeded in upsetting is the evangelical Christian movement, who are troubled by her recent drift towards alternative spiritualism. In particular, they dislike Kathy Freston, a self-styled “conscious living counselor” who appears across the Winfrey network, and is responsible, among other things, for a 21-day vegan detox plan which Oprah began last week.
Religious critics have now dubbed Oprah, who has previously made much of her own Christianity, the “queen of new age gurus”. They say Freston’s teaching about the power of prayer and meditation – which she claims will lead to a state of “quantum wellness” – represents a heretical endorsement of false doctrines. (The Independent)
The various travails of her girls school in South Africa
While the jury is still out on the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, Winfrey faced some troubling issues shortly after the school was launched in 2006. Allegations of mistreatment and abuse of students led Winfrey to shake up the school’s management team — even flying round trip to Africa twice within a couple of weeks to tackle the crisis firsthand. Though recent reports indicate everything at the school is back on track, this was an example of Winfrey drawing criticism for leaping into something with which she had no experience: running an educational institution. (The Chicago Sun-Times)
Her possibly conservative message
(Author Janice Peck) debunks Winfrey’s claim that she has “transcended race.” … She derides Oprah for selling the Reaganesque view that people should be responsible for their own lives and, if they’re not happy/wealthy, have only themselves to blame. Peck maintains that Oprah is more conservative than she seems.
The professor protests Winfrey’s dismissive attitude toward class issues and reliance on psychobabbling self-help. When 240,000 U.S. jobs were lost in the first quarter of 2008, for instance, Oprah devoted a show to job loss in a therapeutic way, minimizing the political implications. Being fired means new opportunity! It’s all “upbeat, vague and apolitical,” like the Oprah philosophy in general.
And good old-fashioned, ego-filled “over-saturation”
“For years, everything in Oprah’s empire was growing but now there’s a natural scaling-back,” said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass communication at the University of Colorado, and author of The Age of Oprah, a book about Winfrey’s cultural influence. “She has a new network, a new reality show, and a satellite radio channel, on top of the book club, the magazine, the website, and the rest of this empire. May
be that’s too much Oprah for people. (The Independent)
The Chicago Sun-Times also points some fingers o’ blame at Winfrey’s forays into film and stage. But the Obama drum gets beat the hardest, pointing to the hoards of viewers, including Clinton-lovers, Obama-haters and conservative women who loved her show, but now hate, hate, hate Winfrey’s politics.
When it comes to signs of Oprah’s demise, I’m inclined to say both “Don’t believe the hype” and “All good things must come to an end.” Oprah, while admirable, is often insufferable. I’ve never been under her thrall. I don’t “get it,” so to speak. But I recognize her talent, her tenacity and her ability to move product. And man, can she move product. As a business woman she is beyond reproach, an icon. A modern Madame CJ Walker.
That aside, Oprah hasn’t exactly made a career at being deep. Her show is about making you feel good. It’s escapism via pseudo-therapy/self-empowerment chatter. It’s shallow, but shallow is what people want sometimes. If they wanted complex they’d pick up a newspaper or read the subtitles on a Fellini film. But if they want to see Tom Cruise jump a couch, hear Mary J. Blige sing after talking about her hard scrabble upbringing and then learn about miracle mani-pedis and easy-to-make cosmo-tinis, dear Lord, let the women watch!
Oprah has had a good ride. She’s still popular. Most people still like her. She’s still insanely rich. But she’s human. Her viewers are human. The idol-worshiping couldn’t last forever.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Oprah’s ego will let go of that dream. The more and more flack she caught for the Obama endorsement the less and less she was seen fund-raising or on the stump for the presumptive Democratic nominee. No statement about him rising to the top and defeating his competition after a long, protracted battle. No shout-outs. No nothing. The mob has spoken and Oprah is likely to never speak of this Obama situation ever again. She’s triaging the damage, bargaining with her now jaded audience.
I thought she endorsed Obama realizing that her power has limits and that she wanted to do more besides supplying cheesy platitudes and copies of “The Secret” to middle aged women. I thought she did it expecting the flack, singing, “Well, I’ve had my fun if I don’t get well no mo’ … Know my head is spinnin’, and I’m goin’ down slow.“
She’d made it to the top and some things were bigger than Q ratings and handbags. Like history and the presidency and changing our country for the better.
But if past is prologue I fear the Mighty O bought her own hype and is now back peddling because her ego can’t take the heat. The little girl inside her still desperately wants love — The one thing money can’t buy.
Suggestions to get her audience back? I say, this time give away houses. She can probably get some nice one’s pretty cheap in the midst of this housing slump. Who couldn’t love her as she squealed, jumping and shouting:
“And you get a house! And you get a house! And you get a house! And you!“