By Jason Miller
Thomas Paine’s Corner
“The other kids were all into black power,” Oprah told the Tribune in the mid-1980s. But “I wasn’t a dashiki kind of woman … Excellence was the best deterrent to racism and that became my philosophy.”
Excellence indeed. Few would deny that Oprah Winfrey has achieved an extraordinary degree of THAT, at least by our society’s warped standards. Witty, articulate, attractive, beloved by tens of millions, and fabulously wealthy, she is the “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” queen of a vast media empire. Oprah is a living embodiment of the American Dream. What is perhaps most inspiring to her genuflecting disciples is that Oprah rose to her stratospheric position of wealth and influence from an impoverished start in a socioeconomic hierarchy still largely dominated by white males.
Oprah Winfrey ostensibly possesses the mythical Midas Touch, a generous spirit, deep spiritual wisdom, and, in the eyes of those blinded by their adoration, the credentials of a saint. Yet despite appearing destined for canonization, Oprah injects heavy doses of infectious pus into the already deeply abscessed wound of the American psyche.
How could anyone who’s noted for having said, “Let your light shine. Shine within you so that it can shine on someone else. Let your light shine,” have such a pernicious effect on our culture?
Let’s “count the ways…with a passion put to use.”
To truly understand the depth of the damage Oprah inflicts on our society, we need to step outside of our bourgeois indoctrination and see her for what she truly represents. Manifesting the Horatio Alger Myth on steroids, Oprah is a wet dream come true for our criminal class of ruling elites sometimes referred to as the plutocracy. She provides them with “irrefutable” and ubiquitous anecdotal evidence which “proves” the idiotic delusion that America is a meritocracy where everyone has a realistic chance of getting rich, if they just work hard enough. The reality is that the richest 20% of US Americans own over 80% of the wealth and the long-term trend has been toward an ever increasing concentration of treasure into a smaller number of strong-boxes(1).
Comfortably administering her dominion from “The Promised Land,” her 42 acre estate near Santa Barbara, CA (which she purchased for a cool $50 million), Oprah surpassed the $1.5 billion mark in net worth in 2006 while earning the tidy sum of $260 million. See what happens when you devote yourself to excellence (and narcissism) instead of “wasting your time” parading about in a dashiki to pursue “ridiculous” ideals like civil rights and egalitarianism? Others did that for her. And now Oprah’s very existence proves that economic inequalities and barriers to upward mobility have been eliminated for all of us, right?
Well, not exactly. Consider that in the United States “the average African-American family has about 60 percent of the income as the average white family…..[and] the average African-American family has only 18 percent of the wealth of the average white family(2).” Meanwhile, in the most affluent nation in the world (in which 12% of the population is black), “Saint Oprah” is the only black billionaire and one of only two blacks to make the Forbes 400.
Despite the innumerable exploitative workings of the capitalist pyramid scheme which enable the obscene opulence of Oprah and her miniscule number of peers (while concurrently damning billions of others to live in varying degrees of economic misery), she certainly has no qualms. In fact, she gushes about her unconscionable accumulation of treasures. From the 4/11/06 People Magazine article, Oprah Winfrey: Wealth Is ‘A Good Thing:’
[Speaking in Baltimore on Monday at a fundraiser for Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Winfrey told the audience, “I have lots of things, like all these Manolo Blahniks. I have all that and I think it’s great. I’m not one of those people like, ‘Well, we must renounce ourselves.’ No, I have a closet full of shoes and it’s a good thing.”
Winfrey, 52, who is reportedly worth more than $1 billion, said she doesn’t feel guilty about her wealth. “I was coming back from Africa on one of my trips,” she said. “I had taken one of my wealthy friends with me. She said, ‘Don’t you just feel guilty? Don’t you just feel terrible?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t. I do not know how me being destitute is going to help them.’ Then I said when we got home, ‘I’m going home to sleep on my Pratesi sheets right now and I’ll feel good about it.’ “(3)]
The Oprah mystique affords her and her fellow members of the opulent ruling class a potent psychological weapon (which they wield like a cudgel) to sustain their cultural hegemony, thus perpetuating their virtual monopoly on the wealth and power of the US. And be it conscious or otherwise, Oprah has betrayed her own race and class by shilling her core philosophy that “not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” While personal responsibility is undeniably important and human beings do have the potential to pull themselves out of difficult circumstances (i.e. abject poverty), for every Oprah who “makes it,” there are tens of millions, regardless of race, who work tenaciously and are never able to overcome the tremendous barriers erected by the ruling class. Yet Ms. Winfrey would have us believe that if she can do it, anyone can. And if you don’t, just what the hell is wrong with you?
Aside from the significant impediments that face all US Americans (excepting those who are born into our de facto aristocracy and can rise to the top regardless of how lazy, depraved, and ignorant they may be—think George W. Bush), many blacks face nearly overwhelming structural barriers which keep them mired in chronic destitution.
