The worship of fame — and the pursuit of it by any means necessary — is the ultimate illustration of the ethos central to a consumer economy and society. Fame allows for even a person to become a brand, recognizable commodity and sellable product. Few Americans exercise the power of fame and consumption with greater strength and resonance than Oprah Winfrey.
Her career is complicated. The record-breaking daytime program was full of intelligent moments inspecting critical issues of human life, and for all of Winfrey’s flaws, she did convince millions of Americans to read Charles Dickens. She also offered sacramental rituals of materialism — lavishing rabid audiences with gifts, pitching products as vehicles of personal redemption and promoting engine coolant, like The Secret, as elixir.
The Oprah for President movement, recently birthed after her acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes last weekend, should have always seemed inevitable. Celebrities have become secular gods, and Oprah, for many years, was the kingmaker to celebrities. Her book endorsements created instant bestsellers, her products flew off the shelves, and whenever someone committed an act of indecency or impropriety, Oprah was the high priestess, and her studio the confessional booth, that the sinner would visit for absolution.
Oprah Winfrey is a more intelligent, impressive and generous person than Donald Trump can manage on his best day, but if there is a sustained demand for her candidacy, it will confirm two ugly suspicions of American life.
First, everything, including national politics, is ancillary to pop culture, creating the conditions for a frivolous people. Second, it is not only Republicans who are susceptible to nonsense. If one of the many objections to Donald Trump’s presidency is that he is a politically unqualified and inexperienced billionaire talk show host, it is rather inconsistent and unwise to support for his replacement a politically unqualified and inexperienced billionaire talk show host.