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Tube Tied: Oh, Oprah.

Today, Oprah will be airing an interview with Mackenzie Phillips.  Who is that, you say?  She is a former child actress who also, coincidentally, happens to be one of the many children of the late John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas.  Like most former child actresses, her personal life has been a slow-moving disaster of epic proportions - just last year, at 48, she was busted for cocaine possessionAt an airport.  This being more or less par for the course in former child actress terms, one might wonder why she is getting the entire hour of Oprah to herself.  Wonder no more; E!Online is reporting that Phillips will reveal that she was raped by her father at 19.  Phillips also calls the relationship "consensual" at some point, which Anna North at Jezebel neatly deconstructs here.

I'm not so much interested in the horrific details of what happened to Phillips, personally - I wish her excellent therapy and hopefully some peace since justice for these things isjust a word and not a realistically attainable goal.  But I am filled with seething anger that these traumatic events are being turned into yet another ratings/YouTube bonanza for Oprah.  Oprah thrives on this stuff, of course, even though nowadays her show lies somewhere in a no-woman's land between 20/20 and infomercials.  It's the big confessional interviews, though, that are her particular specialty.  She just got done with that huge Whitney Houston bonanza, and is currently "interested in" Jaycee Dugard (cringe).  She gets them because she's Oprah and she milks them because she's Oprah and good goddamn it annoys me.

Female opinion is extremely polarized when it comes to Oprah - and I don't simply mean that it's all a stay-at-home moms vs. professional working women debate.  I know more than a few high-powered female executives who adore Oprah, and watch it on DVR late at night.  I know quite a few homebodies who hate her.  And yes I know that she does really weirdly contradictory things like build well-intentioned (if unsuccessful) schools in Africa and then give people cars they probably don't need for no apparent reason.  I am aware that some people have gone so far as to call her feminist and I am not looking to revoke anyone's card.  I am, above all, aware of the trap one falls into of holding professional women - and particularly black professional women - to standards no human being could possibly keep to, and begrudge them success when the conduct of white men in similar positions goes unattacked.  After all, Oprah is not the single-handed architect of this exploitation culture of ours.  She's just probably the most visible one, and the easiest target as a result.

But man does it grate when she tries to present these interviews, particularly of victims of horrific crimes, as exercises in empathy and consciousness-building.  First of all, it seems to me that anyone with half a conscience ought to be giving money to Jaycee Dugard simply so she won't resort to an interview to build some kind of financial foundation for herself and her children - and I say that only half-facetiously.  I don't know how cathartic it will ultimately be for Mackenzie Phillips to do a couple of interviews about this in the public eye, maybe sell some books, and then be just as quickly forgotten.  So I think we can more or less dismiss these interviews as having anything to do with comforting the subjects.

As for awareness-building, here's the thing.  I am suspicious generally of any contention that awareness is lacking about the existence of sexual violence.  People know it happens.  They do.  They may not think it will happen to someone close to them, sure - but this is not a situation that can be remedied by watching relative strangers confess all over their flatscreen television.  Nor will it be remedied by reducing sexual violence to individual lived experiences, which we can think of as blips on the radar, faulty cogs in an overall well-functioning machine.   In other words, activism is not a mere matter of awareness of individual circumstance. It requires awareness of a system - here, the patriarchy, which encourages the objectification of sexual desire to the extent that children and women particularly become mere sexual playthings to those who have bought the patriarchal line.  Activism also requires a lived, breathed, everyday commitment to undermining that system, and that's not with Oprah wants from you.  In fact, if anything, it seems to me that watching an Oprah interview about someone's experience of sexual abuse creates the comforting feeling of caring about the subject, of being invested in it with none of the commitment to action that changing things would require.  Changing things is dangerous, and it cannot be done in your living room, and you cannot be sure of its success.  Action lacks the instant self-congratulation of empathy.

Of course, Oprah doesn't seem to want you to change things.  She wants you to reach for the tissues, and she wants you to feel sorry for her guests.  And then, most of all?  She wants you to tune in tomorrow.

Photo by Alan Light @ Flickr via a Creative Commons License.

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Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

In addition to her

In addition to her exploitation of victims of violence, I really have a problem with her giving a platform to the crazies, liars and uninformed. It's irresponsible to allow someone like Jenny McCarthy to tell people that vaccines cause autism and are dangerous for children. You know what else is dangerous? Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Jenny McCarthy is not a doctor, and although she is entitled to her opinion, she should not be given a platform to espouse this opinion as if it were medical fact.
Then there's the James Frey controversy. Oprah relied on the publishers assurance that the "memoir" was true, although there had already been whisperings that the book was far from fact. Surely someone on Oprah's staff could have done a little fact checking before shining the national spotlight on him.
And yet, she continues to have these kinds of people on her show. I think you summed it up quite nicely- because we keep tuning in tomorrow.

I'm glad the only

I'm glad the only declarations that can be made on public television are medical facts. There are a million different ways to deem anything as fact, depending on who's speaking. I didn't even know that Jenny McCarthy went on Oprah, because I don't watch it. However, I do know that most people consider what they view personally as fact. McCarthy observed something she thought to be fact. See and believe-- a damning or saving practice? Who knows?

