When Oprah Winfrey recommends a book, it shoots to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. When she tries a new face cream, it sells out in the stores. If she touts a non-traditional medical cure, such as “bio-identical” estrogen, millions believe.
Evidence of her “special brilliance,” as the Newsweek cover story puts it. Though she recently dropped to second place behind Angelina Jolie as the world’s most powerful celebrity, there are 40 million women who believe whatever Oprah says.
Newsweek authors Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert are scandalized. Oprah could easily “summon the world’s most learned authorities” on any of the wide-ranging topics she pursues—from cancer cures to busting cellulite—but she doesn’t. Instead, she welcomes wacky celebrities gushing over chelation therapy and quack medical advice from unreliable sources. Kosova and Wingert solemnly warn us that sometimes these “miracle treatments” are “questionable or flat out wrong, and sometimes dangerous.”
What? You were expecting a dispassionate CNN?
Isn’t that precisely Oprah’s appeal? She is just like us: a little overweight, a little low on self-esteem, a little gullible. Despite all her millions, she too is seeking a miracle cure for cellulite, wrinkles and menopause. She is seeking the meaning of life, and perhaps Suzanne Somers has found it!
Oprah is helping women everywhere to lose weight, look more beautiful, become more fit and healthy--and even, perhaps, reach transcendence. In a recent issue of “O” she offers us “those shots of real transcendence that restore you, take you deeper into truth.”
The deeper question here, beyond Oprah’s putative responsibility to provide balanced reporting, is: why do so many women turn to Oprah to help them “live their best life”?
Like Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5) we want our cure dramatic and powerful, from a king. We don’t want to get it from a backwater prophet in Israel. We want flashy, dramatic, preferably delivered by a celebrity. Like Naaman, we want to believe that the world, with all its wonders and complexities, can answer our deepest longings.
Naaman is told to wash seven times in the Jordan. He is angry that there is no fanfare, that he has to wash in an inferior river. But the true prophet delivers his message and his cure humbly, simply. The rest is up to us. How many times do we complicate our lives, when what we really need is the Divine Physician? He came as a humble babe, to a backwater town, with the good news of salvation. His message is simple, his voice a whisper. Our cure is to wash in the waters of forgiveness, to trust in his love.
Like it or not, Oprah is a messenger of our times. But it’s not always the right message, at least in my view. So tell me…what’s your feeling on Oprah and her influence on women?