Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I love Oprah. There, I said it. No doubt all of my male readers will stop reading now and will walk away, heads down, disappointed that the chainsaw-wielding, firewood-chopping, 4-wheel truck driving writer of this blog admits to liking Oprah.
Well I do. In fact I think she’s one of the greatest women I
know. While there are so many women one could look up to for advancing the
cause of the women’s movement, I can’t think of anyone who has done more than
Oprah. This was confirmed to me in a big way the other night when I watched one
of her last shows. She had her producers on to talk about the challenges of
putting her shows together. And does she have producers! She has regular
producers and associate producers and location producers and more variations on
the word producer than I’d ever seen, and they’re just about all women. Yes she
has a few men working for her, but the vast majority of her team is female. And
they produce amazing shoes. They produce shows that have made Oprah one of the
richest and most successful media personalities on the planet. And who can
argue with that kind of success?
Sure, there are lots of Oprah shows that I can’t stand. Those Christmas shows where she gives away her “favorite things” to people who don’t look like they need more “stuff” are gross. I also don’t like the makeover shows. What’s with that Oprah? Just trying to make women who don’t have makeovers feel bad about themselves? No, I think Oprah just has to walk that fine line in the entertainment industry of giving people what they want, versus the great hard hitting shows that she does so well. Luckily satellite TV allows me to watch her at night and if it’s not a good show, I can go out and chop wood or do something productive.
And over the years I have watched many of her good shows and thought “Oprah should run for President.” No, Oprah should be President. She has the credentials at running a huge organization very successfully. She tackles tough subjects with great aplomb. I’m confident she could handle the whole global diplomacy thing. Most of the world knows her. She set up a school for girls in Africa. We gave money to the Oprah Foundation for that. She rebuilt houses in New Orleans after Katrina. She has her producers track down people going through hard times and she helps them out. And while I’m not a fan of her giveaway shows, she did make the effort to track down people who actually needed a new car for the show in which everyone in the audience got a new car. I can’t imagine the logistics of organizing something like that.
Anyone who doubts Oprah’s reach should check out her power over the internet. Michelle uses a program called “Google Analytics” to analyze our website traffic and how people find us. She can also see what the most common searches on the internet are. Oprah had a group of great female entertainers on a recent show. Michelle was using her laptop while she watching the show and noticed that of the top 10 google searches many were for the women that were on the Oprah show. Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar, Salt ‘n Peppa, Sister Sledge, Joan Jet, Sheryl Crow… We figured this out because I happened to ask Michelle “So are the women in ‘Sister Sledge’ really sisters?” It turned out that everyone else on the internet was asking the same question. The reach of Oprah is quite phenomenal.
As a publisher it’s always been a fantasy of mine to get one of our books on the “Oprah Book Club” list. While I can’t see Oprah cuddling up in her favorite pajamas with a copy of The Renewable Energy Handbook, it didn’t stop us from trying. A while back Michelle logged on to oprah.com and pitched a show for Earth Week about what our family had done in trying to become zero-carbon and limit our impact on the planet. Last year one of that army of producers contacted us about a show they were putting together for Earth Day. Michelle was a little freaked out at the thought of being on Oprah but I think it would have been amazing. Unfortunately it turned out they were looking for a “green” family with young kids. Our daughters are in their early 20’s and both living away from home. We toyed with the idea of “borrowing” a couple of our friends’ children to act like our kids, but then I remembered the Oprah show in which she invited author James Frey back to explain himself. He had been on a previous show promoting his book “A Million Little Pieces” and when it came out that much of that book was fiction, rather than autobiographical, Oprah had him come back on her show so that she could ream him out. That was painful to watch. That was probably when I was most convinced that Oprah had what it took to be President. Anyone who watched that show would know this was not a woman to be messed with.
In fact as President that would the first thing she should do. Send around videotape to world leaders of some of her highlights. She could show them highlights of all of the wonderful things she has done and then a few a minutes of James Frey squirming as she pummeled him publicly for being dishonest. I don’t think it would take a world leader very long to decide which side of President Winfrey they’d want to be on.
I have been entertained by Oprah and inspired. I have learned great lessons, often from great women. I remember Maya Angelou was a guest and she described her horrific upbringing. Despite her less than perfect beginnings, she seems happy and well adjusted. She was talking about negativism. She talked about how if she has someone at her house that is racist or overly negative she asks him or her to leave. I think she said, “That stuff sticks to your furniture and clings to your walls.” It was such a great visual metaphor that I use it all the time myself. Usually I’m the one being negative and ranting about something and so I start mocking myself for messing up the furniture.
Most of all I love Oprah because she has been such a great role model for so many women. When you have daughters you realize how important this is. Watching the show where the richest and most powerful woman on television was surrounded by the staff that makes her show happen, and realizing that her staff is almost all women was just a pivotal moment for me. And I thought of all the young women out there starting careers in journalism, or younger women thinking about what they want to do with their lives. If they were watching this show they’d realize this career offered them huge potential.
We recently watched the movie “Morning Glory” with Rachel McAdams who plays a network TV morning show producer. She has to put shows together, and be creative, and deal with huge egos like the characters played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, and be technically adept, and be a writer, and coordinator and be in control. And the whole movie was about her. It was a Hollywood movie about an intelligent, successful, young woman. There were very few gunshots and only the one car chase (which was just a TV van driving fast), but I still loved this movie because I could see my daughters in this job. Hollywood and television are far too short on role models like this. Oprah has been the one great exception for years. And I think Oprah should run for President. Can you imagine? A black female President. The whole world could have one big communal “Oprah moment.”
Photo of Oprah courtesy of Malik Shabazz on Wikicommons.