26 Nov 2010

Lay Off Oprah: We've Probably Always Sucked

Tonight, the images of the pandemonium that is Black Friday are rolling in on the news. For the sophisticates out there who do not know what Black Friday is (in other words, you European readers), Black Friday is the day after US Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday shopping season. It is celebrated with big discounts and sales at nearly every retail location in the States, but most notably at department stores like the anus of America, Wal-Mart. The sales promise to be so good that people actually camp outside the stores in order to be among the first stampeders to get through the door. The name supposedly either reflects how jammed the sidewalks are (that they become a blur of black) or that stores which might have been losing revenues finally get "into the black" from sales from this day alone. In other words, Black Friday is America's Ode to Consumption.

That is, if you don't believe that Oprah's "Favourite Things" Show has already secured that title.

Very recently, Oprah did an unprecedented two "Favourite Things" shows. Europeans, I will translate again: Every holiday season, Oprah, She Who Sets The Lady Agenda, showcases products that are her "favourites" from the year, and everyone in the audience gets them. It is a major, major, major coup to be in the audience for that show, as the haul is totally phenomenal (Random Oprah Fact: Medics are actually in the aisles in case their assistance is needed). As a billionaire with EVERYTHING available to her, you can kind of expect that her favourite things are a tad different than, say, mine. "Everyone in the audience is getting DISCOUNTED VODKA, a DVD copy of GIDGET and a case of CHEF BOYARDEE MINI RAVIOLI!!!!"

Even if you do not watch Oprah regularly (and I count myself among that smug group), the Favourite Things show is a must-watch, if only for the study of hilarious, unbridled human behaviour. It is the show that animated gifs are made of. Take a look:

I am of three minds while watching these episodes:

  1. I am embarrassed for us, as humans, and our lose-our-shit ways when it comes to free or cheap stuff. We are a gross species who would be so much better as a whole without this rampant lust for material goods and mindless consumerism.
  2. I am eager and willing to make fun of this spectacle on a purely visual level, sans social commentary. So. Much. Material.
  3. I am just plain giddy while watching this.
To your disappointment, this post is mainly about #3. While there were certainly moments that I shook my head over the absurdity of it all (screaming over that herb saver? C'mon, now. I have that and it's not that great) and certainly rewound my PVR to cackle at the reaction of the gays men in the audience, I have to make this confession:

My hair stands up when I watch Oprah's "Favourite Things."

Despite myself and my misgivings about the drooling materialism that these shows represent, my hair stood up to the point that my arms looked like anorexic porcupines throughout both episodes. If you've been a regular reader of this blog, you've got to know that as a part-Spaniard (who is therefore "blessed" with thick hair ... everywhere), the raising of the hair on my body is a feat against gravity and physics. If my calculations of hair weight vs. gravitational pull are accurate (AND THEY ARE) it shouldn't ever happen. And yet, watching people get free stuff produced a bodily effect that defied science.

As much as I laugh at the crying, heaving, convulsing people in that audience - all of whom, by the way, were chosen because they give of themselves nearly everyday (more than I or you can probably say) - I have to admit that if *I* were there, I would also be a screaming lunatic. Diamond earrings! iPad! Car! Cashmere! Brownie pan! Cruise! Netflix! Oh, yes, please. But it's not *just* that I'd be getting all that stuff, it's because everyone else is also *soooo* excited, and the energy builds with every holla' by Bellowing Oprah™. Plus, I'm sort of a mirror personality who has a tendency to absorb and reflect the feelings of those around me. This is especially embarrassing while watching bad TV - if someone on the screen is dejected (and it doesn't matter if it's Meryl Streep or Snooki), and you turn and look at me, I'll be unwittingly making a sad clown face that reflects whatever is going on with the character of the show. Humiliating.

[/off-topic tangent]

Anyway, jealous people are very quick to shit on Oprah over this show and its promotion of consumerism / materialism / greed. I frankly don't think this show really makes that much of an impact in that matter - if anything, it just reveals our pathetic true selves. Black Friday craziness (which I don't personally participate in) would happen with or without Oprah. The enthusiasm for STUFF runs deep within us. In other words, I am here to tell you that Oprah didn't start the fire. It was always burnin' since the world was turnin'.

Before I was working from home doing the freelance thing, I worked at PR and marketing agencies - neither of which should ever be considered glamourous gigs (one day, I will relay some of the more humiliating and disturbing stories from agency life). It often meant being among the people at trade shows or industry events and shelling out crap - the free'er the better! It didn't matter if it was grainy soy milk or a not-a-company-you'd-care-about branded keychain or what turned out to be the holy grail of swag - a pen that was also a laser pointer - people WANTED IT. I'd witness grown adults act like complete idiots to get their hands on said random objects - and behave even worse in order to get more than one. People pushed, people shoved, people filled their pockets like pen-hungry hobos, people lied ("uh, I'm just getting a couple for my friends who are in the washroom," said the loner) - all to get this bullshit thing that they didn't even know they wanted before attending this marketing function.


That, sadly, is the DNA of our species. We suck and have ever since someone dangled a free apple in front of our faces in the garden of Eden.

We don't have to be that way, but we certainly can't blame Oprah for it. At least Oprah's shows bring out joy (the kind that makes people forget they're on national TV and inspires them to do the Running Man in the aisles). But when you look at the faces of most of the people who are charging through the stores on Black Friday or scrambling to get free samples at trade shows, it's not joy that they're expressing. What's surging through their veins is often far darker - like feelings of entitlement, greed, and in some cases, murderous rage. Black Friday, indeed.

Image Sources: Oprah.com; TrendzInfo.com


Meg,  4:04 pm, November 27, 2010  

I shake my head at the Oprah haters. The woman gives millions to charities, inspires others to give to charities, provides a forum for issues to get attention, and the one episode that she uses her clout to just gives out stuff to the audience, people crap on her. Give me a break.

Good comparison at the end between Favourite Things and Black Friday! It IS a total difference in attitude!

Meghan,  8:38 pm, November 27, 2010  

I honestly get disturbed every year over how much people in the audience lose their shit over this episode. It seems like every year it gets worse. Anyway, since you mention gifs, here's one for you, which also incorporates a new internet meme, BEES!!


I think the "black" in Black Friday refers to the heart of capitalism, hahaha.

Off topic, but you should check out some 'household management' and cook books from the 1910's and 20's; they separate meal planning based on whether or not you have "hired help".

Julianne Ward Lawrence 9:36 pm, November 27, 2010  

The woman irritates me (e.g. "The Beetles are com-iiiiiiing!!!"), but she does a lot of good. And to make people that happy - people who apparently truly deserve it - people who are so happy that they completely abandon all reserve and scream / cry / dance with glee in front of millions of people - can't help but make me goosebumpy too. I like a viral video that at least comes with a side of joy to round out the mockery.

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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