Watchdog Blog

Mary C. Curtis: Even Celebrity is Serious

Posted at 5:06 pm, December 12th, 2007
Mary Curtis Mug

The Oprah-Obama show was all over the news this weekend. Sure, Winfrey’s celebrity and clout signaled the perfect blend of pop culture and politics that has become routine. If Barbra Streisand starts touring with Hillary Clinton, expect more of the same.

But as someone who was there to witness the crowd of nearly 30,000 file into Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., to hear Oprah Winfrey talk about her candidate for president, I know they were not hoping for a free Pontiac.

The people I spoke with were there to hear the other “O,” Sen. Barack Obama. They were ready for his message, with Winfrey the extra that might sway someone else’s vote, but not theirs. This presidential season, the issues are too serious, the stakes too high.

The coverage deserves that same level of seriousness.

“Oprah feels what I feel,” said Theresa Pierce, 43, a business owner from Clermont, Fla., and a grass-roots Obama supporter. Winfrey’s presence, she hoped, would introduce voters to the senator. If Oprah believes it’s possible, maybe others will “follow their hearts, listen to his message and vote that way.”

Winfrey was serious, too. “I’m not here to tell you what to think,” she said. “I got some sense. I know the difference between a book club and this seminal moment in our history.” She walked onstage to Aretha Franklin’s “Think,” after all. But a thoughtful, sometimes hoarse Winfrey was clear about where she stands.

“In the past, I’ve been disappointed by politicians,” said this daughter of the South. “…Now is the time for somebody like Barack Obama,” who can “penetrate the political rhetoric.”

Winfrey – as difficult as it is to imagine – seemed overwhelmed, until she roamed the stage, making points political and personal.

Can anybody besides Winfrey get away with saying, “Apathy is the attitude that disappointment is normal”? Everybody knows her. That’s the thing. And they trust her.

Despite tough times, Winfrey made her own dreams come true, which added symbolism to her dismissal of those who say Obama “should wait his turn.” She asked the crowd: Where would you be if you had waited every time someone told you to? Where would I be?

I was struck by the power, the history of that moment.

On Sunday, in front of a predominantly black crowd, many still dressed for church, the candidate was as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him.

He criticized candidacies based on poll testing and dropped words like triangulation, managing to tweak Hillary Clinton without once mentioning her name.

He referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “the fierce urgency of now” and sounded a bit like a preacher himself. He and Winfrey share improbable life stories, he said. “Nobody could expect we would be on this stage today.” He said, “Our moment is now,” and Winfrey – sitting behind him – mouthed the words.

He held his own between two strong women, his wife, Michelle, being the other one.

Former President Bill Clinton attended worship services in Charleston the same day with his wife’s supporters. When they checked the tightening poll numbers, I’m sure they all said a few prayers.

But this is not about Bill vs. Oprah. It’s serious.

2 Responses to “Even Celebrity is Serious”

  1. Chris Sullivan says:

    Celebrity endorsements are a curious phenomenon. Both Streisand and Oprah are self-created women who have been enormosuly successful as business women. Streisand is also an artistic legend as well.

    What is disconerting is that any intelligent and thoughtful individual would vote for a candidate based upon a celebrity endorsement, regardless of whom it was from.

    Sadly though, so much of contemporary life is influenced by the media and media personalities such as Oprah will have a disproportionate influence on some people as a result. Streisand’s effect will likely be somewhat more muted because she has been out supoorting Democrats for decades longer than Winfrey and endured the hostility of those that don’t agree with her in the process. Oprah will no doubt be getting some of that backlash in her direction now as well.

    I support Oprah’s rite to voice her opinions as much as I support Streisand’s and if they can have an effect – that’s just a real-world dynamic. But for someone to form or change their opinions because of what a celebrity thinks is to set aside your own critical reasoning and that strikes me as a very unwise thing to do.

    I’ve read articles on whose endorsement is more important, Oprah’s or Streisand’s. In my opinion – their endorsement are merely an expression of their opinions and their opinions are not more important than my own – not in my life anyway.

  2. The Deal Donald Trump Couldn't Close | completenews says:

    [...] was electric in 2007 in Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., when Winfrey transferred her star power to the Obama campaign, appearing with Obama, then a [...]

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