A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The Oprah Revolution

An Icon of Self-Indulgent Morality

By Dr. Grace Vuoto

May 31, 2011

After 25 years on the airwaves, America’s richest and most influential talk-show personality has ended her popular daily show. On May 25, The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its last episode, amid much celebrity and media fanfare. For millions of her fans, this is a tearful goodbye, the end of an era. She will be next heading her own network, OWN. In the meantime, the Oprah Revolution is complete: America will have to deal with the consequences of her influence for decades to come.

Let us first give Oprah her due. This remarkable girl, born from a teenage, single mother in rural Mississippi, rose from poverty and abuse to become rich, powerful, successful and one of the most impactful cultural figures of the last two decades. Oprah Winfrey is not simply a celebrity: she is a social leader and philanthropist.

For millions, Oprah is a modern-day priestess: she sets the standard for how to think, how to live, what to read. She casts a spotlight on vital social issues such as pedophilia, anorexia, addiction, grief, illness, crime and family breakdown, to name a few. She has also interviewed the leading public figures of our time—conveying the gushing admiration of her fans when in the midst of entertainers and skepticism when grilling politicians. She gave both former President George W. Bush as well as President Barack Obama a platform —the latter being the only political figure she endorsed in her long career. In short, for over two decades, Oprah has had her finger on the pulse of the American public. To be on “Oprah” has meant to appear in the nation’s public square—an instant topic of conversation from coast to coast.

Oprah pioneered an intimate, confessional show and then transformed the genre once again to promote self-help, philanthropy and spirituality. She has been one of the few cultural figures to emphasize the importance of values such as caring for one’s neighbors, living with purpose, practicing gratitude and generosity on a daily basis—and having a spiritual view of one’s existence. Oprah invokes God, often and easily. She has soul. And for all these reasons, she is adored. Millions recognize that there is goodness and truth that emanates from this captivating lady.

Yet, this talented talk-show personality did not focus her career exclusively on highlighting social issues or self-help. Sadly, Oprah Winfrey is also one of the most destructive American cultural figures. Her goal has been to dismantle bourgeois Christian morality, which played a key role in making this nation strong, productive and great. The Oprah Winfrey Show systematically, deliberately and consistently sought to destroy four pillars of the Judeo-Christian ethos.

Foremost among these, the notion that a society ought to have taboos—topics that are not discussed, even though there is free speech, because by addressing them, the behaviors become invariably accepted and widespread. Oprah sought to break taboos on sexual matters, thus spearheading and accelerating the sexual revolution. She gave gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered Americans a regular platform—and acceptance. The implicit message of the show was that Americans should not judge others for their sexual practices—regardless of what these practices are. Oprah advanced the nation’s descent into perversity.

In addition, Oprah showcased the victim. The show destroyed the Anglo-American concept of the “stiff upper lip”—that is, the idea that pain has to be borne with grace and dignity. For centuries, based on the Judeo-Christian teaching that suffering is an inescapable part of life, the youth was taught to bear pain in a stoic manner. Oprah changed this, leading to the era of public displays of emotion—highlighted by her own often tearful breakdowns. The Oprah Winfrey Show led to the notion that displaying emotion in public and being introspective is “healthy.” This supplanted the notion that bearing pain with stoicism and directing one’s energies outwardly is the surest path toward healing. Contemporary America has been “Oprahified”: cry, look inside, cry, and look inside—the ultimately pathetic focus on the self that leads to self-pity and paralysis. Confidence comes from crushing and overcoming inner pain, not wallowing in it.

Also, the Oprah Winfrey Show advanced the idea that true compassion consists of “not judging.” Thou Shalt Not Judge: The First Liberal Commandment was a hallmark of many episodes. Oprah Winfrey was ultimately the champion of a society full of moral equivocation: there are no moral absolutes on most social practices—except, of course on some, approved on-high by liberals. One of these, for example, is the issue of gun control. In this case Oprah clearly advocates for a no-tolerance policy. For the most part, The Oprah Winfrey Show turned the concept of compassion on its head: compassion was equated with no judgement. Instead, the traditional concept of compassion is to bring others towards a greater understanding of their divine nature, as taught in Scripture.

And last but not least, Oprah endorsed “spirituality” without organized religion or religious dogma. She was hailed by Christianity Today as an icon of “church-free spirituality.” The Victorian ethos was ultimately rooted in the daily rigor that comes from traditional religious worship. Without dogma or organization, Oprah’s brand of spirituality became another means of self-indulgence. Oprah’s style of living with purpose is therefore a mishmash of being socially-conscientious, sexually-liberated, introspective, morally-equivalent and spiritual but without regular church attendance. To compensate for the emptiness of this lifestyle, Oprah recommends daily gratitude and philanthropy. In other words, Oprah makes it up as she goes along.

This modern-day priestess is one confused mess in her personal life—as she herself has admitted on many occasions. She has had numerous abusive relationships with men, once contemplated suicide, engaged in drug use and has struggled with low self-esteem and body image. She has had a live-in-lover for decades, Stedman Graham, whom she once was engaged to marry but whose relationship continues to be turbulent. And that is why she is frequently in tears; she is crying for herself as much as for the victims she interviews. In fact, she has said that her show has been a means of therapy for herself.

In short, Oprah Winfrey helped smash the Judeo-Christian ethos that once sustained this nation—without being able to erect a suitable replacement. She holds a place in our society once reserved for moral leaders who were wise, learned and paragons of virtue. Yet, she is neither wise, nor learned or exceptionally virtuous. Oprah’s America is therefore now as confused and incoherent as she is.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal. She can be reached at gvuoto@edmundburkeinstitute.org.