Monday, May 16, 2011

Memo to File, re: Oprah

Note: this originally appeared on the Blogger’s previous blog a few years ago, and is re-published on the eve of Oprah’s farewell episode.

It was a conversation I’ve had with many lawyer friends of mine. They continue to be inundated with work, the partners they work with are sadist taskmasters, and their Machiavellian colleagues continually prey on their clients. People do not take vacations for fear that their files will have magically alighted onto the desks of the lawyer next door. My dear friends are ignoring their health and have begun to forgo family obligations, and return from work later at night. Despite our best efforts, it is becoming more difficult to “let go”.

There is, however, a simple solution that, while it may not make the nightmare files or the fear go away, can help alleviate just a little pressure. The solution is simple that no one has ever thought of it. Every day, for one hour a day, all business must shut down so that everyone in the office can … watch Oprah. Together. In the conference room.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m deadly serious.

Everyone who has stayed home from work can attest that Oprah has a hypnotic hold over her audience. On her show, you see ordinary people, sports figures, celebrities and politicians bare their souls. People discuss social issues, from racism and sexism to homophobia and ageism, to everyone’s great cathartic release. Recent topics include her revisit with Neo-Nazis who walked out on her in the late 80s during a taping, and Chaz Bono’s transition to a biological male. Oprah’s show is like a shining beacon, one to where celebrities tearfully go to address and atone for public embarrassment and sins, or just to promote their new line of handbags. The reason why Oprah is one of the most powerful cultural figures of our time is that she empathizes with everyone and welcomes them on her show, no matter how famous or ordinary they are. Although some (still) attribute the show’s lasting success female bonding at its most powerful, but the power of The Big O is not localized to women. When she speaks, people listen. Not just women: everyone. Oprah matters.

Pay attention to the following question: how many sick lawyers (or anyone else at home during business hours) have stayed at home, returned to work the day after and almost immediately upon their return relate to their co-workers about the great episode of Oprah they saw while they were recuperating? (“What did you do while you were sick?” “Oh, I watched Oprah. That poor Jennifer Aniston, how dare Brad Pitt leave her for that temptress Angelina Jolie!!”) How many have purchased books based solely on her recommendation? And how many considered voting for (or simply rooting for) Barack Obama since she backed him as the next President of the United States in 2008?

One must not underestimate just how great a morale-booster this would be for law firms. Based on her recommendations, Oprah can direct lawyers to engage on such enlightening non-legal activities such as reading great works of fiction, going on yoga retreats and having spa treatments (the seaweed-avocado body wrap in mud bath seems especially rejuvenating). Oprah can provide great tips on redecorating and throwing theme dinner parties. Oprah can save the legal profession! If firms can get around the notion of linking hands, making a caring circle and having each of us tell everyone else that we are fabulous in our own way, we can really start a revolution. On the third season 30 Rock episode “Believe in the Stars”, Tina Fey’s character believes that Oprah would be coming to her office to help her resolve some managerial issues (the Mighty Opes herself makes a guest appearance) and gasps excitedly, “she’s coming, OPRAH is coming! She’s going to fix EVERYTHING!”

Above all – and this is where I get serious – let’s not forget her “Wildest Dreams” campaign, where Oprah asks audience members and fans what their wildest dreams are, and make them come true. In one particularly poignant and funny episode, a fan who was dying of cancer told Oprah she wants to travel to Egypt, see the pyramids on camel and call her family from a cell phone to describe the beauty with which she was presented. Oprah made it happen. If this ordinary person with an insurmountable, incurable disease took time from the last months of her life to do this, why can’t the rest of us, who are blessed with family, wealth, health and opportunities, be just as adventurous?

We often need to work, it’s unavoidable. There is dignity in work and we must be proud of what we do. But in order to save our sanity, let’s contemplate that although we may dismiss Oprah as insignificant fluff or simply daytime television for housewives (if you still believe that, don’t forget that she’s one of the richest people – not just women – on God’s green earth), don’t forget that she is more powerful and influential than the rest of us. We may not all save the world, win the rat race or climb to the top, but if we slowed down from time to time and take a cue from The Mighty Opes, we just might take one step closer. And now that her show is ending next week, with a gala finale on May 25 and a daily countdown on her show to the grand series finale, we will have to console ourselves with reruns on her OWN network to keep us sated.

To put it all in perspective, remember that Oprah started her series in 1986. That’s the same year Lady Gaga was born. The Mighty Opes has now given birth to a way of thinking and viewing the world, altering our perceptions ever so slowly, and manifesting a cultural legacy that has spanned a quarter of a century. That is formidable, and a tough act to follow. Scoff at the end of her show all you like, but realize that in 25 years, she has helped to reflect, shape and redefine our values and our perspective. The Blogger’s family immigrated to these immaculate shores just before Oprah came to public consciousness, and he has watched her evolve as he and his family and friends have. The Blogger, for one, will miss her.

Goodbye Oprah, we’ll miss you. We’ll always have your network and a quarter century of memories. Anytime one of your reruns comes on, we’ll somehow know that the world may not be that bad after all but if things get that bad, we know you’ll somehow be there, say the right thing, and we’ll listen.