She walked onto the television daytime talk show scene as an overweight black woman with a desire to connect with her audience, and Oprah Winfrey is leaving it today as the most successful woman to that end, as well as one of the richest. But Oprah’s final show, scheduled to air today, will end her reign not only as queen of daytime talk; it will end her reign as a religious messiah, according to Kathyrn Lofton, a Yale professor of U.S. religious history and author of Oprah: The Gospel of An Icon.
According to CNN, Lofton’s take on Oprah is that she exceeded the cult label due to the sheer volumn of her television audience who followed her faithfully for many years. But Lofton says that cult might have been an apt description, too, since Oprah sought to indoctrinate her television audience into following her every recommendation — from lipstick, to books, to self-help.
Previously, during Oprah’s battle with the Texas beef industry and cattlemen — and before her rise to religious messiah status, according to Lofton — Oprah admitted that her work as a television talk show hostess was nothing more than trash tv producer.
“I’ve been guilty of doing trash tv and not thinking it was trash,” Oprah said.
That, says Lofton, is when Oprah decided to change her image, on the heels of the cattlemen lawsuit that almost cost her a career and the fortune amassed up until that point.
In the initial years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah’s audience had a woman who would take on a cause — like beef or cattlemen — and rally the troops to fight them with her. Later, after that legal battle and the tow it took, Oprah chose to lead her followers down a different path, and one which would not endanger her fortune again. Hence, Oprah’s religiosity angle prevailed.
“Change your life tv” is what Lofton called it in a special report to CNN today. She says that Oprah started courting spiritual gurus to appear in the 90’s on her show, ditching them later, when she felt she could be the spiritual advisor for her mostly female audience.
That female audience loses its spiritual guru today, however, and Lofton says that in spite of the legion of fans Oprah has managed to collect, she is but one person in the grand scheme of life and another will fill her shoes on the stage of television soon.
According to Lofton, Oprah’s impact as a religious messiah will not be measured by whether you will miss her on free daytime television or not. Lofton says Oprah’s impact on the spiritual landscape will be measured by how much the Oprah religion is evident in day-to-day life in the world compared to that of other spiritual landscapes, including your own.