Yesterday's season premiere on Oprah had the talkshow queen return to the well (or is it the fridge?) on the one issue that has united her with her audience like nothing else. Weight.
Oprah was fat, depressed, and determined to regain control of her life. Full of New Year determination, she kicked off a week-long blitzkrieg against her worst inner demon and brought the rest of us along for the ride.
Sitting on a double-stuffed couch in her Montecito manse, Oprah talks to an unseen producer about her struggles with a thyroid condition, sleeplessness and heart palpitations. Have no doubt about the gravity of the issue at hand -- her delivery, backed with somber music and documentary-style show footage, gives the hour the tone of a "Frontline" episode. (Hmmm. "Waistline?")
These were the ailments that gave Oprah unconscious permission to pack on the pounds -- 40, to be exact -- taking her across the 200-lb threshold once again. (Astonishingly, Oprah reveals that it was her dutiful audience, not a team of doctors, who diagnosed her thyroid condition from afar. And it was her affable personal trainer, Bob Greene, no physician himself, who felt she might be suffering from depression. WTF?)
Sporting all this new weight, Oprah felt embarrassed at a concert appearance when Cher and Tina Turner, both preternaturally fit and slender, drew her onto the stage to sing "Proud Mary." Oprah also related her difficulties posing for monthly "O" magazine covers, upset that she was being measured, poked and prodded by a gaggle of dressers, photographers and producers. She then demonstrated how covers evolved from fabulous, wind-blown affairs full of thrusting collarbones and million-dollar smiles when Oprah was thinner, into cramped, head-only shots as she piled on the weight.
We're supposed to take pity on this woman.
What's the solution?, Oprah needs to take "me" time and schedule a manicure at the end of the day. She showed us her new battle plan -- a menu tacked to a cupboard in her company kitchen, an impressive grid of multiple meals (5 per day), dominated by grilled chicken and green drinks.
Is this a profile in courage? Or just a new level of self-absorption, served up in the time-tested confessional style of old, an attempt to rally her audience in the style of Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward?
Oprah's done this before. In years past, she's mobilized her empire and rallied her growing stable of media personalities to launch books, Web sites, and entire product lines to keep her - and her audience - firmly on the beaten path. Sadly, even a billionaire with hundreds of staff attending to her every whim couldn't seem to keep her to her diet. Her failure under these absurdly favorable circumstances should serve as a cruel slap in the face to every resource-starved housewife across the country.
Does America, or the world, care anymore about Oprah's weight? Doesn’t rhe country have other things to worry about, from a floundering economy shedding jobs and companies going bankrupt, to multiple foreign military adventures? I wonder we have the bandwidth to give a fig. Oprah may have misjudged the appetite of her audience to take on yet another jihad against flab and cellulite.
What’s the message here? With all her money and success, Oprah the Human Being is, it turns out, living a deeply unhappy, joyless existence. And she has no one to blame but herself.