Age of Oprah Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era
Over the last two decades Oprah Winfrey's journey has taken her from talk show queen to-as Time Magazine has asserted-"one of the most important figures in popular culture." Through her talk show, magazine, website, seminars, charity work, and public appearances, her influence in the social, economic, and political arenas of American life is considerable and until now, largely unexamined. In The Age of Oprah, media scholar and journalist Janice Peck traces Winfrey's growing cultural impact and illustrates the fascinating parallels between her road to fame and fortune and the political-economic rise of neoliberalism in this country. While seeking to understand Oprah's ascent to the near- iconic status that she enjoys today, Peck's book provides a fascinating window into the intersection of American politics and culture over the past quarter century.
“Oprah Winfrey has been influencing American political life since long before she opted to endorse Barack Obama for the presidency. In her meticulously researched and captivating account, Janice Peck shows us how Winfrey has wielded the discourse of personal empowerment to amass her own considerable personal power while tightly controlling a brand that stands for individual rather than collective attainment. To understand the Oprah-effect, read The Age of Oprah.”
—Micki McGee, author of Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life
“In this wonderfully original and insightful book, Janice Peck explains that Oprah Winfrey is not merely a talk show host and entertainer but the voice of our era, the logical product of the unresolved contradictions of our time.”
—George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark
“The Age of Oprah is absolutely fantastic. It’s a reminder of what cultural studies and American studies could be and the promise it once held out. It’s exciting, theoretically rich and well grounded (which means with the ‘theory’ woven unpretentiously into and driving the substantive analysis), historically deep, meticulously researched, politically and analytically sharp. It brings to mind the best work that people like the Ewens and Russel Jacoby and others did in the ‘70s in the Frankfurt School tradition and that people like Leach have done more recently. It should be a very important intervention in our civic understanding.
Peck nails Oprah, Clinton, and this period’s mind cure/self-help therapies as linked expressions/engines of neoliberal ideological consolidation. In doing so, she examines the key missing link that careful cultural analysis can provide that neither opinion-sampling nor ‘resistance’ studies can’t—the complex ways that popular ideologies emerge and evolve as symbolic systems that make sense of the lived social order while evading its contradictions and asymmetries of power and the very concrete ways they operate as the glue that helps to hold that order in place.
This book also brings to mind the observation that the emergence of cultural studies as a rarefired, high-tech theoretical practice was accompanied by retreat from the sort of deep, historically grounded and politically clear and substantively focused work that was being produced by the original generation of Frankfurt-influenced American studies scholars, even Jackson Lears et al. The difference also underscores the difference between theoretical mastery, of the sort that underlay Marx’s quip about having left his early ruminations ‘to the gnawing criticism of the mice,’ which is embedded in, suffuses and drives substantive arguments and interpretations and the notion of mastery as deftness at reciting and parsing the rules and intricacies of a theoretical grammar in public.”
—Adolph Reed Jr., University of Pennsylvania
“The Age of Oprah is a superb contribution to media and cultural studies. Combining sophisticated cultural analysis with keen attention to political economy, Peck skillfully wraps Oprah Winfrey within the particularities of historical, social, political, and economic forces that together created the conditions of possibility for the triumphant emergence of Oprah’s media empire. Peck’s highly readable exploration of the Oprah industry in relation to the ascent of the therapeutic enterprise and family values rhetoric, Reaganomics, neo-liberal spirituality, commodity philanthropy, ideologies of literacy and citizenship, and global economic restructuring exemplifies the best of scholarship that is intellectually provocative, historically rooted, and deeply committed to challenging neo-liberalism’s seductive cultural productions.”
—Radhika Parameswaran, Indiana University
“… the analysis of how Winfrey and Bill Clinton leveraged diverse constituencies is particularly clear and incisive. Recommended.