Oh Mighty Oprah
Born January 29th, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Gail Winfrey was raised intermittently by her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi, her mother, who worked as a maid in Milwaukee, and her father, a barber and businessman in Nashville, TN.
A bright child, Oprah learned to read at home, skipped kindergarten and second grade, and began working as a radio station reporter at 17. At 18, she was named Miss Black Tennessee, and by 19, was anchoring a newscast on Nashville’s WTVF-TV. In 1984, now 30, Oprah moved to Chicago, and in 1985, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was born. The following year it became the top nationally syndicated talk show, and it’s stayed at or near the top ever since.
Today Oprah’s media empire includes O magazine, the “Oprah & Friends” satellite radio channel, Harpo Films and Studios, a cable TV network, and a website averaging over 7 million hits per month. According to Forbes magazine, Oprah was the richest African American of the 20th century and the world’s only black billionaire for three years running.
Oprah embodies the consummate American success story – out of humble beginnings rises a magnate. At the same time, her interpersonal finesse, public weight battle, and candid confessions of childhood sexual abuse cast her as quintessentially human – a sister all women, black and white, can relate to.
Oprah has used her platform to promote positive values while other entertainers have aimed far lower, but discerning viewers have detected a shift in her spirituality. “Originally our goal was to uplift, enlighten, encourage and entertain through the medium of television,” Oprah said. “Now, our mission statement for ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ is to use television to transform people’s lives, to make viewers see themselves differently and to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment into every home.”
But can these reasonably be considered the province of a TV personality? “Who does Oprah think she is, God?” one commentator asked, and the question is only mild hyperbole. “Occasionally an individual will become so powerful, that he forgets he is mortal,” writes Tim Slagle on Big Hollywood. “Because when a human becomes so important that people confuse him with a god, he might start believing it himself.” Slagle called the syndrome, “Elvis Disease.”
Most Recent Offense:
In early 2008, Oprah launched a ten-week webcast discussion of A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. About the same time, her friend, Marianne Williamson, began teaching from A Course in Miracles via Oprah’s XM satellite radio while Oprah promoted The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. “Being able to share this material with you is a gift and a part of the fulfillment of my life’s purpose,” Oprah said in January, 2008. “It was an awakening for me that I want for you, too.”
But the awakening to which Oprah calls us, if these texts are to be taken as guides, is the recognition and acceptance of our own deity. “The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself,” Williamson instructs. Byrne is unambiguous. “You are God in a physical body.”
It’s a seductive gospel. “Ye shall be as god,” said the serpent. But it’s a lie. The need to “awaken” to it should be the first clue. (What kind of god needs to be awakened to her own divinity?) And like all lies, it ultimately leads into a trap. Just ask Elvis.
This article first appeared in Salvo 12, Spring 2010.