Monday, December 13, 2010

Influence with a Capital O

Weekend Assignment # 348: Trendsetters

Musicians, writers and other artists frequently have an impact on their fans that goes beyond simple enjoyment of their work. Many rock stars have had an influence on fashion or politics or both, and fictional characters sometimes inspire real people in their opinions and career choices. [I'm not going to try to prove these assertions here; just go with them, okay?] Has an artist or artistic work ever inspired you to do or believe something that might never have occurred to you otherwise?

Extra Credit: Do you think it's appropriate for artists to be political activists? Does such activism have a positive or negative impact on your respect for that artist?
I've been sitting on this question for three days, wondering if Oprah counts. I wouldn't exactly call her an artist, but...screw it.
I live in Chicago.  Besides sports, we have Malkovich and Sinise.  We have Second City.  And we have Oprah.  For a few more minutes. 
Oprah seems to have outgrown Chicago.  She seems to have grown into that stratosphere of celebrity where she no longer seems to live in the same world as the rest of us.  Like Michael Jackson.  But if you can remember back to the days when she hosted a talk show and tried her hand at acting, she was great.
She taught us that a woman can be a great success with or without a man.  She can be happy without being married and have cocker spaniels instead of children.  She doesn't have to be a size four (although she ought to try to be healthy).  She can cover real stories of adversity and survival and heroism and then do the celebrity gossip with the best of them. 
Even today, she reminds me that I can have my intellectual pursuits and my brain candy, too. 
Say what you will about the content of her Book Club, but she gets people to read.  (Anne's Note:  You do not need to spend $15 for those Dickens novels.  They are in used book stores everywhere and you can probably get them on an e-reader for 99 cents.  Yes, you could borrow them from your library, but it is Dickens so I suggest having your own copies.)

So let's get to that Extra Credit, since it is probably why I thought of her: most of the time I am not really listening to celebrities and their causes.  I might take note of which are supporting ASPCA and other animal adoption stuff.  Who showed up when New Orleans was underwater.  And I sometimes listen to Bono.  But even with Oprah, I know that she was a big supporter of President Obama.  And I know she built a school in Africa.  That's about it.  I remember the latter because I wished she would build such a school in Chicago.

If I were a celebrity, I would absolutely use the platform to talk to people about issues that I support.  So I can't blame them.  However, I would also take very seriously the responsibility of getting my facts straight.  I am not sure that everyone holding a microphone could say the same.

Oprah doesn't pretend that she is infallible.  Or she didn't.  She was duly embarrassed by the James Frey thing.  Although she has not, to my knowledge, apologized for launching the Dr. Phil machine.  All the same, she seemed very human to me.  So I hope that when she leaves town, safe in her cocoon of handlers, that she remembers why many of us liked her in the first place.

1 comment:

Karen Funk Blocher said...

I've never followed Oprah at all (I've probably seen a total of ten minutes of her show since it started), but I like what you have to say here, both the praise and the criticism. Celebrities, like politicians, do seem to get farther away from their constituents' lifestyles over time, and lost touch with how life works for most people. I always said that Michael Jackson, when he was in his twenties, would have benefited from a stint working at McDonald's under an alias. Alas, it's far too late for that. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject!