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Tricking us Softly with her Song: Going Oprah

Well, it happened. Oprah Winfrey has tearfully announced the end of her show in 2011—an apt date for the symbolic New Beginning or The End of the World in 2012. I am neutral on Oprah. I admit I have never even seen a full episode, but I've been paying some lazy attention.

Whatever one's feelings about Oprah, her effect on the interest in no-brow pop-lit has been enormous—she has brought women back to books, who could argue with the virtue of that?

She has been a key player in a huge change in consciousness and identity, nurturing through adolescence and into adulthood the contemporary self-help culture that was conceived in the late 1960s (I'm Ok—You're OK) and born in the 70s (Primal Scream era) Oprah was there for self-help's golden age in the last of the 80s and all through the gratitude-filled 90s.

Looking at the final Oprah-promoted self-help megasuccess, The Secret, it all seems to have come full circle, like a tarot trump journey. If I'm ok, You're ok --with all its inner-child-is-the-groundwork focus-- is The Fool card, The Secret, with its total control and mastery over self and environment, can be seen as The World.

Generally, after The Secret, (save perhaps one last noble stand, starring Eckhart Tolle) Oprah's self help heyday seems to be exhausted. Is it significant that Oprah's endorsement of The Secret is deeply aligned with the New Thought movement which has strong ties with our last turn of the century and its fin de siècle angst too?

Looking at its tenets: self-authority, personal power, responsibility, and a noncommittal, nicely vague and interpretable notion of God, it's not hard to see its appeal and easy fit with all we face now: anxiety over globalization, impending ecological destruction, and technological advancements and breakthroughs that promise (or threaten) to turn our existence on its head.

So it's no surprise that New Thought again emerges amid this stew, but with all the grand metaphysical notions that have manifested throughout Oprah's daytime tenure, there's certainly something about her that is central to the meaning.

Much has been made of her unlikeliness in fulfilling such a destiny. But Oprah is queen boundary-crosser; she has been an everywoman of the marginalized: black, female, poor, victimized, fat. Her against-all-odds, rags-to-riches story seems almost magical or archetypal, and to hear her tell of particular events along the way reinforces this idea.

Within esoteric subjects, discourse about Trickster dynamics is plentiful. Paranormal phenomena, UFOs, aliens, Ouija boards, Men in Black, the Virgin Mary, Bigfoot, and even particular individuals like Uri Geller, Aleister Crowley, and James Randi have big-time Trickster attributes: shape-shifting, ambiguous sexual/gender dynamics, elusiveness, liminality, etc. Trickster in this arena is hardcore.

However, there's a softer, gentler Trickster, in which these qualities are present, but less pronounced; more pronounced is the manner of their transformative journey, which I've described "…as a clever, crafty mischief-maker, whose aim it is to survive in a threatening environment by use of non-traditional, mundane or magical means and pranks." To this, my own quote, I should add, "…survive…with very winning success."

Think of Parsifal and the Holy Grail, Harry Potter and his sometimes purely accidental triumphs in all challenges; with this soft, or literary type Trickster, there's an overall sense of one's fulfillment of destiny.

With Oprah poised as a gatekeeper of mass spirituality at the turn of this century, archetypal energy is bound to be present, and I suggest she presents a Trickster persona, albeit mostly on this softer side.

Her hardcore Trickster qualities are present though, notably with her great boundary-crossing I mentioned, as well as her constantly and radically fluctuating appearance, appointment as both savior and demon by different camps presence at both extreme poles of social status, creative injury, allegations of homosexuality, and her association with hoaxes,* urban legends, and scandals.

There are several things that separate Oprah from her fellow contemporary Tricksters. Although classic Tricksters are usually male, she's by no means the first female; there are many modern women steeped in Trickster qualities: Britney Spears, Roseanne Barr, and fictional characters like Lucy Ricardo and Amelia Bedelia.

However, Oprah is unusual in that female Tricksters are usually seen to be pretty outrageous in character and behavior, and are often vilified and generally seen as bad, dumb, or wild women. Oprah's persona is the exact opposite of these things. She is generally thought of as a good woman, intelligent—even brilliant and visionary—and instead of a wild woman, a very self-controlled and restrained one.

Because Tricksters act as a kind of Shadow release valve for the population, and because they are usually tainted, perhaps with Oprah's relative virtue there really is something positive in the mix—if we are to get over all the commoditization, and the sweet Disneyfication of occult ideas that have been promoted, that is.

Looking at the Oprah era as a holistic phenomenon, perhaps it can be seen as a tangible shift of a critical mass toward profound self reflection (or a desire for such, at least) which is sure to prove to be in tall order in the coming years.

So, what do I make of it all? Because so many heavy dynamics of religion/spirituality and identity are involved, as well as archetypal notions, for the moment I suppose I just think all things Oprah are complex and intriguing. And I plan to watch a full episode before the end.

Photo credit: Mississippi Writers & Musicians

*I'm not implying she has been on the wrong side of any hoax.

It should also be noted that many, if not all of the scandals (mainly focused on truth/lies, real/fake, and ambiguities in storytelling, which seems the stuff of Trickster itself) have occurred in these latter years, post-The Secret. Perhaps the trickster energy is becoming harder to restrain now that her "mission" has been completed?

Contact Richelle Hawks

Visit Richelle's blog: Beamships Equal Love