Barbarians at Harpo’s Gate

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!

15 thoughts on “Barbarians at Harpo’s Gate

  1. I stopped watching Oprah cuz of all the spiritual self-healing stuff. She has too many episodes about it. Plus, I feel like her show’s too old for me. I don’t mind learning about alternative spirituality but it was becoming too much.All the other usual stuff on Oprah (Dr. Oz, celeb fluff, beauty fluff, financial advice) is fine but I prefer Tyra (although she could relax on being corny). Tyra’s show suits my demographic better. And I like that Tyra discusses topics on race and Black women issues. Oprah rarely touches on race but I can understand why.

  2. The “O” magazine is dwindling, I think, due in part to what’s printed in the mag. is pretty much online at her site. Or is somehow discussed at one point on her show. Also, the mag. is $4/5 bucks a pop. That’s a gallon of gas. LOL. People just aren’t that interested in paying for printed materials anymore especially when most of the info. is online somewhere. Also, why buy a magazine when you can take ten minutes and read the entire thing cover to cover? (especially when the mag is full of advertisements moreso than anything else). As for the TV show, maybe folks are getting tired of hearing the same old thing. The excitement’s gone. I know she’s introduced new stuff/theories/topics over the past years and stuff, but it’s basically the same thing. I dare say I think even Oprah is growing bored with it… I mean, she quasi-wanted to retire in ’06, didn’t she? I doubt she’ll renew after this contract is up; and I don’t blame her. 20+ years helping folks; 20+ years of TALKING, heck, I’d be tired too. LOL.

  3. 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. I like all of this. True, true. Escapism that sustains after viewing.Does anyone know what happened with her “The Big Give” tv show? Will it return for another season? Did any of you like it? Or was it more of “too much O”???

  4. I like Tyra too but I don’t have time to watch it. Also it is too young for me as a viewer. But as a couch social critic, I think Tyra is far braver and more honest than Oprah. Tyra is more intouch with people’s quiet thoughts and fears yet she makes it easy to tackle their demons with her goofy behaviors to make herself the butt of the joke.Chris Rock said, “So if your black or brown you can make money in America, you can get rich in America… but whatever you decide to do it better be positive, cause if one person is harmed you will be destroyed. You see Oprah she just be giving away money. She’s doing that to keep the Feds off her back.”Ironic but Shelby Steele spilled the tea. He told what what we know as Black People about the unspoken negotiations to be “accepted” and “approved” in this country. We just lie that we don’t submit to such bargaining agreements. I think Oprah’s decline as of now has more to do with the coincidence of the social evolution of what was hot about her show is no longer relevant in social order as much anymore now that the country is changing and in flummoxed. She was hot during “Happy Days (are here again)” in the 90’s. There has been several social evolutions taking place and demographics aging out of her formula. I do think the Hillary-thing is very relevant because I am not an Obama-supporter and I think most Blacks are delusional and seeing things but they rather not see that they have alternative choices to Hillary as well.Oprah was on a Chicago-elitism kick pushing the Chicago Elitists agenda. Eventhough from the dirt road South, she is childlike and does not know what is going on in real life. She never did even as a child…dreaming to deal with her pains and to heal her scars. There is so much going on. She will be fine. She just has to adapt and realize the models of her past formulas of pleasing middle-American White Women has to evolve and adapt to what they really want and need right now.Tyra’s demographic is not Oprah’s but I think Tyra knows what average Americans think and feel no matter their racial make-up. If Tyra wanted to, she could produce for those demographics as well.I wish Oprah the best. I look forward to her new network. I just don’t expect her to fill me. I identify with Martha Stewart and Tyra more.

  5. Maybe the gist of the NYT article went over my head, but nothing in that piece indicated any REAL demise of the mighty ‘O’. I mean, they did say that her talk show is still #1 and routinely beats out Ellen’s gabfest and her magazine’s sales have had a small demise over the span of a few years …like most mainstream magazines. (In the age of the internet, print journalism has suffered a bit, for better or worse).Oprah’s empire seems just fine, based on what the article stated. But you know the media …built them up then tear them down.But she still can buy me and you, Snob, and plus based on the article, her endeavors still thrive so I think ‘O’ is just fine.I disagree with previous posters. The episodes of Tyra that I caught (which were many I’m sad to say) were defintely targeted to a young female demographic (which I don’t fit being that like Alexander O’Neal once sung “I’m all true man.” LOL). The show reeked of shallowness. And Tyra, while sensitive and extremely likeable personality, seemed kinda …I dunno …phony, unlike O who always gives the impression that she truly cares about her guests.Plus, I know for a fact that much of Ty’s gabfest is staged. Which explains it’s unmistaken air of phoniness.But about the ‘O’ …like KRS said back in the day, she’s still #1 and she ain’t going nowhere.Don’t let the haters try to convince you differently.

