November 20, 2009

The Church of O: Practicing Oprah

Posted in feminism, Oprah, Spirituality tagged , , , , at 4:22 pm by Gina Messina

Although our topic for this week is waiting, at the last minute I decided to veer off track when I heard that Oprah would be going off the air.  There is much to be said about her and what she has offered to both women and men over the last near 25 years.  While Oprah is a leading talk show host and media queen, she is also one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders.  With over 26 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has created a congregation that is inspired daily by the sermons preached from her pulpit.  Her message is simple: “Live your best life.”  According to the Gospel of Oprah, you have a duty to make yourself happy.  Although her parishioners are mostly women, men also partake in looking to Oprah for guidance on health, happiness, and salvation, including Barack Obama who referred to Oprah as his “host” during a speech on his religious beliefs in Iowa on December 10, 2007.

Viewing Oprah can be seen as a religious process.  Everyday people make time to turn on their television and listen to an hour of inspiration directly from the gospel of Oprah.  It becomes a ritual of attending “church.” Parishioners attend the service, listen to the message and then take that message, evaluate it, and apply it to their lives.  Further, the viewers go out and spread the message.  Oprah’s congregation is eager to share Oprah’s message for the day with family, friends, and even the stranger in the grocery store.  With her show airing daily in 132 countries and 205 television markets, Oprah is preaching to a much larger congregation than any other evangelist.    

Oprah not only reaches her congregation via her talk show, she has a multimedia empire through which her followers are able to her message.  The talk show host, producer, philanthropist, and spiritual guru speaks to her congregation through O Magazine, O Magazine at Home, the Oprah Book Club, Oprah and Friends on XM Radio, and Harpo Productions. In each of her media outlets, Oprah only ties her name to products that promote her message of empowerment, self-improvement, and self-actualization. 

Using self-disclosure, confession, and honest talk, Oprah has encouraged her parishioners to enter a new phase of life.  She calls for the sharing of inner life experience to shed negativity and emerge empowered with a new self worth.  A symbol of spiritual renewal, Oprah is a catalyst for a new religion in America.  She has redefined the religious experience.  As a spiritual leader Oprah Winfrey has influenced millions with her vision of possibilities and message of self love. 

Women across the country, including Melissa Ethridge, have claimed Oprah to be their religion.  They have turned to Oprah for their spiritual fix and have been inspired by Oprah’s message.  Oprah has provided them with a spirituality that no church can offer.  In the Church of O women are not oppressed, in the Church of O women to do not need to suffer, in the Church of O, happiness is a must.  Women receive tools for real life and are not made to feel guilty about it.

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