Oprah's Farewell to Middlebrow

Oprah Winfrey has always been able to read her audience keenly.  I have to wonder if she now is targeting a different audience, because she always seems to have a purpose.

She became rich convincing middle class women she could be a next door neighbor they could share their lives with and to go for advice. She carefully cultivated this empathetic, everywoman, middle brow image. 

She was said to be drawn to the gathering of other successful blacks at Chicago's Trinity Methodist Church but quickly realized the Rev. Wright rhetoric would turn off her audience and stopped attending.  When her audience expressed concern she was an aging, single, career woman, the tabloids blossomed with stories of an engagement -- and wasn't it too bad they called it off and now she'll probably never have children? 

When highbrow authors sneered at her selecting their works for her book club, she switched to classics by long dead writers who couldn't make fun of suburban housewives tackling themes in serious literature. When she talked about race while promoting her movies, it was more to share her heritage and make her audience feel virtuous rather than to hector about current events.  Oprah stayed at the top of the middle brow media pack for many years, until cheerleading for the Obamas and trashing his opposition caused some members of her audience to start to question how much of the Oprah as next-door-neighbor-persona was real.

The brand Oprah built by stressing what she had in common with a middlebrow audience has now been rapidly unmade with pronouncements on race and little else except race.  The latest carries the implication that all white people are indelibly tied to racism.

"A lot of people, if they think they're not using the 'n- word' themselves, they actually, physically are not using the 'n-word' themselves and do not harbor ill will towards black people, that it's not racist."

Oprah's audience has not consisted of the academics and intellectuals who have accepted the ideas of unconscious racism or structural racism as gospel.  Once she seemed to care more for what the middlebrows thought than what the highbrows in the elite corners of the academic/media complex thought. 

But it's quite common for self-made men and women to yearn for acceptance in old money society and cultural elites.  Pop culture figures have been known to yearn for intellectual respect.  Such respect never comes cheap and is almost always offered only begrudgingly. It would be fitting were Oprah to discover the only reason she seems to be winning acceptance by the intellectuals for whom race is everything is because they want access to the mass audience she has forsaken.