I just finished reading “Oprah, a Biography” by Kitty Kelley – updated and revised. First of all, let me explain. I needed to get away from the serious stuff I’ve been reading of late, and while I was rarely an Oprah voyeur, I thought the book would be interesting, considering she is one of the most intriguing and successful women in the world – I mean let’s face it, she’s been a busy girl this last 25 years. But I have to say, I didn’t like it. Not being Oprah-endorsed, it was a ‘she said, he said’ kind of yarn and boy is there some bitterness out there. Reassured that it will be a gripping read and “a page-turner” as People Magazine claims on the front cover, I just found a lot of it pretty pointless, unworthy and trashy rubbish.
I think people of Oprah’s calibre exist on such a different stratosphere to the rest of us, so when people write about them in books like this, it brings all sorts of ugliness to the surface – because can anyone truly know what it’s like to be Oprah? Don’t get me wrong, a book like this certainly shouldn’t be sycophantic, but some opinions come from pretty dubious places, and as “they” say, opinions are like arseholes, every bugger has one.
Getting into the book, how can you start a discussion about Oprah without mentioning her weight? She definitely has the most talked about weight “problem” in the world, but on the whole, I just found it horrible, awful and shitty that anyone’s personal issues are so widely discussed, and she herself, so horribly mocked. I mean how do we expect women to overcome personal image issues when we embrace these sorts of media onslaughts? The main reason it’s so impactful is the book covers all of the weight discussions that have ever been printed, all nicely wrapped together in one place. I found it a pretty horrific part of her story. Can you imagine being spoken of like that, every single day of your life?
Over her 25 year career, so the story goes, Oprah went from having a pet cockroach, abandoned by her mother, molested and abused, treated like trash by men, and so much more. It’s not the nicest story to read. However, as far as her early childhood memories go, apparently her family say it’s all bullshit. Well we all know that truth is subjective, and while those in our immediate lives might disagree with our memories, it is still our own truth. Sure over the years, her life stories have changed and evolved – but doesn’t everyone’s? And let’s face it, some people are pretty motivated to go after her, as there is a lot of money in the bank, but there are also those eager to defend themselves, because they were there when bad shit happened. All in all, I found this aspect rather tedious. Maybe one day Oprah will eventually release her own autobiography and we can get her story, which will still be her own truth and probably differ from many in her life. Let’s face it, there is no such thing as truth, just perceptions afterall. If nothing else, it will certainly create a media storm.
Over the years, Oprah went from being a media available darling, to having complete control over media access. When you read the stories throughout her life and how the press represented everything she said and did, is it any surprise? Shit, if I was her and had her millions, I’d wrap myself up in all the protection I could afford. Many people, who go from rags to riches, learn the hard way – initially they expose themselves to the press, which is a good career move, but after a torrent of negative publicity, they quickly learn to protect themselves.
I ain’t saying Oprah is an angel. Sure she screwed up plenty of times along the way, where good things went sour or great ideas turned out to be not so well thought out, but that is as human as it gets. Many in the book who criticise her didn’t get the beacon of Oprah’s approval. This is definitely apparent with her book club, because apparently if you get the O on your cover, a millionaire you will be. But hey, she can’t cover everyone and from where I’m standing, she’s not obligated to. Throughout her life, people pissed her off or offended her, and from that day on, they had no more access to Oprah. Sometimes it seemed tedious on Oprah’s behalf, sometimes fair enough, but I can say one thing - this is a woman who knows how to hold a grudge – yikes.
But Oprah has power – a LOT of power, and I think more than anything, this is the issue. People have had to tiptoe around her for years and this is the crux of many of the issues raised in this book. You want to win, Oprah can be your champion or she can screw you completely. Beware.
The one thing no one can get past is that Oprah has done AMAZING things in her career. She’s gotten taboo subjects talked about – rape, sex, prostitution, teenage pregnancy, incest, body image, etc... She has donated incredible amounts of money to charities around the world – more than most earn in a lifetime. She’s gotten people thinking about new things, in a new way – especially spirituality, a big priority for her. She’s challenged conventional thinking and an entire generation of “housewives” have been motivated and inspired by her – most of whom are incredibly grateful. She is passionate, human, caring, inspirational, aspirational, and more, but she’s also a super star and with that comes lots of other quirky shit us mere mortals could never understand.
I think the main issue Oprah has faced is intellectualism. Criticism come from elements in the media who think her stuff is trash BUT her stuff has had massive appeal to a HUGE demographic. In many ways, every time she is criticised, I think the people who love her are criticised for following and believing in her so-called “trash.”
After reading this book, I still have no idea who Oprah really is, whether she’s nice or nasty, a sinner or a saint, so I’m going to leave my opinion in tact – she’s done and continues to do a lot of great work, and I admire her for building a mega-empire in the days when black women just didn’t do such things.
I’m not a gossip girl. I don’t read chicks mags. I don’t care who’s shagging who or who’s getting divorced in celeb land, but I took a chance on her biography and it’ll be a while before I’ll head back down that path.
Yours, without the bollocksAndrea