My fact: Oprah loves a good drama, whether based in "fact" or fiction.

OT, but in line with Monty

OT, but in line with Monty down there...

[The rant] Consider me a crazy & uninformed person who agrees with a liar, then. I found out that my kids' pediatrician was presenting inaccurate facts (AKA bold-faced lies) as "medical facts" in the office, where I trusted to receive the truth. I paid for this by suffering the shaming of "you don't feed them meat? Why they'll die, it's proven..." and "vaccines ARE necessary! They'll at least get very sick, if not die, without them." Right. I'd love for that ped to meet the one we've had for eight years since, who won't give vaxes without proper medical information, including true effectiveness rates. This same ped trusts me as a mother and appreciates that I ask questions and expect anything but pat answers.

Funny how some doctors have no problem shaming women. It's easy: just "hit 'em where it hurts: insult their [collective] ability to raise a human being." And blammo! We all sit pretty, do as they say and never raise a stink. That's dangerous turf, especially with chronic illness, whether it's with our kids' bodies or own own. Telling the truth is a professional obligation and receiving it is a patient's right.

Without media (as over-the-top as it can be), many of us wouldn't have researched and then questioned these "absolute truths" we heard from paid professionals.

Sometimes the squeaky wheel of Jenny McCarthy, or MacKenzie Phillips, or whomever, greases our own. While I agree that Oprah could at the very least mention site links for help or cover what is considered standard therapy/treatment for many of her guests with health issues, her ego seems to always get in the way. I don't believe for a minute that she does more harm than good, though. Garnering ratings is her job, as is bringing up issues and topics some viewers might otherwise have never contemplated.

My view on Oprah as a person has changed after pondering this piece for a few days.

Most Of Us Are Human

Mackenzie Philips has one heck of a life story to share that many of us who struggle with P.T.S.D. can take glean something helpful from. Many times I concur with Oprah and sometimes I don't. Sometimes the show seems a little exploitive and many tomes Oprah is being very generous, helping people, and shedding light on things that need it. Other times she seems kind of preachy to me. I feel grateful to Oprah in that I think her endorsement of Barack (and Michele) helped us avoid having McCain/Palin in office. Sometimes I watch and sometimes I don't, but most of the women I know love watching her. (and Ellen, and Wendy Williams). I love the photo by Alan Light of Oprah yhat you included as well the subjects you covered in this post. Oprah, to me, is a study in female power. I do concur that just sitting in the living room won't solve problems like rendering the psychological and life assistance battered women need. Yes, she is a successful business woman who wants us to keep tuning in. Many of us probably will.

Is it wrong?

Is it wrong or unfair that I hold Oprah to the standard that, as an abuse survivor herself, she could perhaps stop exploiting the trauma of others? All her other labels aside, I'm pretty sure the most egregious of her hungers for ratings is using women with whom she shares the scars of sexual abuse.

Michelle Phillips

It seem Michelle Phillips agrees with you, if this article has any validity: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/celebrities/index.ssf/2009/09/michelle_p...

Excellent post, btw. There's a lot to think about - what is our own role in perpetuating the exploitation culture, for starters. Thanks for saying this.

why is oprah making you angry?

I don't think Mackenzie Phillips' testimony on television is exploitative in the least. She consented to the televised interview knowing and willing, no?

What if Oprah sees validity in mass amounts of people hearing horrifying stories of incest and sexual abuse? Maybe it is important and she thinks she can break through to people via television. A lot of people get their education and exposure to issues through their television set. Why are people jumping down Oprah's throat for allowing a woman to talk publicly about her sexual abuse? I don't get it...

On a side note...
A formerly fat, black woman with a small time Chicago talk show is now one of the richest women in the world. How fucking awesome is that?

It is awesome. Thank you for

It is awesome. Thank you for the reminder. I dont see how its exploitive at all. Mackenzie seems to think that its healing for her. Shouldn't the adult in question be the one to determine if they are being exploited or not?

another thing...

Also...

Oprah does want you to feel sorry for some of her guests. It is okay to feel sorry for people who have endured sexual abuse.

"Changing things is dangerous, and it cannot be done in your living room, and you cannot be sure of its success."

Change CAN be done in your living room. What if someone was watching Oprah and decided to speak out on sexual abuse BECAUSE they saw this specific interview. I know it is cool to talk shit on the television set and make fun of women sitting at home watching Oprah in the middle of the day etc but do you know how many women do that? MILLIONS!!! These days I don't know how a televised testimony of sexual abuse couldn't be seen as a form of activism.

"Action lacks the instant

"Action lacks the instant self-congratulation of empathy." Seriously.

I don't like or admire the fact that she interviews individuals instead of shedding light on sexual abuse as a whole. I haven't seen the show yet (or has it not yet been broadcasted?), so I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I think it's a safe bet that she won't be giving any stats about sexual abuse, or talking about any organizations that viewers can join. If it were presented in a way that encouraged viewers to think and talk about this problem, or better yet ACT to help victims, then I would support it. But that isn't exactly Oprah's style, sadly.

http://rebelgirlisat.blogspot.com/