I love Oprah Winfrey. I think she’s the most influential woman alive today — not in a political or ideological sense but because she has affected the way millions of ordinary men and women view the world, themselves, and one another. If she’d done nothing more than create her book club, that alone would make her hugely important in shaping ideas. But she’s done more than that. She has provided the equivalent of free psychotherapy for countless people, in many cases more effective psychotherapy than they could get in their own area. She is one of my heroines and I want her to have all the rewards that come from the monumental work she has done for a quarter of a century.
That said, I must confess that I find the OWN network a great disappointment. I had hoped for something better. I had expected something better. And when Oprah said that she created her OWN network as a response to all the banal, meaningless crap on TV, I was excited. But so far, the shows have been banal, meaningless crap. And I say that with love. Tough love.
I have absolutely no interest in watching the Judds snip at each other. I have no interest in watching Ryan O’Neal and Tatum get to know each other. And while I like Gayle King, watching her interview a parade of famous and near-famous people is as interesting as watching wallpaper paste dry. The rest of the shows are big ho-hums too, including the ones that haven’t aired yet. Kids kidnapping their parents is so predictable that I won’t need to watch adorable moppets bringing tears to their parents’ eyes because the parents aren’t home enough. Cooking shows are cooking shows, no matter what’s cooking. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Oprah hasn’t asked me what I’d like to see, but if she did, here’s what I’d tell her: Show me something that truly stretches my world, that makes me feel a kinship with people I’ll never meet. Not some washed-up celebrities or eager wanta-be’s but real people. I would like to spend a month with a woman in an African village, perhaps, and see what her life is like. I would like to get to know a woman in south America who tries to support her family on a few dollars a month. I would like to see her life dramatically improved by a small loan that allows her to expand her business of selling vegetables or knitting sweaters or whatever she does to feed her children. I would like to spend a week or a month with a young girl in Afghanistan who goes to school at great risk to her life. I would like to hear what her parents think and how they justify their decision to let her have an education. I would like to hear the opinions of the men who believe it is evil to educate girls. I would like to hear their own words, not have them paraphrased or reported by somebody else. I would like to spend time with an Appalachian family and learn their history so I can better understand the trap they find themselves in now.
Basically, I would like Oprah to present shows that allow me to come to a true understanding of cultures radically different than my own. Not glib, glossed-over, “we vs. them” shows, but in-depth, thoughtful, respectful sharing. That’s what I had expected of OWN, and I believe Oprah may be the only person on the planet with the intelligence and sensitivity and power to pull that off. I know OWN hasn’t gelled yet, and I expect some bumbling until it gets off the ground, but I greatly hope that when it matures it will be a lot better than it is.