Thanks to the courageous efforts of civil rights activists, institutionalized and overt racism are fading in the United States. However, Oprah’s very existence as a black billionaire and the “you can do and be anything you want if you work hard” pseudo-wisdom she so gleefully dispenses to the masses would indicate that America’s poor (and its impoverished blacks in particular) no longer face incredibly long odds as they employ vigorous efforts to improve their socioeconomic conditions.
Consider this excerpt from Paul Street’s “Skipping Past Structural Racism”
“…reflecting (via e-mail) on a commentary in which liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert argued that inner-city blacks’ material poverty reflected their own poor values and behavior. “There is a need for” a “values discussion” among “the poorest African-Americans,” my correspondent acknowledges. “But,” he added:
“there are three points to add. One is that [the] hypersegregation [of urban blacks into nearly all-black de-industrialized ghettoes] creates objective conditions that incentivize (perhaps even require) certain anti-social behaviors. The second is whether the values evidenced by the poorest are actually anti-American values. If we consider that the norms of the protestant work ethic have been devalued in American society – consider conspicuous consumption, state gambling expansion, frightening anti-intellectualism, Wall Street’s shenanigans, sexual revolution, and that recreational drug use knows no racial barrier – how different is the “underclass” from the rest of America? The final point is the somewhat sad notion that those who have been most disadvantaged by American society must somehow quickly develop the values and norms necessary to overcome those disadvantages, to “function,” concomitant with undertaking political struggle to dismantle structural barriers. What is more is that if we accept that the values Herbert holds in high esteem are not reinforced generally throughout American society, we are absurdly expecting one group of super-disadvantaged people – without additional assistance and against the mainstream of American society – to somehow morph into some kind of ubervolk.
“As the great ‘historical materialist’ Karl Marx once wrote,’men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.’”
Hard as it may be for Oprah and her fellow moneyed elites to fathom, Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” was a pernicious suburban legend, and that most people, given an environment affording them reasonably accessible options, wouldn’t consciously choose to perpetually wallow in the misery, indignity and self-destruction associated with chronic and inter-generational poverty. Not everyone is blessed with exceptional talent, intellect, or drive, but that doesn’t mean they deserve a life of suffering so that a tiny fraction of humanity can live as Croesus did.
With the vast numbers of people she influences, Ms. Winfrey plays an instrumental role in sustaining the false consciousness that keeps us in the poor and working classes pursuing the one in 20 million dream she projects, staunchly opposing the creation of viable publicly funded social uplift programs, and fighting amongst ourselves based in large part upon the malevolent lie that personal responsibility is the ONLY reason so many blacks remain “ghettoized,” unemployed, drug-addicted, and imprisoned.
Man the barricades, Ms. Winfrey, here come the “barbarian hordes” to raid our treasury!
But Oprah didn’t reach her perch atop the capitalist pyramid as one of its chief apologists simply by virtue of her existence as an anomalous opulent black woman (portrayed as what could be the “norm” if only more people subscribed to her “wisdom”). She also plays a very active role in contributing to the bourgeoisie cause.
A common lever of appeasement employed by our de facto aristocracy in the United States is to exercise faux benevolence by making charitable donations. After accumulating shameless affluence through abject exploitation of the Earth and its sentient beings, they show the masses their “humanity” by giving a mere fraction of their ill-gotten gains to a pet cause or two.
Oprah is no exception. Despite being known for her “generosity,” she remains one of the wealthiest people on the planet, maintaining her sprawling estate in California and, at last count, four other lavish abodes with high dollar zip codes. Bear in mind that Forbes recently gauged Oprah’s fortune to be about $1.5 billion.
Meanwhile, her crowning philanthropic achievement is her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. This “charitable act” is cynical and self-serving. Its chief beneficiaries are those with a strong interest in maintaining the maleficent inequitable distribution of wealth. Here’s why:
1. Oprah invested $40 million in this school, a mere 2.67% of her net worth.
2. For those questioning the use of the word “invested,” this was indeed a shrewd and calculated investment for Oprah. By “donating” this relatively paltry sum, she will reap huge dividends in terms of increased popularity, goodwill, power, and influence. Her Harpo juggernaut will continue to gain momentum.
3. In a world where 30,000 children die of starvation each day, Oprah has elected to build a posh, luxurious academy equipped to educate a mere 152 girls. Winfrey’s scheme was such an abuse of resources that the South African government withdrew its support of the project.
4. In a vain quest to “make her childhood right”, Oprah is “rescuing” the poor black female attendees of her school by providing them with a regal, lavish existence. Just what the world needs–152 more highly educated elitists who are immersed in the paradigm that the suffering of the many to ensure the comfort of the few is the “way of the world.”
