O! Freedom!

You can't get something for nothing; there's always a catch. Haven't we all been brought up to know this is true, right after "Life isn't always fair" and "There are children starving in China"? Every time I turn on the television, unfortunately, it looks like someone wasn't raised right.

Now and then I like to check back in with The Oprah Winfrey Show, since refusing to do so at this point would be like pretending that McDonald's doesn't exist, or that if I just concentrate hard enough I can keep Hollywood from making Ashton Kutcher movies. I've known for some time that Ms. O has settled into a comfy routine of blatantly hawking glossy, middlebrow products—accessible novels, the occasional pop CD, Dr. Phil. And, sure, I miss the days when she wasn't exclusively a marketing tool, when she was peppy and fluffy and seemed content to fill a whole hour with the question, "Did you ever have one of those days when you were as cute as you can be?" But, hey, it's cool if Oprah can now make Americans read and at least consider the concept of therapy.

She's crossed the line, however, into the kind of territory that I'm firmly convinced is helping drive the nation into ruin. Last week found her inviting back on the show adorable little gay pal Nate Berkus, her favorite interior designer, to relive yet again the heartache of losing his lover, Fernando, to the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Poor Nate—who's gotta make a living, I suppose—had to sit there with Boss Lady while a pathetic video segment showed a class of fifth-graders whose teacher made them write Nate sympathy notes bemoaning the death of his "friend." The show then cut back to an uncomfortable Berkus and an immaculately moved Winfrey for a second or two, until she informed us, "Nate's healing," and that—whoosh!—he's back on board Oprah's Wildest Dreams Bus to surprise a teenager with brain cancer whose grandest wish is to have her bedroom redecorated. Whew! Enough of that nasty grieving process, Nate! Say goodbye to Fernando and hello again to space-saving shelves!

With the U.S. seemingly slipping ever further into some kind of pseudo-1950s Queen for a Day delirium that associates "freedom" with "free," isn't it time we asked ourselves what price we're eventually going to pay for all the psychic swag? What are we doing to our country when we tell struggling families with sick children and bad mortgages that Ty Pennington and his Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team will bring in an RV and weep for them and turn their garages into basketball courts? What kind of damage is done to a population that thinks one tear-soaked letter about a harelip and double chins can magically turn anyone into The Swan? What does it say to kids dreaming of a life in music that you can skip the annoying business of paying your dues simply by turning Simon Cowell's crank on American Idol? We're asking for more trouble than we're already in if we complacently follow our leader into a future that truly believes pain and suffering is just a brief pit stop on the way to instant gratification.


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