Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1999


Cultural ideology, Oprah, Socialization


While some people maintain that books and television exist simply to entertain the populace, we have known for a long time there are messages within the stories that the media transmits. On the surface these media may look as if they are simply telling an engaging story, yet that story is inevitably political. The media’s messages are a part of everyone’s acculturation. Sociologists tell us that the media influence modern human’s socialization into cultural and identity formations. Feminists, who also recognize this fact, have often pointed to the anti-woman sentiments couched in everyday entertainment. Oprah Winfrey, a widely influential American talk show “hostess," claims to challenge these racial and patriarchal messages, mixing social commentary with entertainment. However, a few recent articles discuss how she actually does the opposite, rescuing a damaged cultural ideology. One instance of this is found in Debbie Epstein and Deborah Lynn Steinberg's article “All Het Up!: Rescuing Heterosexuality on The Oprah Winfrey Show:'' They state that ‘Ihe twin frameworks of therapy and presumed heterosexuality have all but ruled out the possibility for questions to be raised about power relationships and patterns of social inequality” (Epstein and Steinberg 110). Epstein and Steinberg are a part of a group of writers who believe that the Oprah phenomenon reinforces the dominant cultural Ideology, rather than challenging it. This paper will explore both sides of this argument (whether the Oprah phenomenon rescues or wrecks cultural ideology) through an examination of the entire Oprah phenomenon. After close readings of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah’s public persona, and Oprah’s Book Club, I found that the Oprah phenomenon both problematizes racist and patriarchal ideologies and normalizes them, (what I describe as “endorsement/problematization”). I theorize that the tension between these two views creates a space for viewers to become active auditors of popular culture.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Oprah Winfrey show (Television program); Television and women


student projects; term papers




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