In a few hours, the final episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will air, a moment that, according to the promos for said last episode, is akin to the last installment of “M*A*S*H,” Johnny Carson’s farewell from “The Tonight Show” and, possibly, the end of the Cold War.
Hyperbolic, tear-jerking promos aside, it is a major cultural moment and one that has prompted many to reflect on the legacy of the talk show hostess/media juggernaut who inspired legions of fans with her endless capacity to give, and nauseated quite a few with her often sanctimonious, self-promotional style.
In an AP story, Oprah fan Wanda Nash — who was in the audience yesterday during the taping of that final episode in Chicago — summarized the final moments of the show this way: “It was all about Oprah.”
For some, that sounds exactly wonderful and right. Others might read the same statement and say, “Well, that just figures, doesn’t it?
That’s because for every amazing thing that Oprah Winfrey accomplished, one can look on the flip side and find a negative. Similarly, for every criticism one can level at Winfrey, it’s just as easy to point to something undeniably valuable that she’s done. She’s complicated that way.
Let’s explore just a few of the pros and cons of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Then feel free to share your own thoughts about Winfrey by posting a comment; because I know Celebritology readers have some strong feelings about Lady O.
Oprah’s book club
Pro: With her book club, Oprah Winfrey encouraged a healthy interest in reading, did wonders for the publishing industry and gave the pursuit and analysis of literature new currency.
Con: She may have inadvertently caused some people to develop back problems after forcing them to haul around not one, but two decidedly hefty novels by Wally Lamb.
Oprah the achiever
Pro: By rising from a childhood in poverty to become one of the wealthiest, most successful people on the planet, she became a shining example of achievement, especially for women and African Americans. As Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton told the Post’s Dan Zak: A black woman becoming an icon of educated, working-class white women is beyond anything any of us could’ve hoped to do. You can’t love Oprah and hate black people.”
Con: As one of the wealthiest, most successful people on the planet, she also developed a massive ego, the kind that made it seem completely normal to launch a magazine named after herself, with her own face on the cover every month. (Additional pro: The magazine was a success. Additional con: The magazine was a success, which justified the idea of naming a publication after one’s self with one’s photo on the cover every month.)
Oprah the altruist
Pro: Winfrey has been an enormously generous contributor to charities, establishing such foundations as the Angel Network, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and the Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation. The number of individuals, families and institutions she’s helped is impossible to quantify.
Con: Like the church-goer who wants everyone to see exactly how much cash they’ve added to the collection plate, Winfrey always made sure the whole world knew what a giver she was.
Oprah the therapist
Pro: On her show, Winfrey allowed people to confront and openly discuss painful issues, which in turn fostered more open dialogue and, perhaps, greater acceptance of the value of psychological therapy.
Con: Winfrey allowed people to get advice about their painful, personal issues from Dr. Phil.
Oprah the celebrity interviewer
Pro: Winfrey conducted fascinating interviews with almost every imaginable celebrity, from Elizabeth Taylor to Jon Stewart to Justin Bieber.
Con: Sometimes she let them jump on her couch
Oprah the confidence builder
Pro: Winfrey has been perhaps this nation’s greatest cheerleader for self-improvement, always encouraging her largely female fanbase to be the best they can be and rewarding them whenever possible.
Con: Sometimes that led to excessive, ear-splitting screaming. And, also, the sense that we all deserve a free car.
In summary, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” may end today. But the debate about Oprah’s impact and person?. That will live forever, as will the sound of these celebrity names being shouted by Winfrey.