Oprah: Spirituality, Mediation, and Consumption

Paul Harvey

Recently we posted a bit to point to you an interview with our favorite professor from Yale, Kathryn Lofton, on her new book Oprah: Gospel of an Icon.

Time for some more reading/discussion on the work, courtesy of two deeply probing pieces on the book posted at Immanent frame. First, David Morgan's "Spirituality, Mediation, and Consumption" notes that Kathryn Lofton’s fascinating study demonstrates that Oprah is not aping religion as a way of selling her product but conducting a practice of self-culture that appeals to many precisely because they believe it lifts them above their circumstances to reveal possibilities they had not imagined. Oprah’s genious is for achieving a coincidence of self-care, commoditization, mass-mediation, and entertainment. If that’s not modern religion, I don’t know what is.

Then you can move on to Deirdre English, "Will Oprah Winfrey Save Us All,"

There should be more to come in this series of posts.

Update: Salon has posted an interview with K. Lofton in which the author expresses some of the main ideas of her book in very accessible answers, and connects Oprah to a tradition of female preachers with ambiguous lives. Here's a little taste:

"I connect her to two figures -- George Whitefield, a prominent 18th century minister, and Charles Finney, a 19th century minister -- who weren't merely interested in spreading the gospel but also eliciting conversion. There's an idea that a gospel is true if the purveyor is willing to talk about how it's made. Oprah does that every time she does a show about "Oprah without makeup" or a confession about her weight gain -- this is her showing the strings of her own construction."

"The other tradition I connect her to is the emergence of women as evangelical preachers, who always had to be conscious that they were being somewhat insurrectionist to the Word by even being out in the public. Oprah tries to appeal to an audience that wants to see a successful and capable woman without being too perfect. She can't be too obnoxious in the face of the conservative domestic idea that we still have for women. So Oprah isn't married nor does she have children because if she had those things and was also trying to be Oprah, her audience would be uncomfortable. That she is free to minister only to them and is not responsible to a domestic life actually puts her in a long line of preachers with similarly ambiguous lives."


Anonymous said…
this looks like an absolutely amazing book; I can't wait to read it this summer poolside in North Carolina.