PLEASE STEAL THIS "O"
by Rip Rense
There is a fine book by the great James Thurber called "The Wonderful O." It is a children's story, but is whimsical enough for anyone to enjoy. It's about, if memory serves, a pirate who steals the letter "O" from the English alphabet. Humanity is then forced to go through life without "o's."( In ther wrds, humanity is frced t g thrugh life withut "'s.") A lady named Ophelia Oliver hides in shame. You get the idea.
Every time I hear about that new "O" Magazine -- "The Oprah Magazine" -- I think of Thurber's book. I think about how, if that pirate were around today, the magazine would be called "P -- The Prah Magazine."
Which is to explain that Oprah Winfrey is really ruining the letter "O" for me. It's such a warm, round, inviting sound, "O." It's such a redoubtable, bulwark letter, and an exclamation of impressive versatility (surprise, wonder, anger, joy, despair, ecstasy, constipation). Now, it also signifies ... Oprah.
L-M-N-Oprah-P ... Every time I hear someone say, "Oh, gee" and "Oh, darn it," "Oh, f -- !" and "Oh, Canada," I now think Oprah. Oh, what a beautiful morning ... Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam ... Oh, say can you see -- they'll never be the same again. The Beatles' "Oh, Darling." "Oprah Henry -- I mean, O Henry candy bars. Ruined! The name, Yoko Ono, drives me mad.
Next thing you know, Oprah will be a dictionary entry. An adjective, probably. What an Oprah dress you have on! The weather is Oprah today! That's a very Oprah book you have there (Gad -- that actually makes sense. Forgot about "Oprah's Book Club.") This linguine is pure Oprah!
I'm O-verdosing. I'm O-besessed.
You can't blame me. Oprah Winfrey is O-mnipresent. She's a TV show! She's a magazine! She's a movie star! She's a leader of women! She's a book critic! She's a matador! She's a leading geneticist! She's a miracle stain-remover! She's heir to the throne of England! It's an Oprah Oligarchy!
Oh, excuse me. I'm getting O-bstreperous. (Sorry, I should have said, "Oh-prah, excuse me.") Webster's ought to rewrite the word as Oprah-tunism. I am now fully expecting to go to the store and find Oprah Flakes, Oprah Frozen "Live Your Best Life!" Dinners, and Oprah Potato Cuties. Somebody ought to write an Oprah opera. This isn't a woman, this is an infection.
O-oops, sorry, I'm getting O-ffensive again.
Not a bad marketing strategy, though! Name a magazine for a sound that people utter thousands of times a day, in every language -- and all over the world, you get plenty of free advertising. Someone drops a dish, yells, "Oh, s---!" and it's a commercial! Even in the bedroom, women are singing the praises of "O" Magazine, whether they know it or not ... (And, of course, oodles of women's magazines refer to the you-know-what as "the big O!")
Well, I was finally O-verwhelmed. I gave up, went O-nline and looked at "O, The Oprah Magazine." (Congratulate me -- at least I didn't go out and buy it.) I couldn't resist. I'd been hypnOtized.
There she was, in her coiffured and airbrushed glory -- OPRAH! Right on the cover. And just in case you still aren't sure who runs the magazine, there are more big, glamorous poses of Orpah inside (windswept, hand on hip; elegant, hands resting in front of her) -- always with that smile that makes you think ... no one should be this happy. But Oprah should, by golly! After all, as a friend of mine put it:
"There is something wonderful and terrifying about a country where a person like this can become richer than the entire nation of India and more influential than any six books of the New Testament."
When I read O's "Welcome to O" statement (written, incidentally, by Oprah), I was nearly O-vercome. It's sexist! No testicle-bearing creatures allowed! (Of course, "man" doesn't have an "o" in it, like "woman.") "O," proclaims Oprah, "is the (she bold-faced "the") women's personal-growth guide for the new century."
Wow. And here I thought it was just a magazine.
