What would Oprah do?
She’d eat hickory-smoked turkey from East Texas. Soon after she featured a turkey supplier on her annual “Favorite Things” show in 2003, the company rang up $1 million in sales, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
What would Oprah do?
She’d vote for Barack Obama. Her May 2007 endorsement delivered Obama an “instrumental” 1 million votes over the competitive Democratic primary season, according to Northwestern University marketing professor Craig Garthwaite, who co-wrote a 2008 study on celebrity endorsements in politics.
“The Oprah Winfrey Show” has wrested the concept of women’s empowerment from feminists and put it in the hands of the masses, according to Marjorie Jolles, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Roosevelt University.
“I would even call it a spiritual empowerment,” Jolles says. “I see Emerson as her main rhetorical ancestor, in thinking that the individual is something that unfolds in a divinely-inspired way.”
Oprah’s own sense of destiny — “I have always known that I was born for greatness in my life,” she told Walters in 1988 — has made her the subject of adoration as well as derision and skepticism.
“She believes more in inspiration and enlightenment, when the science shows people need specific behavior change — her legacy is what I would call conscious-raising and awareness-inducing, but not behavior-changing,” says John Norcross, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Scranton who was scheduled to appear on Winfrey’s show to challenge her endorsement of “The Secret,” a 2006 self-help book that linked positive thinking to real-world results. (His appearance was canceled after the book’s author declined to participate, according to Norcross.)
Winfrey’s commanding onscreen presence has inspired parodies of her pomposity and wealth on sketch shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “MADtv.” Her show was such a rich source of comedy because “she is a deity and reminds us of it,” says comedy Kathy Griffin, who regularly lampoons Winfrey in her stand-up act. “Even while she’s doing an incredible act of goodwill, she’s so over-the-top.”
In a final act of Oprahness, it seems as though Oprah was her own last guest, according to audience members interviewed by the Chicago Tribune after the finale’s taping Tuesday.
But with the Oprah Winfrey Network barely six months old, “final” and “last” aren’t in Winfrey’s vocabulary. In the mind-over-matter physics of her universe — which is our universe — “the end” is always just “the beginning.”
Staff writer Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.