Eat right! Think positive! Die anyway!

I'm a bit late in posting today, because I've been reading relatively lengthy articles about a couple of my favorite targets, the Huffington Post (and its founder, Arianna Huffington) and Oprah. (Also, seeing patients.) Both articles describe in detail what I find so utterly objectionable about these women, and what they are doing to popular discourse.

The first article, in the current issue of The New Republic, is by Isaac Chotiner. It's a bit heavy on the snark, but his criticisms of the HuffPo and Ms. Huffington are sound. In particular, he takes it (and her) to task for relying on the same media that they criticize, and claim to have superseded.
The truth is that The Huffington Post is not just supplementing a print media that has long been dominated by newspapers. It is also helping to destroy newspapers. The trials of print media have been explored at length recently in a number of settings, both print and digital, and for good reason. But some tough questions must be asked also about the powerful digital interlopers. For the blogosphere and the news aggregators that dominate cyberspace are completely reliant--completely parasitic--on the very institutions they are driving to bankruptcy. As my cursory summary of an afternoon's content at The Huffington Post showed, the site is thoroughly dependent on the reporting that Huffington has spent three decades bashing. Fire up the site on your computer some evening, and see how many of its main stories are from The New York Times or The Washington Post.
They frequently append their own inflammatory headlines to articles from other sources that are much more measured in their content. And then there is their unfortunate habit of giving addle-brained celebrities a forum in which to share their opinions with the veneer of seriousness, promoting the idea that fame somehow equates with intelligence or expertise. (But then, I've already talked about that, haven't I?)

On that note, we segue into the recent Newsweek article about Oprah. Suffice it to say that the venue she provides for all manner of celebrity crack-pottery and pseudo-scientific hoo-ha is genuinely frightening.
Her viewers follow her guidance because they like and admire her, sure. But also because they believe that Oprah, with her billions and her Rolodex of experts, doesn't have to settle for second best. If she says something is good, it must be.

This is where things get tricky. Because the truth is, some of what Oprah promotes isn't good, and a lot of the advice her guests dispense on the show is just bad. The Suzanne Somers episode wasn't an oddball occurrence. This kind of thing happens again and again on Oprah. Some of the many experts who cross her stage offer interesting and useful information (props to you, Dr. Oz). Others gush nonsense. Oprah, who holds up her guests as prophets, can't seem to tell the difference. She has the power to summon the most learned authorities on any subject; who would refuse her? Instead, all too often Oprah winds up putting herself and her trusting audience in the hands of celebrity authors and pop-science artists pitching wonder cures and miracle treatments that are questionable or flat-out wrong, and sometimes dangerous.

And don't get me started on her professional relationship with that lunatic Jenny McCarthy.

Both of these women claim to improve the world, but the truth is far more ambiguous. Both are good at promoting themselves, and I don't begrudge them their success. But both deserve far more skepticism and scrutiny, particularly Chicago's Matriarch of Daytime Wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I accept the point about Oprah, but on the other hand I may actually be in favor of her book club thingo. She doesn't condescend to women; she just says, these are some really great books (and most of her choices are), here they are, you can read them. You are up to the task. I kind of like that.