Friday, April 21, 2006

Oprah goes slumming

Okay, so I flipped over to Oprah today, don't ask me why, and she's doing a show on class in America. She starts the show by asking people on the street what their definitions of upper and lower class are.

Upper class =
nice cars
living in a nice neighborhood
nice clothes/jewelry/accessories
snobby manners

Lower class =
big hoop earrings
glitter/loud makeup
being obese
cursing/bad manners
bad teeth/dirty fingernails
bad grammar

(Interestingly enough, the rich woman who denounced big earrings and glitter makeup had terrible teeth.)

There seemed to be no indicator of what makes someone middle-class but it doesn't really matter because according to Oprah's expert Richard Reich, the middle class is disappearing anyway.

On her website, there's this nifty little scale that tells you what class you fit into.

According to this, I fall into the middle-class, based on my income ( low $40's). But, according to the rest of the civilized world, I am apparently lower class because I work in a service job. And my grammar is a little off. And I curse. Fuck those people. This whole thing is making me a little hostile.

Anyway, they also profiled two Chicago families, (both white) one upper-middle class, the other lower working class. The wives of each family had grown up in the opposite class to which they now lived. The "rich" mom felt like she was being constantly judged on the basis of what her children wore/possessed, how she looked, the schools they went to, while the "poor" mom worried that she couldn't afford to send her children to Little League, much less college. Coincidentally, the "rich" mom admitted her kids had no sense of discipline and no sense of what it meant to earn something.

Then, they brought on Jamie Johnson, the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, who has made several documentaries (Born Rich, The One Percent) on the mystique of the wealthy elite. In these documentaries, he spends most of his time questioning the shroud of secrecy that surrounds ultra-wealthy families. On-camera, he confronts his father about class and wealth, and for a moment, you actually believe that he's questioning the system, railing against economic inequality.

Then he tells Oprah: "My life would not be as good if I were cut out of the will."

Everyone, including Oprah, laughed knowingly, as if to say, "Don't be silly, being poor would be so gauche."

The whole thing was like eating a hypocrisy-filled donut. It looked good on the outside but the inside was full of horseshit. Here's Oprah, one of the wealthiest women in the world, pretending that class does not affect her, that she's a neutral party where money is concerned. When asked to comment on her own wealth, she simply said that luck had nothing to do with her success, that it was all her hard work.

Fair enough. No one is denying that Oprah grew up poor and worked her way to the top. After all, she's reminded us time and time again. The problem I have is that she doesn't know what it means to be poor now. This is not someone who eats ramen noodles for dinner every night. I admire her for giving voice to this and other important social issues but I think she should stick to things she can relate to, i.e. John Travolta and home makeovers.


Blogger Jilly said...

gawd. sounds terrible. I remember once--about 1994 I think--I was at the laundrymat in a poor neighborhood in Nashville, doing my laundry. Oprah(TM) was on, doing a holiday gift show. She was recommending nifty items to give as presents.

I think it was around the time she got to the $500 pair of pajamas that folks started throwing balled-up socks and stuff at the TV. And Ophrah's sort of a Nashville girl, too. Got her start here on TV, went to school here, her dad lives here.

4/22/2006 12:53 AM  
Blogger Buffy said...

I've got a friend (who's not really a friend, but I pretend to like her because that's what I do) who's all about the class system.

Upper class in this country is all this nobility crap. Landed gentry. That sort of thing.

Middle class is a word people use to describe themselves when they are up their own bums and aspiring to be upper class but cant quite make it but are still better than lower class.

Lower class are the working class. Never mind half the lower class makes more than the middle class who still have to work.

Class bites.

4/22/2006 4:42 AM  
Blogger Justin Evans said...

You go, sister-girl! You go!

Just a few days ago, when Oper (I am a Utah hick) was doing her show on minimum wage, she was wearing earings that must have cost more than I make in a month (and I am middle class according to her scale). Way to show sensitivity to the people who can't afford to eat healthy.

You are right. Oprah has forgotten what it is like to be poor. And by the way, I don't care how hard you work. Without a little luck, especially in the entertainment business, you don't get anywhere.

4/22/2006 8:05 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Oprah is an amazing cultural icon -- she pals around with the women on the show posing like a regular gal, when everyone really knows she is anything but. And frankly -- over 70,000 is not Upper Class. That's nonsense. That's an attempt to pander to people to make them feel they are in the same category as the rich.

4/22/2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

You know, I normally wouldn't go off on a crazed rant like that but sweet damnit woman, come on. Who is she trying to kid with this crap?

4/22/2006 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think America got it bad. 3billion people in this world live on less than $2 a day. Thats crap!

5/06/2007 10:02 AM  

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