5. Oprah’s principal lesson to her “girls”? Looking to her as their example, they will learn that once they have attained their affluence and power they will need to ease their conscience and help maintain the social order. The lesson is that to do so they will simply need to donate a sliver of their bounty in such a way that it enhances their public image and fulfills their narcissistic needs.
As we prepare to examine Oprah’s most deleterious effect on our society, consider the depth and breadth of her impact as characterized by Vanity Fair:
“Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope.”
Biographer Kitty Kelly added:
“As a woman, she has wielded an unprecedented amount of influence over the American culture and psyche…There has been no other person in the 20th century whose convictions and values have impacted the American public in such a significant way. … I see her as probably the most powerful woman in our society. I think Oprah has influenced every medium that she’s touched.”
Now let’s analyze one of Oprah’s recent and most spiritually corrosive “contributions” to the fetid cesspool we euphemistically call a culture in the United States. In February of this year, Ms.Winfrey used her leviathan media platform to introduce her minions to The Secret, a book that characterizes Christ as a “prosperity teacher.” Leave it to the high priestess of Mammon to promote a means to overcome the seemingly irreconcilable contradictions between the compassionate teachings of Jesus and the avaricious selfishness of capitalism.
Here’s what the Oprah Winfrey Show website had to say about The Secret:
“It’s making headlines around the world—and buzz just keeps building. Some say it’s the secret to creating the life you truly want—losing weight, making money, finding love. See why people everywhere are talking about The Secret.”
James Arthur Ray, whose “credentials” include, “…almost going bankrupt, [which] forced him to focus on the life he truly wanted. Now he runs a multimillion-dollar corporation dedicated to teaching people how to create wealth in all areas of their lives,” joined forces with Winfrey to plug The Secret, a book rife with myriad inane mythologies the ruling class loves to perpetuate.
Again, from Oprah’s website:
[According to James, there is scientific evidence to back up the spiritual practices and laws defined in The Secret. “Science tells us that everything is energy, and so your thoughts are energy. Your body, your cash, your car—everything you think is solid, if you put it under a high-powered microscope, it’s just a field of energy and a rate of vibration,” he says. “And so are we. So if you think you’re this meat suit running around, you have to think again.”
”One way to describe this energy is by comparing it radio waves, “The frequency you give out through your thoughts and your emotions is what you have a tendency to manifest in your life,” Michael says. “Whether those thoughts and emotions are conscious or unconscious, it doesn’t matter.”
This means that if you are sending out the same negative energy over an over—whether thoughts or feelings—you will attract like energy back to you. James says that when bad things happen people might ask, “Oh, God, why me?” “Because it is you,” he says(4).]
Forget the immediate insult of James’s barrage of pseudo-scientific gibberish. People have been using that technique to peddle their snake oil for years. The core issue here is that in The Secret, James and company are hawking a particularly toxic brew. Oprah, Secret author Rhonda Byrne, and their fellow hucksters would have us believe that Tony Robbins or Gandhi would be equally at home applying The Secret’s “spiritual practices” based on “scientific evidence” to create the life they “truly want.”
At first blush its obvious remarketing of the shopworn “philosophies” related to the power of positive thinking seems benign enough, but thanks to its Oprah’s validation sparking its wild popularity and wide acceptance, The Secret is significantly reinforcing some very nasty strands of our cultural DNA, which is no small blessing to the moneyed elites atop our economic hierarchy.
While to a person who values critical thought and the pursuit of true meaning in their life The Secret would serve little purpose beyond perhaps kindling or toilet paper, future archaeologists may hail it as a Rosetta Stone to unlock the mysteries of our perverse, mean-spirited, and jejune society. Byrne was careful to incorporate nearly every revolting aspect of American culture, including narcissism, self-absorption, victim-blaming, hubris, consumerism, immediate gratification, acquisitiveness, Mammon worship, hyper-individuality, selfishness, and an unwavering faith in any belief that “forces” the world to conform to our desires.
In typical Oprah Book Club fashion, Winfrey’s enthusiastic endorsement sent the sales of Byrne’s abomination soaring into orbit. Thank you, Oprah.
As the abundant evidence indicates, despite her impeccable image and the ostensibly “positive influence” she has upon the untold millions who have yet to shatter the intellectual shackles of their acculturation and indoctrination, Oprah Winfrey is a member of our cynical pecunious ruling class and acts as a highly effective shill for their agenda.
Forget the good and benevolent image she projects. Oprah ultimately serves to distract, obfuscate, and lead us into the increasingly over-crowded cul-de-sac of “fuck thy neighbor; what’s in it for thee” savage capitalism. As a part of our filthy plutocracy, she is an enemy to the poor and working class. We need to start viewing her through that lens.
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He is Cyrano’s Journal Online’s associate editor (http://www.bestcyrano.org/) and publishes Thomas Paine’s Corner within Cyrano’s at http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/. You can reach him at JMiller@bestcyrano.com