Though I don’t watch a lot of shows on Oprah’s new channel OWN, I do like the show Oprah’s Next Chapter—a show where Oprah interviews various public figures. People seem slightly more real and human when they are chatting with her.
Her interview with the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, made him seem like much more than some loud, over the top drama king GOP caricature. He was very human…especially when he described his struggle with his weight. (I think it is interesting that male weight is now being focused on. I hear endless fat jokes about him and Newt Gingrich…not that this means that women’s weight is no longer attacked.) I still don’t care for him or his political views, but it was interesting watching the layers of the onion peeled away…so to speak. I don’t think any typical conservative interview on Fox News could have had this effect. (I don’t watch that channel anyway…it makes me ill.)
Her interview with Cory Booker made me understand how his world-famous Obama surrogacy slip up on Meet The Press had some context. He went through a brutal and painful election process in New Jersey where he dealt with the “you are not Black enough” insult. (Someone actually drove by in a van and yelled that out of a loudspeaker at him! Damn! Thus, he has genuine distaste for even a speck of negative campaigning. This interview, though shown after his Meet The Press slip up, was actually filmed prior to his Meet The Press appearance.) Every Black person I associate with gets this insult hurled at them (from other Black people) whenever they date interracially, finish college, do any hobby that is not “approved” of (i.e. ski, travel, ballroom dance). What is so weird is that SO MANY Black people do these aforementioned things (such as the hobbies) that to me, they are in fact just “regular” things that some Black people do. This isn’t to say that people themselves should be above critique (substantive and contextual), but if the sole critique is policing Blackness based on a singular activity, accent, or romantic partner—come on. That get’s old…fast. (And if people call Booker “not Black” because of his Wall Street connects or resume…they need to look into other Black political candidates. They aren’t as “down” and as cool as some think. They’re still politicians.) Anyway, I am not saying I applaud his Meet The Press incident and the later YouTube cleanup video—I think the whole thing was a mess, but this interview with Oprah simply helped me understand why this occured, with some context.
Her visit to India in segments of Oprah’s Next Chapter was interesting. She interacted with a variety of social classes and with women of a variety of complexions. India’s issues with colourism are a familiar poison—Black women know all too well about this. (Oprah actually told one of the women about intraracial colourism because she seemed not to know about its existence in America. She knew about the external racism Black women face, of course.) Oprah seemed to have genuine wonder about but also respect for the people she interacted with. She listened to them. It did not feel like she was looking down on them. She seemed to recognize their humanity. Her experience seemed very culturally rich.
I didn’t personally like all of the interviewees of this particular show, but I like how the show is structured. It feels like I am really learning something about the people she interviews. Even when she interviews someone I don’t like, I think recognizing the humanity in people is important, because that is what makes you hold them accountable. (Writing someone off as a “god” or “devil” the way many Stans and Miserys of certain celebrities do is an incredible hinderance to critical thought about a person and their place in society.)
I know that her channel OWN is struggling. Her shows are fighting to gain traction and ratings. As a viewer, I have not really felt connected to any of the shows except for Oprah’s Next Chapter and Master Class. Some of the other shows are incredibly awkward to me and I am not sure what target demographic for viewership is.
I hope that she and her team can come up with some shows that will give her the success that she desires with this channel. Her past successes (The Oprah Show, her book club, O Magazine, the non-profit work and the girls school in South Africa) are a part of a great legacy for her. (I still think about some of the amazing conversations she had back on The Oprah Show with Black women that I admire, including Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Tina Turner.) Though I don’t always agree with every utterance from her mouth (why would I…or anyone), I still think she’s one of the most interesting Black women (and human beings, period) of our time. She is not above critique, as no one is to me, but some of her contributions truly matter to me.
(photo by Brigitte Lacombe, from Oprah.com)