Later in her O-pening statement, Oprah says, O "will give confident, smart women the tools they need to explore and reach for their dreams, to express their individual style, and to make choices that will lead to a happier life."
Oh my! But doesn't that kind of uh, leave out all the ladies who aren't "confident" or "smart"? Well, never-you-mind, Girlfriend! We reachin' for our dreams! Leave the dummies behind!
O was O-verloaded with Oprah-speak, of course -- from "dream big" to "make choices," "express ... individual style," "passion," and "transform." You know, all that cliched buzz-psych-O-babble that sounds pretty, and is about as useful as a bra on a "supermodel." But then, Oprah without all this touchy-feely, feel-good-narcissism is like Dennis Rodman without tattoos, Madonna without sex, Richard Simmons without his striped shorts, George W. Bush without his name. Oprah's favorite song is "me-me-me-me." This is psychological O-nanism.
To be fair (oh, sure), let's O-bserve the expressed purpose -- the mission statement -- of O. Near as I can tell, this is it, as Oprah explains on her "features" page:
"O is about helping you become more of who you are."
Er ... I thought Oprah wanted to become less of what she is. I mean, she diets, she runs the Marine marathon, but still complains on her show about her "boobs" being a D-cup. ...
"Our articles and experts will challenge you," Oprah continues, "to peel back the layers and excavate the real you."
Girlfriend, that sound pos-O-tively gruesome! (An' you best keep those layers ON, honey.) Why, next thing you know, magazines will be performing heart transplants!
And Oh, there's more:
"This is the defining question of my life: How do you use your life to best serve yourself and extend that to the world?"
Uh, let's see ... name a magazine after yourself, and um, extend it to the world at $2.95 an issue? Oh my. Oh boy. Oh hell. Oh gee. There I g-O again. Let me try to be less prOvOcative.
Who, really, can argue with the kind of peppy cheerleading that's on the front cover: "LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE!" Yes, it's a little O-bvious. It would seem to summarize exactly what every human being, dog, O-celot, O-ppossum, O-rangutan, and O-riole are trying to do, anyway, right? To paraphrase Oprah, we're all just trying to get with the biological program. It's like writing "BE" on the cover.
Still, in the interests of O-bjectivity, I looked O-ver some more of O. There was a page of "Illuminations" from fabulously wealthy Oprah's fabulously wealthy pop-guru-pal, Marianne Williamson, which included this: "Wisdom is like marinade. First you take what a book said, or what a teacher said, and then you mix it with your own ideas. Then you add experience and pour in a few buckets of tears. Add memories of lost love, a pinch of personal humiliation and a teaspoon of deep regrets. Add to that a cup of courage. Leave it to soak for a few years and -- voila! -- darn it if you have not become wise."
Darn it if you have not become self-absorbed and narcissistic.
There was also a big profile of some wOman who went from being a fashion model earning $1500 a day to O-perating a $25 million knick-knack business. Oprah loves these kinds of stories. She's forever having guests on her show who own multi-million-dollar businesses. Maybe this is what she means by "helping you become more of what you are." More greedy.
Oh, and Oprah interviewed Camille Cosby. I started reading the piece, but had to stop right away when Oprah said she used to have the "disease to please." I wasn't sure what this meant, but I was sure I didn't want to know, either.
O-verall, I am tempted to O-pine that O is one O-leaginous, O-pprobrious, and O-dious orgy of Oprah. But better, perhaps, to let this member of the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential Persons of the Century (gasp) have the last word here. It's the least I can do, having insulted the O-ffal out of her. In that "Become More of Who You Are," O-pening, Oprah writes:
"Over the years, the written word has inspired, challenged, and sustained me. I grew up with plaques on my wall and quotations on my mirrors. 'Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed' was one of them."
Good thing to keep in mind when you pick up an issue of "O."
(As you can see, I don't have the "disease to please" either, whatever it is.)
Oh, where is James Thurber's pirate when we really need him?
© 2002 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.