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Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery

Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery: An Essay on Popular Culture

EVA ILLOUZ
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 352
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/illo11812
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    Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery
    Book Description:

    Oprah Winfrey is the protagonist of the story to be told here, but this book has broader intentions, begins Eva Illouz in this original examination of how and why this talk show host has become a pervasive symbol in American culture. Unlike studies of talk shows that decry debased cultural standards and impoverished political consciousness, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery asks us to rethink our perceptions of culture in general and popular culture in particular.

    At a time when crises of morality, beliefs, value systems, and personal worth dominate both public and private spheres, Oprah's emergence as a cultural form -- the Oprah persona -- becomes clearer, as she successfully reiterates some of our most pressing moral questions. Drawing on nearly one hundred show transcripts; a year and a half of watching the show regularly; and analysis of magazine articles, several biographies,

    O Magazine, Oprah Book Club novels, self-help manuals promoted on the show, and hundreds of discussions on the Oprah Winfrey Web site, Illouz takes the Oprah industry seriously, revealing it to be a multilayered "textual structure" that initiates, stages, and performs narratives of suffering and self-improvement that resonate with a wide audience and challenge traditional models of cultural analysis. This book looks closely at Oprah's method and her message, and in the process reconsiders popular culture and the tools we use to understand it.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50897-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION: OPRAH WINFREY AND THE SOCIOLOGY OF CULTURE (pp. 1-15)

    Oprah Winfrey is the protagonist of the story to be told here, but this book has broader intentions: to reflect on the meaning of popular culture and to offer new strategies for interpreting that meaning. In that respect, this book is a long rumination on the current state of cultural studies, with two distinct purposes. The first is to move the study of popular culture away from the power-pleasure-resistance conceptual trio that has dominated it and to bring it within the fold of “moral sociology,” which has traditionally explored the role that culture plays in making sense of our lives...

  5. 2 THE SUCCESS OF A SELF-FAILED WOMAN (pp. 16-46)

    In the early twentieth century, “stars” were synonymous with glamour, happiness, romance, exoticism, and luxury. For example, the greatest movie stars of the 1920s, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, were characterized by Photoplay, a 1920s magazine specializing in the life and careers of movie stars, as follows: “They are living a great love poem in the practical, difficult, much discussed relation of modern marriage.”¹ These celebrities seemed to harmoniously reconcile the contradictory requirements of conjugal bliss, hard work, extravagant wealth, beauty, and youth.

    A reader of Photoplay would be startled by the ways in which Oprah Winfrey’s success story has...

  6. 3 EVERYDAY LIFE AS THE UNCANNY: THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW AS A NEW CULTURAL GENRE (pp. 47-76)

    The Oprah Winfrey Show has become a text of breathtaking proportions, stretching from the United States to India, Europe, Africa, and Asia. It is remarkable not only for the variety of issues it addresses, the scope of its influence, and the size of its audience, but also because few global media empires are the outcome of one person’s single-handed enterprise. This is not to deny that the shrewd and aggressive marketing strategies of the King Corporation —which has syndicated Oprah’s show since 1986—have played an important role in helping Oprah gain the upper hand in the market. But her...

  7. 4 PAIN AND CIRCUSES (pp. 77-119)

    While the bourgeois novel coincided with and addressed the emergence of the private sphere as a realm detached from the public sphere, The Oprah Winfrey Show gives form and meaning to a private sphere that is increasingly encroached upon and defined by the public sphere. But what makes the genre of the Oprah Winfrey talk show different from the novel is its self-proclaimed vocation to transform private experience through the deployment of public speech in the form of “debate,” “dispute,” “confession,” and “therapeutic dialogue.” Oprah’s show can be said to be a performative genre par excellence—it performs and transforms...

  8. 5 THE HYPERTEXT OF IDENTITY (pp. 120-155)

    The prominence of the image of suffering on commercial television has led many cultural scholars to the conclusion that talk shows are a cynical enterprise exploiting and manipulating human distress for the sake of profit. This view argues that the guest’s and host’s interaction is nothing more than manipulation of the former by the latter. The guest’s desire to speak and to be seen on television is motivated by the distorted desire to have the requisite fifteen minutes of fame, to achieve the (false) promise of self-change, or simply to experience the cheap thrill of a television appearance. Such a...

  9. 6 SUFFERING AND SELF-HELP AS GLOBAL FORMS OF IDENTITY (pp. 156-177)

    The Oprah Winfrey Show is distributed in a dizzying array of countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Botswana, Chad, China, Slovenia, Singapore, Thailand, and Yemen are only a few haphazardly picked examples. In the span of a decade, Oprah Winfrey and her show have become global cultural forms. Indeed, a wide variety of confessional talk shows have sprung up throughout the world, suggesting that The Oprah Winfrey Show is only one aspect of a more general phenomenon: globalization of the talk show genre. In this chapter, I offer a few reflections on the relation that Oprah’s moral project to stage and change suffering...

  10. 7 THE SOURCES AND RESOURCES OF THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW (pp. 178-205)

    Suffering and self-change, the two meanings performed by The Oprah Winfrey Show, offer two starting points for deciphering Oprah’s vast cultural and textual enterprise. They are able to account simultaneously for the structure of the show, the intentions of its author, the probable motivations of its participants, and the broad frame of meaning within which it is received and interpreted. These intentions and motivations are contained within a deep cultural structure that makes possible the packaging of Oprah’s biography and the routinization of her guests’ speech within the highly commodified sphere of global media. This cultural structure is present in...

  11. 8 TOWARD AN IMPURE CRITIQUE OF POPULAR CULTURE (pp. 206-235)

    I have spent most of this book trying to understand the meaning of the cultural enterprise of Oprah Winfrey. In this final chapter, I discuss the ways she has been criticized, and offer my own critique of her cultural and moral enterprise.

    Critique and understanding are two notoriously antinomic intellectual postures. To understand is to reduce as much as possible the distance from the observed in order to grasp their point of view. In that sense, in understanding there is always the risk of endorsing the point of view we study, espousing the social world and its faults with the...

  12. 9 CONCLUSION: ORDINARY PEOPLE, EXTRAORDINARY TELEVISION (pp. 236-242)

    A basic error of the translator, Walter Benjamin tells us, is that he “preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by a foreign tongue.”¹ In a similar vein, a possible error of the sociologist of culture would be to leave intact her original theoretical language without being affected by the object she analyzes. A cultural object as formidable as Oprah Winfrey challenges traditional categories of analysis and ought to help us transform them.

    As I hope I have shown throughout this book, Oprah Winfrey’s marked control of...

  13. NOTES (pp. 243-262)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 263-292)
  15. SUBJECT INDEX (pp. 293-296)
  16. NAME INDEX (pp. 297-300)