The Oprah Phenomenon

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Her image is iconic: Oprah Winfrey has built an empire on her ability to connect with and inspire her audience. No longer just a name, "Oprah" has become a brand representing the talk show host's unique style of self-actualizing individualism. The cultural and economic power wielded by Winfrey merits critical evaluation. The contributors to The Oprah Phenomenon examine the origins of her public image and its substantial influence on politics, entertainment, and popular opinion. Contributors address praise from her many supporters and weigh criticisms from her detractors. Winfrey's ability to create a feeling of intimacy with her audience has long been cited as one of the foundations of her popularity. She has repeatedly made national headlines by engaging and informing her audience with respect to her personal relationships to race, gender, feminism, and New Age culture. The Oprah Phenomenon explores these relationships in detail.

At the root of Winfrey's message to her vast audience is her assertion that anyone can be a success regardless of background or upbringing. The contributors scrutinize this message: What does this success entail? Is the motivation behind self-actualization, in fact, merely the hope of replicating Winfrey's purchasing power? Is it just a prescription to buy the products she recommends and heed the advice of people she admires, or is it a lifestyle change of meaningful spiritual benefit? The Oprah Phenomenon asks these and many other difficult questions to promote a greater understanding of Winfrey's influence on the American consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Contributors to this collection examine several aspects of the Oprah Winfrey juggernaut, including her talk show, magazine, and book club. The thematically grouped essays critically analyze how she uses personal information, particularly her battles with weight, to effect a level of intimacy with her audience. Several of the articles mention the talk-show episode where, after a 60-pound weight loss, Oprah pulled onstage a wagonload of fat representing the loss. Her detractors also argue that her book club diluted the discussion of so-called literary fiction, and much attention is paid to Jonathan Franzen's being disinvited to discuss The Correctionsafter his seemingly ungrateful comments about the overall intellect of the book club and its members. More extensive in its coverage than Kathleen Rooney's Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America, this book identifies the common threads that run throughout Oprah's empire, the demographics of her audience, how she brings together women from diverse backgrounds, and her use of empathy and encouragement to foster self-improvement. Recommended for academic libraries.
—Regina M. Beard, Economics Librarian, Kansas State Libs.

From the Publisher
"Identifies the common threads that run throught Oprah's empire, the demographics of her audience, how she brings together women of diverse backgrounds, and her use of empathy and encouragement to foster self-improvement." — Library Journal

"Harris and Watson's book is intellectually stimulating and frankly a must-read for those curious about the nature of the 'Winfrey phenomenon.'" — Journal of Social History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813124261
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Harris is associate professor of English at University of Waterloo, Canada. She has published over two dozen essays and book chapters and is the co-editor of the Norton Critical edition of The Coquette and The Boarding School.

Elwood Watson, associate professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is the editor of several books, including "There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant and Searching The Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays.

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Table of Contents

Foreword     vii
Introduction: Oprah Winfrey as Subject and Spectacle   Jennifer Harris   Elwood Watson     1
Oprah Winfrey and Race
The Specter of Oprah Winfrey: Critical Black Female Spectatorship   Tarshia L. Stanley     35
My Mom and Oprah Winfrey: Her Appeal to White Women   Linda Kay     51
The "Oprahization" of America: The Man Show and the Redefinition of Black Femininity   Valerie Palmer-Mehta     65
Oprah Winfrey on the Stage
Oprah Winfrey and Women's Autobiography: A Televisual Performance of the Therapeutic Self   Eva Illouz   Nik John     87
From Fasting toward Self-Acceptance: Oprah Winfrey and Weight Loss in American Culture   Ella Howard     101
Spiritual Talk: The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Popularization of the New Age   Maria McGrath     125
Oprah Winfrey and Spirituality   Denise Martin     147
Phenomenon on Trial: Reading Rhetoric at Texas Beef v. Oprah Winfrey   Jennifer Richardson     165
Oprah Winfrey on the Page
Oprah's Book Club and the American Dream   Malin Pereira     191
Some Lessons before Dying: Gender, Morality, and the Missing Critical Discourse in Oprah's Book Club   Roberta F. Hammett   Audrey Dentith     207
Making Corrections to Oprah's Book Club: Reclaiming Literary Power for Gendered Literacy Management   Sarah Robbins     227
Knowing for Sure: Epistemologies of the Autonomous Self in O, the Oprah Magazine   Marjorie Jolles     259
Oprah Winfrey's Branding of Personal Empowerment   Damiana Gibbons     277
List of Contributors     293
Index     297
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