The Cult of Personality

FMy mother-in-law despised Martha Stewart, although I never really knew why. Probably something to do with a disagreement over the proper use of little forks. I, on the other hand, don’t care for Oprah Winfrey. I can get past the creative collective that is the Martha Stewart brand, because I can always use clever hints to help me stay at the top of my womanly game. Housekeeping, gardening, home decorating, entertaining, pet care, arts and crafts with found objects, and recipes for foods I can explain to guests; she tells us how to do it all. If I were insecure her spectacular array of skills might make me feel like a failure as a keeper of home and hearth. Instead, I look to Martha for the inspirational guidance that is preparing me for the day I too have servants.

Americans are fascinated by narcissists. We either hate them, mock them, or emulate them. Stephen Colbert is a narcisstic caricature, an egomaniac with titanium balls, who entertains. Bill O’Reilly’s inflated self-worth has made him an arrogant bully. Martha Stewart is a confident and apparently savvy entrepreneur with a fairly benign influence.

Then there’s Oprah. Her ego is as alarming in its breadth as in its effect on others. I think its very mass may even pose a threat to our tidal system. Oprah has taken self-promotion to an outrageous level. Where Martha sells the promise of perfection (and the products to get you there), Oprah sells her thoughts and opinions. Those are the products she hawks to the public. Where people of influence like Martha Stewart and Stephen Colbert have fans, Oprah has followers. If she tells her adoring minions to read this, hate that, eat something else, they’ll hop to as if God had spoken to them. And pity the unfortunate being who pisses her off. She can destroy you.

Rather than being repulsive, Oprah’s confidence seems as infectious as the common cold. How else to explain that she has become the Queen Confessor? Celebrities are granted televised sessions with her and pray they are found worthy. (I’m actually a bit disappointed with Colbert for accepting her permission for an interview).

Take Lance Armstrong. (He now comes in pill form!) His unflagging and very public denial of doping wasn’t worth the attention given it. His final admission of doping was as immaterial as Elton John telling the world he’s gay. Why the need to be interviewed by Oprah? Was finally manning up (or giving up) to announce, through the Oracle of Oprah, that he had lied (something everyone already knew), the act of penance that would absolve him of past deception?

There was a time when celebrities and politicians with Announcements, would only talk to Barbara Walters or another respected journalist. When a talk show host can become the Great and Powerful O, it’s time to tune out.

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