  6. ““Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” rarely criticized by her ardent supporters,”What? Oprah not criticized? I suppose she meant that White people were not criticizing her. Black people have been criticizing Oprah for quite some time. I guess what Black people think is still an ‘unknown’ in the mainstream, so our criticisms must not count.Also I had no idea that Oprah was on the cover of O mag every month. That’s crazy. (Lol)Monie

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with Mynameismyname. I think this is a bunch of malarkey. And as much as I love the NYT, Oprah still wields more power than 99.9% of people on this planet. She could single handedly start her own World War if she chose to.Don’t sleep on O and her maniacs. They love this woman.

  8. I can’t watch Tyra or Oprah’s show. Mostly because I find Oprah’s show dull and although I like Tyra I find her show grating (and corny). Both have huge egos and are rather self-important, but that’s to be expected in television. And Tyra does tackle “black issues” without restraint unlike Oprah who sometimes wallpapers over these issues. Although I can recall her doing the blue-eyed/brown-eyed test with her mostly white audience a dusty long time ago to reveal how prejudice works.I also don’t think there’s any there there in Oprah’s so-called demise. But maybe last weekend was a slow news weekend. Or maybe it was schadenfreude. Lord knows, Oprah is up so high this is the closest they’ll get to knocking her down.

  9. I’m looking forward to 2011 when Oprah is still around building and the reporters writing these stories are working part time at Whole Foods because they’ve been downsized.

  10. I’m not a real Oprah person, but I don’t own a functioning television, so I can’t say too much. What I can say is that I wouldn’t even put Tyra and Oprah in the same zip code much less the same category. I know Tyra was trying (desperately) to make herself into the next Oprah, but really? Really? Really???? I know I’ve probably opened a can of worms…what with me not liking Beyonce and now Tyra, but seriously, Tyra’s show is a load of staged, silly, antics with her talking way too much on subjects that she knows way too little about (reference: any episode where she’s talking about eating disorders). Back when I had a TV, my roommate and I would watch Tyra for amusement, not because we acutally wanted anything from it

  11. Oprah has what, 2.5 Billion? She’ll be fine. Even when things turn out that she didn’t like – like Oxygen – still wound up making her hundreds of millions… have such problems. Remember, it’s just not her own show, but Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray make coin for Oprah too. As for Tyra…I don’t hate on her. She’s found a career post-modeling….

  12. She’s rich. She’s powerful. She’s influential. She’s black.All that adds up to trouble with people. When you do too much good in the world and have an opinion then that is a problem.Kick rock critics. They spend too much time thinking about personal capital that doesn’t matter to the person that is the subject.Don’t these people have better issues to tackle?

  13. I stopped watching Oprah a long time ago. For similar reasons as annoymiss. it just got…Hokey. And she got SUPER arrogant, which was probably unavoidable considering the bubble she must live in.And pushing The Secret…that was beyond madness. Anywho I thought maybe it was imagination, but she did pull back on stumping for Obama. Where has she been? Where’s the congratulatory appearance on her show? She’s a billionaire for goodness sake. She’s gonna let a bunch of middle aged white women dictate what she should do with her free time?Black folks need to learn to stop seeking white women’s (people’s)approval. SMH.

  14. I love Oprah and always have but I too go through my periods of viewing and not viewing her show. I’ve never participated in the extras; magazine, radio, etc. This is nothing new at all, Oprah has constantly and consistently been criticized/praised by the media, it’s an ebb and flow relationship. Everyone thinks they can predict what’s gonna happen next with this Oprah thing, they can’t.After Oprah endorsed Barack everyone expected her show to reflect it but it never did because she NEVER comments about politics on her show. If anything she lets the audience speak their opinions and gives all sides a chance to articulate their position.I’ve always found her show to be very positive in tone. If the show features something negative she always tries to find the positive. I watched that “Job loss/new opportunity” show at a time when I didn’t have a job and I appreciated the positiveness of the show. I had enough negative thoughts and didn’t need any more.When Oprah goes off the air in 2011, I will miss her dearly.

  15. The new Forbes list is out.The only one who beat Oprah(275 million), money-wise is JKRowling- by 25 million. Not bad for someone with a ‘ bad’ year. Like I said, Oprah will be fine..LOL

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