Obama, Oprah, and the Contagion of Hope
Published on May 10, 2008 by Steven Stosny in Anger in the Age of Entitlement
Oprah Winfrey went out on a limb to campaign for Senator Obama at the beginning of his unlikely bid for the White House. Although polls showed that the results were mixed in terms of her influence on voters, there is little question that her presence at his pre-Iowa rallies raised a relatively unknown Senator nearly to the level of his chief rival in national recognition and fund-raising ability.
Politics aside, what Oprah and Obama have in common is a keen ability to find (and transmit) hope, amid whirlpools of emotional pollution. Oprah finds something genuinely hopeful even in her most unsophisticated guests and in those who merely seem out to sell something. Obama finds hope even in the shell-game of politics and in the larger body of work of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The Senator's ability to see the hope and ignore the pollution in his pastor's sermons will not be his undoing, because we all achingly long to find hope and know intuitively that it is most often surrounded by anguish. Oprah and Obama help us understand that there is more hope in suffering than in Hallmark cards and polically correct pronouncements.
In late 2004, I was a consultant on Oprah Winfrey shows about emotional abuse in intimate relationships. The first two shows produced a fair amount of feedback from women complaining about the horrors of emotional abuse. But the third installment showed about 30 minutes of a 30-hour therapy of an abusive man, depicting, albeit in a highly condensed form, the excruciating process of change. Oprah's narration of the therapy and the obvious results of the reformed abuser and his newly confident wife started an avalanche of requests for treatment from men. In the first week after the show aired, we received more than a thousand emails and phone calls each day from men who recognized their problems with resentment, anger, or abuse and wanted help to change. The phenomenon of men coming forward to ask for treatment is completely unprecedented in research literature on abuse. Amazingly, the hope generated by Oprah and those TV shows continues more than three years after they were first aired.
Oprah Winfrey is unique among entertainment personalities in her ability to find and transmit hope amid the most painful examples of emotional pollution, as Senator Obama is unique among political figures for that same ability. They are successful because they cut through our cynicism and pain to touch the need for hope that may wither but will not die. They make us feel that we can be better persons.