Back in the 90s, a roaring discussion on grammar teaching enflamed a listserv and at some point, someone praised another post by writing, “You go, girl!”
There was a puzzling response, a kind of dark reference to Oprah. Somehow this Oprah influence had been charted and found to be either symbolic of or the source of wide-spread problems in the society.
I was never able to get a clear bead on this but turned in over in mind year after year, thinking about what offense Oprah might have committed. Eventually, I came to an understanding, at least one that makes sense to me.
Oprah gave a voice to people who did not have one. She represented in her person women, Blacks, and abused children. I got the woman thing: women were already upsetting the traditional family, patriarchal values, and so on. Blacks surely loomed large in the imagination of conservatives (did I say that the couple of list members who joined in on these ominous admonitions were political conservatives? They were.). Blacks formed a nucleus of political discontent that might turn into actual ferment if guided by clever hands.
But abused kids? Who could be against delivering them from the shroud of silence into the light of public exposure of the crime? Some were, but why? How? Finally I came across a connection.
Remember when Americans (White ones) used to tell Blacks living under segregation that their protests only aided our Cold War enemies? It’s what became under Bush “embolden our enemies”. Any question about the reason for the war, the conduct of the war, the financing of the war…. all questions emboldened our enemies and we were to wait for answers just like Blacks were supposed to wait for freedom.
That was the key. Those living lives of power and domination, even if it was only in their family or on their job, felt that they owed their dominance not to talent or intelligence or even to hard work, but to the White male persona. It makes sense, really. Blacks had talent, were intelligent, and worked hard and got nowhere. Women had talent, were intelligent, and worked hard and got nowhere unless they married a rich husband and he died early.
While Oprah herself could be seen as a threat, with her media empire and vast amounts of money and immense reach and connections, it was really all those women in the audience that scared the hell out of these dominant White males. What they saw was the end to the famous survey answer, “I always vote the way my husband says to b/c he knows more about politics than I do.”