By Jason Menard
I have a confession to make: I don’t like Oprah.
(I’m not sure you’re allowed to say that, actually. I’m inCanada, so I may be safe as I think that statement breaks laws in at least 30 states in theU.S.And I’m sure there are those Oprah-holics who will brand me as a racist, anti-feminist, and anti-fluffy white bunny because of that statement.)
I purposely stayed away from the mass simultaneous O-gasm that many North Americans experienced – or subjected themselves to – over the past week in light of the final Oprah show. Well, final network show – there’s still that whole Oprah network thing that may provide her with the odd scrap of screen time.
The truth is that I can’t really say I don’t like Oprah. I don’t know anything about her as a person. All I know is Oprah, Inc. And I don’t like Oprah, Inc. Since Oprah makes her living by convincing her followers that Oprah and Oprah, Inc. my impressions of one impact my thoughts of the other.
I have a number of reasons why I don’t like Oprah, Inc., which aren’t truly important to anyone but me. But my concern was whether I was devaluing Oprah’s impact based upon likability.
It’s something we all do to one degree or another. We may enjoy certain movies more than we would otherwise, due to the presence of an actor with whom we have a particular affinity (my wife would argue my enjoyment of the Alyssa Milano film and television oeuvre would fall into this category).
Normally, that’s not a big deal. After all, I can’t stand Will Ferrell. I haven’t found one of his movies funny. It’s not the end of the world. Will will go on, I’m sure. Some people hate Kevin Smith – I happen to love his movies and find him absolutely engaging in his “An Evening With…” performances. Personal preferences are never wrong.
But Oprah, despite being an entertainer, is a different sort. Here is a woman who has risen to the top of her profession. In a traditionally white-bread environment, she serves as a proud black icon. And in an industry that counts anorexia as a beauty regimen, Oprah’s done all of this at a less-than-Hollywood’s-warped-sense-of-ideal weight.
Yet, because I don’t like the way she dominates every interview with “look at me” moments; how her tolerance for others’ weight issues fluctuates with her own scale; her hypocritical condemnation of others for trash TV when that was the foundation of her early years; calling Hermes racist for not allowing her to shop after the store was closed; her obsession with pseudoscience, I wonder if I’m causing myself to diminish her overall achievement.
If we’re completely honest, likability is very important in how we assess others. We tend to find people we like more engaging, attractive, and intelligent, and we’re more willing to forgive their mistakes. Conversely, when we don’t like someone, the opposite holds true. I can respect one’s achievements without liking them. But do I respect those achievements more when I like the person? Probably so. Is it right? Definitely not.
What seems so frivolous – the liking of a public figure – can have a significant impact on one’s life. You don’t have to look any further than politics to see that. In the most recent federal election, you heard time after time that people “didn’t like Michael Ignatieff” or “something rubs me the wrong way about him.” So his perceived faults were magnified, whereas those who “liked” Stephen Harper, for example, were far more willing to forgive his transgressions. This Oprah-esque icon worship was in full force during the 2008U.S.elections, where now-President Obama rode a wave of likability into the White House.
Is Ignatieff better than Harper? Or Jack Layton? Was Barack the absolute clear choice over John McCain? It all depends on your personal opinion.
Any argument regarding qualification – especially when it comes to the person who will be holding the nation’s purse-strings – should be based solely on ability, experience, and ideas. Unfortunately, instead of measuring these things on their own merit and forming our opinions based on fact, they tend to get filtered and distorted by our own personal likes and dislikes.
And when you distort the image, the best answer is less clear.