I wrote a 15 Great Oprah Moments piece for work – but here are MY favourite moments. Now, I don’t particularly like her (though I don’t really dislike her either) – but there’s no denying what she’s done for women in the industry. With the final ever episode airing in the States today (here in South Africa we’ll probably get the final episode in about 5 years time!) I decided to take a look back at some of the many, many moments that made Oprah Winfrey an icon.
America’s most racist town: In 1987, Oprah travelled out of her studio to Forsyth County in Georgia, where white residents had made it known for years that black people were not welcome. One man, Dennis, said he was “afraid” of blacks coming to the county. He also used the word “nigger” repeatedly as he spoke to her. Oprah was hailed for remaining calm at the meeting and not being drawn into responding. Years later, the man contacted Oprah – saying he was “the bearded man” from Forsyth – and told her that he no longer uses the word. Defending his use of it, however, Dennis said, “I spoke from what I had lived and that’s all anybody can do.”
The Wagon of Fat: Oprah’s struggle with her weight has been famously documented. In 1988, Oprah tried “Optifast” – a fasting and supplement programme – which she thought would be her “final answer” to her diet battle. For four months she didn’t eat a single morsel of food – and dropped around 30kg to just under 66kg. She squeezed into a pair of tight jeans, pulling a wagon full of fat – representing the weight she had lost – onto the stage. However, two weeks after starting to eat real food again, she had picked up almost 5kg again. How she didn’t realise that the weight was going to spring straight back is beyond me – but I suppose it was the 1980s and dieting pretty much equalled starvation at that point.
An eye-opening experiment: I love this idea so, so much. I would have loved to have been there. In 1992, Oprah set up an experiment with diversity expert Jane Elliot to prove the power of discrimination. When the audience arrived for the taping, they were separated into two groups based on their eye-colour – although they weren’t told why they were split. The blue-eyed people were pulled out of line, told to put on green collars and were treated badly by show staff. The brown-eyed people were asked to step to the front of the line, given coffee and doughnuts and treated respectfully. The segregated audience was then told that brown-eyed people were smarter. The blue-eyed people were visibly upset at being discriminated against, while the brown-eyed people became smug and bought into the idea that they were superior. The idea behind the experiment – to prove how arbitrary judgements based on skin colour are, and how susceptible we are to prejudice and misinformation.
More after the jump…