Oprah had her annual “Favorite Things” show last week. Since this is her last season on the air, it was actually a two day orgy of consumerism. I don’t generally mind Oprah most of the time, but this episode gets on my nerves every year. It’s great that she wants to give all this stuff away, but let’s be real: This is less about her generosity and more about making some advertisers very happy. The show is nothing more than one long advertisement for products and services. Since an Oprah endorsement translates to bigger sales, these providers are more than happy to give away products to the audience in exchange for that endorsement. It’s not Oprah that gives this stuff away, it’s the advertisers.
The people who are in the audience on the given day are lucky indeed. They get boatloads of free stuff. And since Oprah does not have inexpensive tastes, what they get is easily worth several thousand dollars. This year featured a seven night cruise, a $400 sweater, and a $1,000 closet makeover. The lucky group on day two got cars. The problem is that many people beyond that studio audience feel compelled to buy everything on her list. “But it’s an Oprah favorite,” they cry. Unless your last name is Trump, many of these things are out of reach. Even one item on Oprah’s list would be beyond the reach of many people, let alone buying more than one. It seems a little unfair and cruel for Oprah to laud her expensive tastes over people who (especially in the last few years) don’t have jobs or who have very little money.
But my real problem with this show comes from it’s celebration of consumerism. Since it usually airs around Christmas, it only serves to highlight the orgy of consumerism that the holidays have become. I had to chuckle as item after item was brought out while songs like, “Joy to the World,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” played in the background. I highly doubt that any writer of a religious-themed Christmas carol ever imagined that they would be providing a soundtrack for such a consumerist affair. But that’s where we are today. Oprah isn’t doing anything that many people and retailers aren’t already doing. She’s just doing it on a very public stage. Turning Christmas into a shopping event isn’t new. But you’d think someone with such a high profile and supposed focus on peace and balance in her life would realize that encouraging this behavior isn’t the best idea and would advocate for simpler holidays, more focus on family, and less consumerism.
Watching the audience receive these gifts is also a little disturbing. Some cry. Some kneel down in the aisles and thank God. Some pass out. Some raise their arms to heaven like they’re in a church revival. It’s great that they are excited, but when we reach a point where “stuff” (because it’s all stuff, even if it is very fine and expensive stuff) can bring people to tears or to the brink of a religious experience, something is wrong.
Oprah’s Favorite Things is a fine example of why we find ourselves in a financial mess. We get excited about and place too much value on the wrong things. Stuff isn’t worth crying over or thanking God for (unless you have nothing to begin with, but that’s not the people in Oprah’s audience). We try to emulate people with expensive tastes we can’t afford to match. We try to make the holidays special with “stuff.” Cool gadgets and expensive clothes are nice, but there are more important things in this life. As Christmas approaches, I encourage you to think about what those things are in your own life and turn away from the consumer madness espoused by Oprah.