Culture

Oprahfication

Culture | Everywoman Oprah processes the world, a great movie idea that lacks vision, and piracy or progress

Issue: "End of the innocence," Jan. 30, 1999

Saint Oprah speaks
Oprah Winfrey Speaks and the masses listen. Even though her cinematic epic Beloved dropped like a rock in theaters (see World, Oct. 31, 1998), her media empire and personal influence aren't diminishing. In the aforenamed best seller (published by John Wiley), compiler Janet Lowe pieces together anecdotes, sound bites, and comments from "the world's most influential voice." Think of it as "Saint Oprah Speaks." It's blatantly hagiographical, but pieces of her paradigm pop through all the fluff. Oprah's worldview is processed cheese, but her story sounds like a good, old-fashioned American Dream: She fought her way out of poverty with hard work, good grades, and voracious reading. The modern version, of course, has to include teenage pregnancy, cocaine use, fad diets, suicidal tendencies, and a half-brother who died of AIDS. Through it all, we are supposed to see her as a role model who has felt our sufferings and feels our pain. The image, of course, is deliberate. "I want to use television not only to entertain, but to help people lead better lives," she's quoted at one point. She's even said that her TV show, which grosses $20 million a week in revenues, is "God's work." But Oprah's religious side is mushy. She says she is both pro-choice and pro-child, but she sounds mostly pro-herself. She wants to reach all her goals and then "high-five with the angels." "I'm just a particle in the God chain," she opines. "I see God as the ocean, and I'm a cup of water from the ocean." Silly as she sounds on paper, Oprah's charisma and star power are influential. We live in a state of Oprahfication, where large segments of our popular culture-especially those targeted at women-are filtered through her formulas. The culture industry thinks Oprah is Everywoman-and we are stuck with her sway for years to come. Downloading music There's a battle being waged for the future of music and the Internet that hinges on three letters: MP3. That's the name of an exploding music format that makes songs easier to collect and send over the Internet. Fans call it the hottest thing since the CD and the Web browser. An MP3 file can store a minute of digital audio in about a minute of disk space. That means over 10 hours of songs-enough to stuff a jukebox-can be stored on one CD with little difference in sound quality. Hordes of Web surfers are snapping up MP3 software-from a player program called WinAmp to the new version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Independent artists and a few signed acts gain a route to a global audience that bypasses the traditional music industry. For Christian performers and songwriters, this means a door to distribution that holds off the pitfalls of sacred and secular record labels. But where there is recording there is piracy. MP3's supporters say they are against illegal copying, but accuse the industry of trying to stop new technology. The biggest court battle is over a portable MP3 music player called Rio, which is sold at electronic stores like Best Buy and Circuit City. Since users can download files onto the Rio, the RIAA says the device is a piracy tool. Several record companies have responded with a format called Secure Digital Music Initiative, which is supposed to be harder to pirate. The serious issues involving theft must be dealt with, but it does seem that MP3 will shift the way music is sold. By making legal and illegal distribution simpler, the days of CDs selling for $16.99 could be numbered, even without the piracy issue. Compression is destined to get ever tighter; soon an Amy Grant song will travel over the Net as easily as an e-mail. Blind, but now I see
Boy meets girl. Girl discovers boy is blind. Boy becomes a medical miracle when a doctor restores his sight. Girl helps boy through the personal crisis that results. That's love At First Sight (MGM; rated PG-13 for adult themes and profanity). Val Kilmer does a decent job playing a blind man who has trouble dealing with the new reality of a world he can see. Since he had already stabilized his life without sight, adding visuals brings both liberation and confusion. Mira Sorvino is his girlfriend who struggles alongside him. At First Sight would be fine as a love story, if not for its profanity and the gnostic gospel it presents, with aphorisms like"One must die as a blind person to be born again as a sighted person." A movie in this theme with a Christian worldview would be extraordinary, but At First Sightdoesn't register as much more than a date movie that doesn't dig deep enough into an intense subject.

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