Cult leader Oprah will send her followers Down Under
The screams are still ringing in my ears.
Oprah’s audience, and every Australian Tourism authority, are no doubt still trying to recover their composure after the mass hysteria that followed her pronouncement that she and several hundred of her bestest fans were bound for the positively Jules Verne-esque destination of “the other side of the world”.
Later this year, Winfrey and her troop of ardent devotees will be flown to our shores courtesy of Captain Kangaroo himself John Travolta. The Opera House will form the particularly scenic backdrop for the taping of an episode of her talk show which reaches 44 million people each week.
But once its all over, once we pull ourselves up from our knees and recover from several days of non-stop genuflecting, what effect will the mistress of middle-class female pseudo-emotional catharsis have had on our shores?
We know that Oprah has power. The power to change the fortunes of companies, to influence voters and to affect the choices people make about their bodies.
Pause for a moment and reflect on what the consequences would be if, once in Sydney, Winfrey decides she is an Abbott fan? Will we face mass demonstrations in the streets until an election is called?
What if the 56-year-old famed yo-yo dieter decides the humble Tim-Tam is her new favourite thing and touts their wonders to the world? Will we face a national shortage of our beloved chocolate bickie?
A touch facetious, but such is Winfrey’s sway that it has been the subject of numerous academic papers about the so-called ‘Oprah Effect.’
An endorsement by Winfrey can mean millions of dollars in increased sales for a brand, or transform a person into a household name overnight.
Her power of persuasion has extended from beyond which brand of popcorn she favours (Garretts of Chicago in case you’re interested) to the political.
During the 2008 Democratic race for the Presidential nomination, Winfrey for the first time ever, offered her endorsement, backing a Senator Barack Obama from her home state of Illinois.
When the Democratic hopeful from Chicago took to her show’s stage in 2006 he gained a newfound prominence on the national stage. In the week after his appearance there was a 358% increase in Internet searches about the Illinois senator.
In a 2008 paper, two economists from the University of Maryland attempted to quantify her effect on the Presidential race. The researchers found a direct correlation between an increase in sales of O! Magazine and vote share for Obama. They came to the conclusion that her public endorsement of Obama netted him an extra 1,015,559 votes at the ballot box.
But could her influence also potentially have a more pernicious effect?
A Newsweek cover story in 2009 questioned whether Winfrey occasionally promoted questionable medical advice to her audience.
The article cites instances such as Winfrey’s choice to feature a Doctor who advised the women against being vaccinated against the HPV virus.
In another episode Winfrey went on to laud a cosmetic procedure called a “thread lift”. However industry magazine Plastic Surgery Practice reported that some doctors had noted that “over time, the suture tends to act like a ‘cheese wire’,” that cuts through delicate facial tissue.
Winfrey is a persuasive voice we have come to intimately know, and more importantly trust, during her quarter of a century on air. I am not only curious, but a little nervous, about what state the nation’s health and hearts will be in by the time she ambles towards Duty Free.
She is the closest thing to a spiritual leader in the secular world. She is a figure revered by millions, a modern-day deity who peddles messages of hope, forgiveness, and transformation.
Her show is readily digestible sentimentality for bite-sized consumption. I can nearly hear the soulful rumble of a didgeridoo that will no doubt be featured in her Australian episode now.
Are we ready for the frenzy and mania that will erupt on our shores?
But there may be one person whose life could be transformed by her presence.
Her mantra of “Live your best life” has resonated with viewers hungry for change in their lives. So too has her mantra of self-actualisation proven a potent theme.
Maybe in the coming months Tony Abbott can take inspiration from her message and dedicate time each day to attracting the positive vibrations of the universe a la Winfrey’s beloved The Secret and will find himself ensconced in The Lodge by the time she clears customs.
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