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Oprah Schmoprah


Brand Oprah is a seamless and hugely influential melding of capitalism, self-help, humanitarian aspirations and spirituality. Endless consumption is encouraged by personal recommendations and lavish freebies from iPods to jewellery. At the same time, disciples can practise tasteful austerity with “debt diets” reminding us that “we are all responsible for everything that happens to us”. The poor, too, are responsible both for their condition and for overcoming it. Buying things for the deserving poor – and Winfrey is clear that they are not all deserving – must be seen as “giving them bootstraps”.

Pledging to “destroy the welfare mentality”, Winfrey has often suggested that receiving state assistance is a choice, one she herself rejected. Her grand philanthropic acts, such as the failed experiment to move 100 Chicago families into private housing during Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform” efforts, are accompanied by politically welcomed criticism of public assistance as dependence. Yet as psychologist Bruce Levine notes, it is precisely “fundamentalist consumerism” which destroys self-reliance. Winfrey has been justifiably accused by activists of “reinforcing the US war on the poor” by blaming victims.


In practising what should really be called “humanitarian privatisation”, Winfrey and other philanthropists like Bill Gates have targeted public education with missionary zeal, speaking authoritatively on a subject they know little about. Having decided not to donate to inner-city public schools after criticising them and deeming their students unwilling to learn, Winfrey has publicly backed those advocating “charter schools”, the US equivalent of free schools – including Gates and the makers of a controversial film, Waiting for “Superman”, which attacks teachers and unions. In a parallel move, Rupert Murdoch is going ahead with plans to sponsor an academy in east London over the objections of the local council.

The billionaire “humanitarianism” of Winfrey, Gates and Murdoch is deeply compromised not only by its failure to acknowledge the causal relationship between extreme wealth and great poverty but by participating in an ideological assault on the welfare state. It posits itself as the only way to change the world – from above and with a wealthy few firmly in control.

Excerpt from original article by Priyamvada Gopal for the Guardian.

je te raconterai l’histoire de ce roi mort de n’avoir pas pu te rencontrer. ne me quitte pas. ne me quitte pas. ne me quitte pas.

For I do not exist: there exist but the thousands of mirrors that reflect me. With every acquaintance I make, the population of phantoms resembling me increases. Somewhere they live, somewhere they multiply. I alone do not exist.

- Vladimir Nabokov, The Eye

(Source: assemblage2011)

Ten films… that have made an impact (continued)

Network (1976)                      Dir. Sidney Lumet

Directors are habitually celebrated and idolised for masterpieces forged through the accumulative effort of cast and crew, much to the neglect of hundreds of highly skilled creative and technical bods. However, if a single behind-the-scenes figurehead is in need, the idol of this creation is the phenomenal screen writer Paddy Chayefsky. The concise and eloquent corporate speed-talking that thrives throughout Network is an unrelenting showcase of unrivaled talent.

I’ll give you the low down on the plot: Howard Beale is an aging anchor at UBS Evening News which is suffering from the most perilous of televisual bureaucratic maladies: poor ratings. In a mischievous and despairing event, Howard proclaims that he will commit suicide live on air the following week: “You ought to get a hell of a rating out of that. 50 share, easy.” The ratings soar and the sleazebags at the tip of the UBS pyramid detect a mother lode in the exploitation of Beale’s vitriolic blasts. Experimentally wheeled out again for one of many further broadcasts, Beale impassions the nation with his catch-phrase:

"I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!"

The nation responds by fervently echoing his concerns (in this scene) and UBS label him ‘An Angry Prophet Denouncing the Hypocrisies of our Times’. Yet, ironically, his function is to aid the corp with its capital gains, he has inadvertently become Howard Beale™.

Ultimately, Howard is given his own prime-time slot and forcefully disrupts the network’s business interests as it attempts a vital merger with a foreign conglomerate. Together with this and highlighting the fearful power of the tube, Beale has ‘meddled with the primal forces of nature' and is met with fierce confrontation from Jensen, UBS Chairman. Howard is later shot live on air by a guerilla activist group as part of “The Mao Tse Tsung Hour”, a new fly-on-the-wall docudrama on the network. 

The film ends with the narrator stating: ”This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

I have, of course, failed to summarise a stunning sub-plot that personifies the insentience of an increasingly remorseless capitalist world through Faye Dunaway’s character, Diana Christensen: “All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating”. She is unable to show affection to her ‘love’ interest, Max Schumacher. The fiery exchanges between the two offer some of the most refined displays of Chayefsky’s skill: a parlance riddled with metaphor and melodrama. 

The blackly-comic satire presented through this piece has chillingly become a reflection of our contemporary society. This is what makes ‘Network’ so awe-inspiring, it was a prescient warning that no one heeded.

Perhaps there is still time. I think this film comprises more value in today’s current climate thanks to the rise of the Occupy movement. If Beale’s fate is the result of his remarks being marketed and accepted as the frivolous groans of ‘the mad man of the airwaves’, we could avoid viewing the OWS (et al) movements as transient fads which stand to achieve nothing and thus prevent their “Bealesque” demise. We could make the corporations accept that it is them who have ‘meddled with the primary forces of nature’ and with humanity.

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A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.

- W.H. Auden