Just finished watching Oprah’s final show, but am not left in tears as I expected. Not to say that I didn’t cry, because I did, but that the big send-off was not what I had hoped. The finale was an amalgamation of Oprah’s lessons learned from the past 25 years of hosting the self-titled talk show. Her lessons focusing on the power of god and the responsibility of the individual made me feel uneasy, as I am an atheist as well as someone wary of any doctrine that puts unmounted onus onto the individual without considering context and environment. Oprah’s odd sense of personal responsibility and belief in a greater power/determinism seems contradictory at times.
Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Oprah entered the stage for her final show from behind closed doors. Never having missed a day in 25 years is an accomplishment, especially for a celebrity where ‘exhaustion’ is a liberally thrown around excuse for a vacation or an addiction. Oprah starts off the finale, a love letter to her audience she says, with a teaching metaphor. We are all in her classroom and she is the teacher. Thusly, here are some important lessons that she has learned and wishes to impart to her viewers:
1. We all have a calling. Does she mean that we have a predetermined destiny? Oprah said she was ‘called’, whatever that means. I would rather think that some people are better at some things than others. Oprah’s good at talking (and interrupting) and she is relatable. Her career in news broadcasting was going nowhere so the switch to a talk format fit her comfortably. She herself said that she feeds off the energy of the audience. How about this O, we each have our individual talents. It is not because of a predetermined destiny or some powerful god-like figure planning out our futures, but a combination of influences (environment, culture, genetics) that shape our interests and talents.
2. We have our own platforms. No matter what we do, we reach a certain audience, whether it be our friends, family, coworkers, or strangers. Wherever we are we have a platform to share our talents and our true self with the world. Oprah’s platform is obviously her show. She is always her true self, even when publicly battling her weight or interviewing antagonistic guests.
One of my favorite episodes was when she interviewed Bo Derek. Oprah asked if she was spiritual/believed in God. Derek said no, she is not. Oprah, obviously baffled that someone could be an atheist, began to wax poetic about how one could still be spiritual without God etc etc, but Derek still said no, she was not spiritual in the slightest. The tension afterward was unsettling… Sadly, no YouTube video exists of this moment.
3. Receive what you give. Oh god, this is ‘The Secret’ stuff again… Why can’t she let this go? Energy. Oprah is big on people’s energy. Almost Shirley Maclaine new-age spirituality big. According to O, nobody but you is responsible for the energy that you put out into the universe and onto others. Well, it is known that you attract more bees with honey, but it is also true that a bug zapper does the same job more effectively.
3. b) You are responsible for your own life. Hmmm, more ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ liberal thought. O is an extremely rare occurrence. What she has accomplished in her life is extraordinary, even without considering her difficult childhood. She is one in a billion, and someone like her probably won’t appear for a very long time. So yes, I understand that my life is my own responsibility, but there are extra hurdles that can complicate and stop a person from achieving one’s goals. There is a difference between blaming others for one’s failures and actually understanding and trying to navigate the extra hurdles one faces in life.
For example, I don’t blame my parents for not saving any money for my post-secondary education. Instead I work two jobs and have government loans to pay for my schooling and living expenses. My parents not saving money has greatly influenced my life and the choices that I have made. If they had saved for my post-secondary education, then I would certainly be in a different financial situation and would have had more freedom to pursue what I want/make choices that are not constrained by external factors. But they didn’t, so here I am. Writing a blog… with no audience… except for maybe my little sister… Anyway, what I mean to say is that not everyone can simply pull up their bootstraps and get working when faced with external factors that hinder progress. Other examples include the difficulties faced by people with mental health issues and those people with physical disabilities. This is not to say that they are helpless or lack autonomy, it’s just that we all face obstacles, some more than others due to privilege etc… Not everyone can merely decide ‘I AM AMAZING AND I WILL ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING IF I JUST PUT MY MIND TO IT BECAUSE OPRAH DID IT THAT WAY’. Does success ever happen that way?
4. You are WORTHY. Repeat, you are worthy. This is tough to grapple with, especially as a woman where I am told by advertisements and the entertainment industry that I am not intrinsically worthy and must change to fit a norm. This is why I love Oprah, even though I disagree with many aspects of her ideology. She makes me feel GOOD about myself. She has said time after time that I am worthy simply for existing. No one else is more or less worthy than me. I AM WORTHY SIMPLY FOR BEING ME! I KNOW that I am worthy, rather than merely thinking I am worthy.
5. You are not alone. Another point of Oprah’s which I love. Yes, I am a loner. Yes, I am quiet etc., but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love the company of others. Even when I am physically alone, I am not alone because we are all connected in our human experience. You are not alone when you watch Oprah. She is present even when others reject you. Tying in to her focus on addictions and abuse, she wishes to release the shame and to let survivors know that they are not alone in the abuse they have faced. Oprah’s words are powerful considering the abuse she has gone through in her life. The Tyler Perry episode where he admits to being abused was very moving.
6. Give validation. All everyone wants is validation. Someone to listen to their troubles and a shoulder to cry on if need be. Everyone just wants to be loved and feel loved. I know this from personal experience and from being the ‘listener’ for my friends all my life. Give validation to another person by lending an ear. Oprah is the ear for all those lonely stay-at-home moms and wives. She was a constant for people. I know I could tune in every weekday at 4pm to hear her incredibly soothing voice. Even though I have my issues with her philosophy, I have always admired her and will very much miss her presence from TV!