Forget apple pie! Nothing is as American as Oprah. For the past 24 years, Oprah Winfrey’s shows have sparked debate, enlightened minds, revealed the shocking, and soothed the hearts of millions of viewers throughout America. Her journey to overcome past abuse and seek personal, spiritual and financial fulfillment has transformed the lives of Americans. Since announcing the Oprah Winfrey daytime television show will end after its 25th season on September 9, 2011, many fans and viewers reflect on the role Oprah has played in their lives.
Oprah the Friend
When introducing her first Oprah’s Book Club pick in 1996, Oprah told her audience, “When I was growing up, books were my friends. When I didn’t have friends, I had books.” And for millions, Oprah became to viewers what a book became to Oprah: a friend. With her down-to-earth diction and candid commentary, Oprah has related to women from all walks of life. She validated the existence of all women whether married or single, mothers or not, rich or poor by bringing their stories to her stage.
But what made it a frienship was Oprah’s decision to share her life with her viewers. She openly talked about her own personal issues like past abuse, food addiction and depression. She didn’t look down on her guests from a pedestal, but sat and talked with women as peers. Oprah’s honesty helped create needed dialogue within communities that helped women relate to their family and community more honestly.
Oprah the Mom
Though Oprah refers to the students at her school in South Africa as her daughters, she has played that role for young women across the nation. For years, teenage girls arriving from school to empty houses would turn on Oprah and get the advice that many moms were too busy to offer: walk away from abusive relationships, eat right and exercise, create goals and never give up on them. She provided young adult women with a strong, reliable, female role model that wasn’t afraid to speak up, but also could admit error and apologize for her mistakes.
For women of all ages, Oprah’s stage has been a secure space for adults to reveal their innermost secrets from the bedroom to the boardroon. And like moms that don’t have all the answers, Oprah introduced young and mature women to doctors like Phil McGraw and Dr. Oz to help them explore physical and emotional problems facing many Americans. She gave them free advice, free therapy and mainly free love with no strings attached and unconditional.
Oprah the Teacher
The influence Oprah had in introducing America to the love of reading cannot be understated. Jane Friedman, former president and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide stated, “Oprah gave people permission to read. These were people who didn’t read before.” With over seventy book titles skyrocketing to the bestseller list after she picked them for her Book Club selection, millions of Americans picked up books ands started reading. That readership not only satisfied an American public previously detached from books, but it also helped bring much needed publicity and respect to writers and the literary community.
Aside from books, Oprah also opened America’s eyes to the world. Her segments on lifestyles across the globe gave ordinary Americans access to countries like Denmark, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, the Congo and countless others. She also explored hidden issues like poverty, abuse, and deception that are often overlooked but desperately important.
So as a friend, mom and teacher; Oprah has changed America. As viewers appreciate the years she has given, they can also look forward to the remaining months of her show and the launch of her cable network OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in January of 2011.