I’ve never understood why otherwise normal seeming people turn into raving lunatics when they are on television. Even as a kid, when I was home with the flu, I thought it was so weird that the “next contestant on The Price is Right looked to be suffering from a seizure when they were directed to “come on down!” The crying, the jumping up and down, the hyperventilating, they were spent before making they had a chance to guess the price of a “brand new” Amana Radarange. I’ve never been one for big cheers. I can’t imagine yelling, “You go girl!” and I’ve already established that I would never scream, “woo-hoo!!” So it would follow that I would find Oprah and her extraordinarily enthusiastic audience to be completely irritating. I’d like to think that if I had ever been in her studio I would have kept my calm even if she presented us with a Pontiac, a cart full of her “favorite things,” or even a trip to Australia. (Although, if I had indeed gone to Australia I certainly would have screamed and probably hyperventilated when Hugh Jackman arrived on her stage via a zip line.)
The countdown to Ms. Winfrey’s last show started in the fall and I can’t say I cared at all about Oprah, the Farewell Season. I blame her for all the hollering since as we know, everything starts at the top. Listening to her introduce a celebrity guest got so wearying, what with the treacly, hyperbole and the over-the-top welcome, “JulIA ROBBBBErrrts!!!!!” followed by the mental breakdowns of her surprisingly attractive audience. (Click here and here to enjoy videos that capture it all so perfectly.) So, I never watched the show in real time. I would DVR it once in a while if I happened to hear a guest I was interested in was appearing and then fast-forward through those first few minutes of mayhem. But I am a sucker for keeping up with the Zeitgeist so I set the recorder to tape the final five shows, aka The Longest Goodbye Ever.
The parade of sobbing celebrities was nauseating, as was her false modesty. I never trust anyone who has to remind people just how humbled they are. No one who is truly humble would even attempt to achieve the kind of success Oprah has. Why couldn’t she just accept the hosannas with a smile and move on? And speaking of moving on, she’s leaving her little syndicated show to focus (and appear) on her OWN television network. Talk about ambitious. So why are we even saying farewell?
What I’ve always found disturbing is just how much power this woman has: the Oprah Effect, Oprahfication, The Church of O. There is a fine line between fan and follower and unless someone has been elected into an office I think it can be a little dangerous for one individual to hold so much sway over the millions who hang on to her every word. Was giving Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy’s questionable treatments for cancer and autism a platform (and implied credibility) a “good thing”? (To quote another queen of media.) I’m not so sure. We know how she felt betrayed by James Frey’s fictional non-fiction (their rapprochement took up two of her final episodes. Snooze.), how devastated she was by the abuse charges leveled at her girls’ school in South Africa, how horrible defending herself against the Texas cattlemen was. In other words, the woman could still make mistakes, or use her influence in a less than completely responsible way, and the loyalty of her audience was not shaken. Just read the viewer comments on Oprah.com if you are a doubter. Her people adore her in the fiercest of ways.
At the same time I think her power has been used for good in ways that have changed the culture forever. I hate the word, but she is a game-changer. She made her stage a safe place for victims of every sort of abuse (and it certainly helped that she could empathize in an honest way) and took away the stigma that had no business plaguing them in the first place. Her show gave dignity to those noble souls who were suffering from illness or tragedies almost too painful to witness. She brought attention to every population fighting discrimination and gave them a voice. And she got people to read and read well. So does the truly good outweigh the sanctimonious bad? Maybe so.
Oprah’s confidence allows her to make proclamations both big and small. We know how she likes her food and she made a celebrity out of her former chef Art Smith. Unfortunately, it was at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago where she found what might be “the best turkey burger in the entire world.” But I won’t hold the Donald against these delicious alternatives to a beef burger. No, they aren’t dessert but they’re filled with the yin and yang of sweet and savory: apples and scallions, Major Grey’s chutney and smoky chipotle Tabasco and then topped with a super easy pear chutney. When my mother, whose grill played a key role in their creation, announced they were now one of her “favorite things” I thought, “What have I done? Is it the Oprahfication of our dinner table?” Until I realized the only sounds I heard were the calm, appreciative yums from the crowd. No screaming, no jumping and everyone was still breathing.
Oprah's Long Goodbye Turkey Burgers
Adapted from Oprah.com
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1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 Granny Smith apples , peeled and diced
1/8 cup canola oil
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
Juice and Zest of one Lemon
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup Major Grey's Chutney
Pear Chutney for serving (see below)
Sauté the scallions, celery and apples in the canola oil until tender. Let cool.
Place the ground turkey in a large mixing bowl. Add sautéed items and the remaining ingredients. Shape into 10 or 11 five-ounce burgers. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Season the turkey burgers with salt and pepper. Place on a preheated, lightly oiled grill. Grill each side for 7 minutes until meat is thoroughly cooked. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Yield: 10-11 burgers
Adapted from Oprah.com
1 Anjou pear , peeled and diced
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 cups Major Grey's Chutney
1/4 cup dried currants or raisins
Preheat oven to 350°.
Toss the diced pears with the cinnamon and salt. Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 10 minutes.
Cool and mix with the chutney and currants or raisins.
Yield: 2 cups chutney