Skip to main content

Smirking Chimp - April 19, 2020

Oprah Winfrey has never been my favorite person. I've differed with some very good friends who really thought the world of her. I never did. Whatever elements went into building my judgment of people made her come off as a distinct phony, a raging egomaniac, and just another media-spawned hustler, celebrated mostly for being celebrated, a celebrity we seemed to have no choice but to celebrate. And make wealthier beyond the imaginings of the kings and queens of yore. I guess the majority of people didn't see her quite the way I did because she made billions, assumed sainthood status among a wide range of people, with liberals and women being her base. Lotsa racists liked her, too, because they could so easily like her. She allowed them to tell themselves they weren't racists cuz they loved Oprah, so how could they be?

My dislike for her didn't prevent me from seeing that she did do many good things. Her philanthropy has been widely noted, her support for struggling schools in poor places around the planet has done incalculable good for a great many people. She's lent support to a range of people and causes clearly worthy of that support. She's tapped into and expanded an interest in reading, and she gave a lot of publicity to books that might not otherwise have been read.

But she's left a legacy of slimy con men in her wake, most notably as of this week when the execrable Dr. Phil and the equally godawful Dr. Oz turned up among those pushing the "let us out" bullshit being spread by Trumpsters. Phil and Oz are just two of the con men launched into the land of big bucks because Oprah put her stamp of approval on their shabby little array of goods. Dr. Phil had that same veneer of phoniness I sensed coming off of Oprah herself when I first was learning of her presence on the planet more than three decades ago. These are the sort of people once referred to as "suede shoe" hustlers, a phrase that managed to convey the warm and fuzzy way they pretended to give a shit about the marks they were about to exploit. Dr. Phil had that Methodist-Minister-on-Sunday-Morning unctuousness that already put me off when I was kid and guys like him were tousling my hair as a means of sucking up to my mom and/or dad. It amazes me still that Dr. Phil ever attracted a following, so thin was his bullshit, so shabby his goods, so ersatz his counsel, so transparent his hustle.

But he made a bundle with his oozy schmooz and last week he turned up on Fox "News" as one of that brigade of bunco artists who were leading the obviously orchestrated effort to get us all out of our houses and back in the work force, even if it killed lots of us. Dr. Phil wanted to compare the threat of death by coronavirus to the chances we might die in a swimming pool accident. Beyond stupid, that, but consistent with much of the soggy nostrums about healing and other soft-focus pap that brought him so much fame and fortune, thanks to Oprah. Imagine a Friday night where Oprah and Dr. Phil and some of the other people who got pumped out by Oprah's fame factory all gathered to exchange smiles and blow smoke up each other's asses. A party from hell, at least by my lights, with Dr. Oz in attendance should there be a medical emergency. And god help you if you were that medical emergency and Dr. Oz stepped up to save yo' ass.

Both of these charlatans were prominent in last week's "Get Out the Dipshits" efforts that prompted Trump's Deplorables to show up to protest the actions taken by Democratic Party governors in some key states like Michigan, Virginia, and Minnesota. Lots of those people turned out in response to efforts by Operation Gridlock, an outfit dedicated to gumming up the works underwritten by Betsy de Vos, Secretary of Education to people who don't much like or favor education, leaving those of us who do support education feeling no small bit threatened, especially those of us who think public schools are foundational to democracy.

Dr. Phil actually looked like a fuckin' nut during his Fox appearance, ranting and raving about how inconsequential the virus was compared to the economy. In the annals of schmuckdom, he earned a high rank with that effort. And Dr. Oz did, too. Physicians, heal thyselves.

And as for Oprah, here's part of my dossier on her.

  1. When she gave away all those cars to the members of her studio audience ("you get a car, you get a car, you get a car") she left everyone with the impression that those cars were personal gifts from her dear ol' self. They weren't. That was Chrysler.
  2. She started a magazine with her name on it, aimed at all the nice privileged ladies of the world and put her own picture on the cover of every single issue. Who does that? Trump, maybe. I can't think of many others with the chutzpah or the ego or the bad taste.
  3. How tiresome her never-ending albeit epic battles with weight have been. And how central to that range of issues that really matter to humanity as a whole.
  4. She gave us that craven little asshole James Frey, who wrote A Million Little Pieces, a best seller back in the days when writers were killing their mothers to get their books selected for Oprah's book club. A Million Little Pieces was a book I read because of the attention she created for it when I was newly sober. When I read it, I thought, "this is bullshit," especially that bit about how he underwent deep dental work without anesthetic. Effectively written, but bullshit, nonetheless. And then, when she allowed the writer to come back on her show after his bullshit was exposed, his fawning over her and his contrition were enough to gag even bootlicking sycophants like Mike Pence. And she ate that shit up.
  5. The Steadman story. Celebrity culture perpetuated. The private islands and grand homes all over the world. The comment she made to Mike Wallace when he asked her when she would have to leave to catch a flight: "It leaves when I get there." The extraordinary sense of entitlement she seemed to think was only her due, as when she boasted about how Marshall Fields would open that huge Chicago department store for her alone (or the minions hired to haul her purchases for her). Her completely outsized ego. Her uncritical embrace of Michael Jackson, pedophile.

Isn't it odd, oddly consistent, and easy to assemble a dossier when the unifying element is great wealth, privilege, power, ego, and narcissism-on-steroids? Depending on the path you take, the distance from a guy like Trump and a woman like Oprah sometimes isn't always all that long. Sure, Oprah's done vastly more good in the world than Trump, and she's surely paid more taxes, though she's probably been richer than Trump for much of the last four decades or so. But some of the personality traits sure are similar, aren't they? And doesn't it tell us something about what happens to some of those people who claw their way to the top of the pile, and then think far too much of themselves for having done it.

Judging a culture by the people it celebrates, what must judges like Judy or Jeanine Piro think of a culture that celebrates so many people like themselves, or like Oprah, Trump, Howard Stern, Harvey Weinstein, Rush Limbaugh, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Bennett, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Mitch McConnell, Jamie Dimond, Bill O'Reilly, or so many other celebrities so overstuffed with the sense of their own wonderfulness and privilege.

You know how we've been told that we are what we eat? Well, we are what we celebrate, too. And when it comes to that, we're celebrating a lot of shit we're fed. After the pandemic, maybe we could do a bit better and not do that so much.