Therefore, if we accept this view, the Oprah Winfrey Show has become a cultural phenomenon that assimilates and incorporates other areas of culture and society, such as the new age movement, and creates a focal point in the talk show for the expression for many issues and views.
This has both positive and negative aspects. It can be seen to reveal and make public many of the underlying issues and problems in society. On the other hand, as will be discussed discuses in relation to crime, it can change attitudes and perceptions that may not, in the view of certain analysts, be entirely beneficial.
Oprah and Crime
Some critics have ambivalent views about the influence that Oprah's show has had on crime. While she of course condemns all crime on her show, her ethos of care and compassion has many criminologists worried. This is because there are those who believe that America has 'gone soft on crime' and that talk-shows like the Oprah Winfrey Show have contributed towards this attitude.
An article by Hill and Zillmann, entitled the Oprahization of America: Sympathetic Crime Talk and Leniency ( 1999), claims that "… Americans have gone soft on crime & #8230; Jurors seem increasingly unable to render guilty verdicts even in cases where the evidence for the commission of the offense by the accused appears compelling" (Hill and Zillmann, 1999, p. 67). The authors of this article state that, "Such compassion for criminal wrongdoers has been attributed to a growing understanding of motives that could explain transgressive actions" and to the "… doctrine of victimology that grants criminals victim-status which then absolves them from responsibility for their crimes" (Hill and Zillmann, 1999, p. 67).
The implications of this view in terms of the Oprah Winfrey Show are that the attitude of confession and understanding, which is a laudable part of the show, can also have certain negative repercussions. In this instance it can be seen when, "…. The sympathy created for the offender then diminishes and potentially overpowers the weight of evidence against the offender" (Hill & Zillmann, 1999, p. 67).
While this assertion has not been proven to any extent, it is a possible effect of a television talk shows like Oprah when they become so influential that this influence interferes with societal processes. As Hill and Zillmann (1999) state,
More than the hosts of competing talk shows, Oprah Winfrey shows profound sympathy for the allegedly wronged and probes for causes of their transgressive and criminal behavior. The search for "what made them do it" invariably produces information that seems to "explain" and thereby mitigate the transgressive behavior. (Hill & Zillmann, 1999, p. 67)
While the pros and cons of the shows social influence can be debated, what is very clear is the way that the Oprah Winfrey Show has influenced publishing. In this regard a New York Times report has stated that, "Winfrey has taken considerable cultural authority away from publishers" ( Young, 2001, p. 181). In essence this means that, because of her popularity and positive public image, a book that is endorsed on the show is almost certain to have good sales.
This also applies to well -- known writers who have found a new and more commercial market as a result of the show. A good example is the renowned author Toni Morrison who appeared three times on "Oprah's Book Club." This exposure enabled Morrison to "…reach a broad, popular audience while being marketed as artistically important" (Young, 2001, p. 181). This example shows the power that the show has in marketing and promoting authors to a more general public.
The same promotional power can be seen in the political arena. A report from Time Magazine states "Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama appeared on Oprah on October 18, 2006 and as a result, Internet searches on the Illinois senator vaulted 358% the week following his appearance" (Tancer, 2007).
A number of critiques of the show have already been noted. A common critique is that the show has become too influential and that this in itself is a matter for concern. Besides this view, some commentators are of the opinion that Oprah is not involved enough in furthering the cause and culture of Black men and women. from this perspective she is as "…the quintessential Mammy because she often cries with her mostly white audience, shares "African-American communal knowledge," and teaches white women black vernacular" (Mack, 2008). However, in my opinion, adopting this stance would open her to accusations of bias and would not fit into her broad-based ideology of democratic equality.
On the other hand, a critique that has some substance is possibly that the show is also open to some of the worst excesses of popular culture which can lead to a certain superficiality in content and depth if it is taken to be more than a talk-show. I see the central negative aspect of this show in its intense popularity that runs the risk of replacing theology and philosophy in the search for meaning by a well-intentioned but necessarily superficial talk show. In other words, the chief danger of the show is that it may become reductionist and overreach itself by replacing other more accepted ways and means of understanding society and human existence in the common mind.
The influence of a media and personality phenomenon like the Oprah Winfrey Show is hard to summarize in a few words. As has been stressed throughout this paper, the success of this talk show is linked to the general growth of mass media communications. However, this alone would not be sufficient to explain the way in which Oprah has influenced society and popular culture. In order to explain this more fully one has to take into account her personal background as well as the style of talk show that she has created.
The ideology of care and compassion as well as the confessional and therapeutic aspects of the show, help as to understand Oprah's influence. This influence has been and continues to be extensive. As noted above, many people view the show as a resource for living. This is linked to the idea of therapy through public confession. Oprah's views have also influenced the markets, as the example of book sales indicates.
On the other hand many critics warn against the negative aspects of a show that has become too popular and influential. This refers to the possibility that attitudes and views expressed on the show can override other more rational views, with possible negative social consequences. This is the case with regard to the way criminals are perceived.
In the final analysis the Oprah Winfrey Show, as a creation of popular mass -- media culture has also helped many people. It has been instrumental in improving the lives of many viewers and participants. The show's projection and encouragement of a caring and concerned image is one that cannot be too harshly criticized in a world that is becoming increasingly more violent and uncaring.
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