I’m old enough to remember Oprah’s daily show, broadcast (and filmed) in Chicago at 9:00 each weekday morning. Twice, I had the privilege of being in the audience (sadly, neither time did I get a car) and had several friends who made their way to a taping. Whether viewed in person, or at home, Oprah was the original appointment t.v.
Oprah’s show evolved from a local time slot-filler to international sensation within a few seasons. Why? Because everyone watched, yes. But it’s what we did after watching that became the true legacy of The Oprah Winfrey Show; we talked with others about what we saw.
For one hour each day, we saw the lives of people we never met, yet could identify with instantly. Guests had problems we had, too, but hadn’t admitted, sometime to ourselves.
We cried as we watched a young mother create video tapes in which she shared her lessons on life with her young daughter, as cancer would claim her before she got the chance to do it herself.
We were in awe of parents who had lost children to hideous circumstances, and yet found the strength to get up each morning.
We cheered at seeing Oprah’s Favorite Things, wondering how audience members would get their goodies home, and how bummed we were not to have been among them.
We stared in disbelief as Dr. Oz explained how our poop should be shaped liked an ‘s’.
We heard average people sharing their most intimate experiences, shameful behavior and deepest wounds, and saw ourselves.
In the seven years since The Oprah Winfrey Show ended, it seems we have lost our national water cooler.
The people we watched and stories we heard on the show provided not only a topic of discussion, but a bridge in connecting with others. If you found yourself in an airport, anywhere in the world, you needed only to mention Oprah and you had an instant conversation with someone you just met.
But it was more than that: You could reference what you saw on the show to share your story with others. Oprah made it OK to not be OK. Oprah allowed us to be perfectly imperfect, without judgment, only empathy for the struggle, just as her guests were.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, binge-watching has become a thing. In the dark-ages of the early 2010s, the only way to binge watch anything was to hope what you had programmed to tape actually did. We collectively watched season and series finales (from M*A*S*H to The Sopranos) and rushed to talk about them with friends and co-workers. Now, when we hear chatting about an episode, we are quick to admonish silence, insisting we had yet to watch it.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, we have evolved into watching and reading the news we like; in binary terms, you either watch MSNBC or FoxNews, and read either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. We no longer seek to be informed, rather, to gain evidence for our own position.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, Facebook has filled the void in ‘community’, “Friends in Click Only”, rather than live people with whom we have real friendships, nurtured by time spent in person, face to face, not facebook to facebook.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, our tolerance for ideas other than our own has evaporated. We can, literally, tune out what we don’t want to hear. Traveling in the car, train or plane, we listen to and watch what we want. How far we’ve come from the days of gathering ’round the home’s one t.v. set – agreeing on what to watch, no less. Without taking in what others like, we have less and less understanding of those with preferences different from our own.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, 140 words has often replaced meaningful information. ‘Twitter Wars’ are now a thing, often over minor tifs that have more observers than warranted.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, the amount of followers, subscribers and likes bestows a level of excellence without regard to content, accuracy or meaning.
In the seven years since Oprah signed off, we stopped listening to what others think. If we do listen, we are quick to assign that opinion into one of two categories: correct or wrong. If wrong, then we announce we cannot support that person in anything they do or say, just because of that one opinion.
We’ve lost not only our national water cooler, but our bridge, our non-threatening, we-have-more-that-unites-us-than-divides-us, bridge, which allows us to engage in an essential aspect of the human experience. Belonging, feeling valued and being part of a circle of support is as important to the soul as food, clothing and shelter.
True, Oprah is still on air. Super Soul Sunday, OWN and the occasional ’60 Minutes’ segment can still delight. That said, I long for the days of starting a conversation with anyone by saying “Hey, did you see Oprah yesterday?”
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