In September 2015, soon after the world was introduced to the newest addition to the Kardashian-Jenner Clan–Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Kardashian West appeared on the Ellen Show to share an anecdote about how she walked in on Jenner “cross-dressing” when she was about 21 years old. She talked about how baffled she was and the fact that she instantaneously picked up her bags and rushed to her elder sister–Kourtney’s house. To make sense of the melange of emotions and questions, they then decided to turn to the woman who had become a household name in America in late 1990s and was perceived to be maternal hand to the conservative American society which was struggling to adapt to the sudden wave of liberalism and change in the nation’s culture–Oprah.
This is just another incident which seems to re-establish the inclusivity of Oprah’s impact. All the way from the Bronx to the Beverley Hills, Oprah has remained a shining beacon of hope and calm beaming out of the TV into the humdrum life of the American household every afternoon for 25 years. She managed to be sewn into the fabric of American life. Everyone from the elite of Park Avenue to the farmers of Missouri turned to Oprah when they toiled to form opinions about issues that blazed the political and social arena of the country or even when they just wanted some reassurance that no matter what went wrong in their lives, stars of hope will eventually freckle in the night sky.
Not only did Oprah transform daytime TV from gossipy to intimate, but she also didn’t budge from talking about topics that sent a shudder down the spines of the highly patriarchal upper lip American society that lied noosed up in the hands of stigmas, fallacies and outright ignorance thus infiltrating the public lives from all possible angles. She longed to know the emotional core of the American people who were enduring a great deal of pain with their daily struggles. She openly discussed being sexually abused, her poverty, failed personal relationships and battles with her self-esteem. In 1986, Oprah, on her own show, spoke about how she was sexually abused at the age of 9. “He took me to an ice cream shop – blood still running down my leg – and bought me ice cream,” she told David Letterman in one of her interviews. This was all long before campaigns like #MeToo, it was Oprah who broke the ice by urging people to share their stories of assault.
She boldly grew out of the domains of conventional television and proved that she wasn’t just there to provide a pastime or something that you fall asleep to on your couch while watching. She was a black woman being telecasted into the living rooms of 15 million people in every nook and cranny of America on a daily basis. Winfrey’s image being broadcasted into the living rooms truly revamped and catalyzed the conversations that took place at the dinner table. Her existence in itself signaled a breach in the glass ceiling. She was a poor, sexually abused black girl growing up in the newly desegregated south, without hopes for a grand or illustrious future. She was a symbol of success and survival and represented a modern American dream–from the abject poverty of Missouri to a glamorous global icon.
She chose to embrace both the best and the ugliest that America had to offer. She celebrated all the differences among the masses regardless of color, disabilities or sexual orientation. She believed in rationalizing with the other side, answering their questions and addressing their concerns. Tackling everything from alcoholism to the gay rights movement, Oprah believed that the real way to bring about any kind of change is to start conversations, so she did. Inundating the lives of millions of people around the globe with hope and her resilient messages of positivity and self-improvement. Her show was like a daily lecture on acceptance, love and kindness that Americans not only cherished but also respected. While America might be coming to terms with same-sex marriage very recently, Oprah lent her support to homosexuality way back in 1991. From hosting Olympic gold medallist Greg Louganis who confessed his sexuality and being HIV positive on her show to agreeing to play the therapist to Ellen Degeneres in her 1990s sitcom titled ‘Ellen’ for the famous ‘Coming Out’ episode where Degeneres’ character became the first openly gay lead character in American TV, Oprah has been an ardent supporter of the LGBTQ+ causes in America.
In an effort to break down the traditional barriers of journalism, Oprah transformed the closed door business of book publishing and made it very open and public. Many critics also accredit Oprah with the sudden surge of tell-alls, memoirs and reality shows about increasingly banal subjects. It is not to be forgotten that she did so when most of these issues were locked up in a shroud of shame and secrecy. Her awe-inspiring personality and clear sense of business skyrocketed her to the zenith of success. She soon became the first African-American woman billionaire and was one of the two African-American billionaires in the world. Despite her financial disparity with the ‘real’ America, Oprah never once let her fortune turn into a symbol of her disconnect with her audience. She remained extremely humble but what made her the masses stick with her throughout was the empathy and positive regard that she wore on her sleeve.
Throughout her lustrous career, Oprah has made it a point to emphasize the passionate adherence of the American values of equality, liberty and freedom. The entrepreneur, actor, producer was awarded the Cecil B deMille Award at the 75th Golden Globes for her outstanding contribution in the field of entertainment. But the truth is that Oprah’s impact transcends the boundaries of fields or genres or awards. Her body of work has inspired millions of people around the globe from Presidents to revolutionaries. She is an institution.
In her own words, I think it is safe to say that Oprah Winfrey has continuously tolled the bell for the global populace to ‘turn their wounds into wisdom’ and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.