For most people under the age of 40, it’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t Oprah. She’s been a household name and an icon for the last few decades, a beacon of calm beaming out of televisions all over America. Considering her upbringing – a poor, sexually abused black girl who grew up in the newly desegregated south – it was remarkable that she became a part of the fabric of American life. Her grand personality and relentless messages of positivity and self-improvement allowed her to infiltrate American life from all angles.
Oprah Winfrey wasn’t the first person to host a talk show on television but she was responsible for revolutionizing the genre. She’s one of the few African-American billionaires worldwide. She’s one of the most influential woman in the planet, and here’s how she changed the world:
She has the “Oprah Effect.”
Oprah has been so legendary that her ability had its own name – the Oprah effect, which refers to her amazing persuasive ability to sell products, ideas, causes and people. The power of Oprah’s opinions and endorsement to influence public opinion has been so strong, especially consumer purchasing choices. “Oprah’s Favorite Things” has been a marketer’s dreams, where she makes a list of products before a willing audience, and it instantly becomes a printable shopping list. People tend to buy it when it’s “Oprah approved.”
The Oprah Effect has been documented and observed in fields such as books, music, television shows, movies – even to diverse domains, from jewelries to beef markets and election voting. She’s an enthusiastic promoter of pop mainstream arts, and what she promotes get significant increase in exposure and sales. Whitney’s stamp of approval on novels and other literature often means a million additional book sales for the author. She can do this through the unique three-way connection she facilitated between herself, the artists, and her viewers.
Even the most well-known celebrities fought their awe when sitting down with her, and they too are persuaded with what she picks and what she cares about. She’s a universally recognized icon in her own right, presenting herself as an open person who is easy to connect to, and you could practically see other artists, even the most famous ones, wanting to follow suit.
She made people pick up books.
In 1996, Oprah introduced the Oprah’s Book Club segment to her television show, focusing on new books and classics. And she has the power to bring obscure, unpopular novels to popular attention. Her book club became such a powerful force that whenever she introduced a new book for her book club selection, it instantly became a best-seller. An endorsement from Oprah means a million more copies sold for the author.
A 2005 article in Business Week estimated that being selected for Oprah’s Book Club has 10 to 20 times more clout than an endorsement from any other famous personality. That’s been a godsend to first-timers like Wally Lamb and veterans like Toni Morrison, who got more sales due to her famous friend’s recommendations that she ever did from winning a Nobel Prize.
Oprah focused largely on contemporary authors, but she’s not opposed to the classics. When she suggested that people must stop pretending they got through Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and actually read and dig in, the publisher had to print an additional 800,000 copies.
Oprah is a serious intellectual who pioneered the use of television to take reading and highlight its elements and uses in such a way to motivate millions of non-readers to pick up books and actually read.
She ushered in a confession culture.
Credited with making a more intimate, confessional form of communication, Oprah popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk show genre initiated by Phil Donahue. Oprah is brutally honest about almost all aspects of her life, ushering in a confession culture. Pop culture critics believe that Oprah is responsible for the wave of memoirs, tell-alls, and reality shows – opening the way to issues that were previously shrouded in secrecy.
When Oprah entered the talk show scene in 1986, she blew the whole thing wide open. She was interested in what people feel, what made people cry, what people are scared of and proud of. She interviews people to get to their bare emotional core.
The Wall Street Journal coined the term “Oprahfication,” which means public confession as a form of therapy. Oprah herself openly discussed her poverty, being sexually abused, failed personal relationships, and battles with self-esteem. Before her, these topics were heavily stigmatized. But Oprah saw TV’s power to blend public and private, linking strangers and their information over public airwaves and bringing it to the privacy of people’s homes.
Oprahfication in politics can also be observed, such as Oprah-style debates and Bill Clinton being described as the politician who brought Oprah-style psychobabble and misty confessions to politics. According to Newsweek, every time a politician lets his lips quiver or a cable anchor emotes on television, they nod to the cult of confession that Oprah helped create.
She led discussions of real issues for public awareness.
Phil Donahue deserved a lot of credit for first assuming that his audience was interested in more than cooking tips and Burt Reynold’s love life. But Oprah took his issue-oriented agenda to the next level. Though her most watched episodes featured celebrity interviews, makeovers, and her weight loss battle – she did not shy around from opening the talk about serious issues. During the height of the AIDS epidemic, she spoke with a gay man from West Virginia who was shamed for swimming in a public pool after testing positive for AIDs. The conversation educated people who are unclear about how AIDs was transmitted.
Racial issues were a constant topic, so was lifting her fans’ spirits. On the 13th season, her show adapted a new theme: “Together we learn ways to find real joy and real peace in our lives starting from the inside.”
She helped Obama win in the presidential election.
Oprah cemented her status as one of the most powerful and influential women in the world when she got involved in the 2008 presidential campaign for Barack Obama. Oprah endorsed Obama in 2006 and showed up on his campaign, and economists estimate that her endorsement was worth more than a million votes in the Democratic party race and without her, Obama would have lost the nomination as a political candidate running for office. Oprah even held a fundraiser for Obama on 2007 at her Santa Barbara estate.
In 2007, she joined Obama for a series of rallies in the primary states of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. An analysis by two economists at the University of Maryland estimated that her endorsement alone was responsible for between 420,000 and 1,600,000 votes for Obama in the Democratic party alone.
She anointed a new generation of stars.
What Johnny Carson did for standup comedians, Oprah seemed to be doing it for everyone else. Case in point: Nate Berkus. His frequent appearances on Oprah Winfrey Show helped him become one of America’s top and most beloved interior decorators. Others who belonged to the A-list by being in Oprah’s inner circle include Suze Orman, Rachael Ray, Gayle King, as well as Mehmet Oz and Phil McGraw.
McGraw, who became well-known as Dr. Phil, said that getting into Oprah’s orbit defined his career. Before, he had no intention to be on television, but Oprah made him see its value and power. Without Oprah, there would be no Dr. Phil.
She inspired millions of people.
Oprah is probably best remembered for what she symbolizes and who she is. She represents a modified American dream, from being in poverty in Mississippi to a glamorous international citizen. Oprah became a brand, making her less vulnerable than ordinary mortals.
Oprah’s story of survival and success inspired a lot of people that they too, can be successful. For women, especially non-white and lower-income women, she is a tangible exemplification of the mantra: if I can dream it, I can achieve it. She’s a model for the career woman, and an all-around-life-guide for fervent viewers.
While her success is the product of hard work, her brand is a combination of bright marketing and deliberate posturing. Being a guest on her show meant more than opening up and discussing a personal problem or story – they saw it as a way to rid of their shame and reclaim their narrative. Oprah’s role is to listen, guide, voice out and heal a person into an agent for good.
Her talk show has inspired all kinds of limitations, and no other television personality has reached anything near her fame, wealth, fans, and influence.