The O-ly Spirit

My friend Brette got me thinking about Oprah the other day. In an e-mail, she said this:

“It’s Oprah’s favorite things show today and it is blowing my mind.  She has medics on hand.  But how does she know what size cashmere sweater to buy everyone? Mysteries.”

Later my roommate later explained to me that when you get a cashmere sweater on Oprah’s favorite things, you actually get a gift card for the cashmere and then you pick out your size and color.  So it’s not really a mystery I guess but I think I shall ignore this information and continue to pretend that Oprah does in fact have supernatural powers.

Now, it being Oprah’s last season and all, apparently just one orgiastic bacchanal of studio-audience-gifting was not enough for the Lady O; this year they filmed two episodes, and I was lucky enough to catch the second one.  I’ve never seen the actual Oprah’s Favorite Things.  I’ve seen the Saturday Night Live parody, but never the actual show.  (Side note: I can never decide who I like more, Amy Poehler or Tina Fey? I love them both so much.)  Oprah actually referenced the SNL parody at the end of this Favorite Things episode, which was all very in-the-know-and-winking-about it, in a sort of Morgan-Freeman-playing-a-bemused-God kind of way:

And it left us all thinking Oh Oprah!  Where do you find the time in your busy day to watch YouTube clips and remain informed of both high- and low-culture trends!  I bet the interior of your limo is entirely lined with iPads!  I bet you have an assistant whose only job is to sort through all the YouTube link forwards you get from your crazy college friends!

Oprah fails, however, to note that her Favorite Things show is also a parody of an evangelical Pentecostal church service.  Not that I have ever attended an evangelical Pentecostal church service, but I DID watch the first twenty minutes of Jesus Camp, and Oprah’s Favorite Things is kind of like that.  Oprah’s audience screams and shouts, claps and dances, weeps openly (and perhaps even speaks in tongues) as each new gift is handed down by Oprah, High Priestess of Materialism, just so exactly like a congregation of charismatic Christians in full reception of the Holy Spirit.  And all the while Oprah is cultivating her mystery: how did she get to see the brand new Volkswagen Beetle before anyone else IN THE WHOLE WORLD?  How does she know you want Williams Sonoma croissants SO BADLY? How on earth has she not completely pitted out that camel-colored cashmere cardigan under those 50 billion watt studio lights?  (I said that out loud and my roommate, continuing my education in the Gospel of Oprah, said, “She’s Oprah. You don’t sweat when you’re Oprah rich.)

I can’t imagine that she’s intentionally cultivating a personal religion based around herself as the Messiah, but that does seem to be the end result of her media output. I’ve heard more than one person say that they pray to Oprah.  She provides therapy and guidance to America on her show and in her magazine, both of which she’s stocked with teachers and healers (Dr. Oz, Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Phil) who will minister to your emotional and spiritual needs. Her empire even comes with its own John 3:16-ish catchphrase: “Live Your Best Life”.  And so.  Pray tell, Pope-rah.  How, according to you, does one live one’s best life?

“It’s not really about all the gifts,” Oprah said at the end of the show, “Although the stuff is really fun, it really for me is about hope. It’s about knowing that something really magical and joyful and wonderful can happen to you when you least expect it.”  And yes I totally love this sentiment and want to give Oprah a big cashmere hug BUT let’s realize that when she says “something really magical” she means “unexpectedly getting a dick ton of free shit”.  And that’s not just Oprah’s Gospel– that’s just so American.  The lure of Las Vegas.  The delicious lollipop of Bob Barker’s ridiculous microphone. The addictive hope that comes with playing the lottery.  The chance that maybe your ticket to the Oprah show is the Golden One.  Even Oprah’s own rags-to-riches story itself.  Have you ever bought Powerball tickets when the jackpot’s really high and ended up talking with your coworkers and friends for twenty minutes about what you would do with the money if you actually won?  The opiate of your financial dreamworld casts a hazy glow over your day.  And if you don’t win, there’s always next week.

But even though she’s Oprah and doesn’t seem to have a romantic bone in her body, and because it’s Christmas, I’ll give her the benefit of a doubt and assume when she said “something really magical” she also meant “falling in love”, or “bumping into a long-lost friend in line at Fuddruckers” or “seeing a dolphin and rainbow AND a shooting star all in one day”.

That’s my best life, anyway:  to live inside the illustration on a Lisa Frank binder.