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Oprah's cycle of binge and purge

Like NASCAR, <em>Heroes</em> and MTV “reality” shows like <em>The Hills</em> and <em>The City</em>, Oprah Winfrey is more interesting to write about than actually watch.

FAT LIKE ME: Like NASCAR, Heroes and MTV “reality” shows like The Hills and The City, Oprah Winfrey is more interesting to write about than actually watch. This would explain the massive essay on Oprah’s latest crisis of self-image published this week in the New York Post.

At 2,173 words – the equivalent of a John Dos Passos novel in the cramped spaces of a modern tabloid newspaper – it sums up the cycle of binge and purge, both physical and emotional, throughout Oprah’s career, and its centrality to the phenomenon of what writer Maureen Callahan quite accurately calls “America's most prominent secular spiritual leader,” albeit one who, earlier this month, aired a confessional episode of her daytime talk show expressing her mortification that she’d ballooned back to more than 200 lbs.

Callahan interprets Oprah’s crisis as a metaphor for America’s economic crisis – “A nation that spends more money than it has may face a depression, much in the way that a person who consumes more calories than she expends might, too,” she writes – but this sociological party trick is getting a little tired by now.

Callahan wonders aloud whether Oprah’s success comes more from molding the culture to reflect herself or from being the quickest to react to its nascent trends. And while there’s nothing trailblazing about being an overweight American, there are few people who can enlist a support group as influential – or unusual – as Oprah’s.

Jennifer Harris, the author of The Oprah Phenomenon, wonders about how she’s “always said that you can't depend on others for your happiness, not letting others define you … Meanwhile she's surrounded by all these people telling her she needs to control her authentic self, as if it's an unruly child.” Callahan goes on to describe “the soldiers in Oprah's army of self-help: Dr. Phil McGraw, overweight author of diet books and unlicensed TV therapist; Eckhart Tolle, who speaks of the ‘pain body’ and charges $40-$150 a pop for lecture tickets … and Marianne Williamson, who had as a mentor a spirit named ‘Seth,’ channeled via a psychic.”

The good news is that, if you’re moved to explore this further, a book has recently been published – Oprah Winfrey And The Glamour Of Misery, by “Oprah scholar” Eva Illouz - and that hatchet-job biographer Kitty Kelley has a book on Oprah coming out next year, which promises to bring the sordid big time. Like a baseball stats book, these books are products of an ancillary industry that makes actually consuming a game or a show entirely beside the point.

 
 
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