On Sunday—less than a week ago, which somehow feels like 10 years ago—Oprah gave a nice speech at the Golden Globes, and people lost their fucking minds.
Though Winfrey did not say that she was running for office, or that she had some public policy ideas, or that she was planning on giving other, similar speeches, the media reacted with the adrenalized zeal of a lovesick Rom-Com cliché, who makes eye contact with a handsome stranger across a room and, within minutes, has already mentally picked out their wedding china. What would her imagined campaign look like? What would her imagined victory look like? What’s an imaginary way to argue against her imaginary candidacy? TV stars running for office have already screwed the country up; she should be imaginary ashamed of herself.
Oprah is a singular figure, a black woman who has made billions from nothing and managed to do it without pillaging the environment like a Koch brother or trapping millions in hopeless poverty like a Walton. She traffics in inspiration. Having a president who doesn’t drive every late-night comedian and journalist insane with rage would be nice.
But at the same time, the embrace of Oprah’s imaginary candidacy ignored some key parts of Winfrey’s career. It hasn’t been all car giveaways and favorite things. She’s also introduced the American public to some questionable science and quackery during her long career.
Oprah championed Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book that touts the value of positive thinking and claims that its readers can attract wealth to themselves by imagining it. At best, the book is little more than a way bored people convince themselves that they are magically attracting good fortune. But at its worst, it can cause real harm. One devoted fan of both Oprah and The Secret decided she would use the book’s magical thinking to cure herself of cancer. Even after Oprah had her on her show in an attempt to talk her out of foregoing western medicine, the woman died of cancer in 2010.
Oprah’s show provided a platform for Jenny McCarthy to spread falsehoods about the link between vaccination and autism, a pervasive and dangerous myth that has led to small outbreaks of such old-timey diseases as the whooping cough.