The Story of O

Oprah's not gay—she's just got a lot to be happy about

Oprah
4:00 p.m. weekdays
CBS

Oprah Winfrey would like you to know that she is not gay with Gayle. In the August issue of her lifestyle magazine/spiritual tract/shopping guide, O, she writes about the speculation surrounding her airtight friendship with professional gal-pal Gayle King. "There isn't a definition in our culture for this kind of bond between women," Oprah laments, perhaps insinuating that close male buddies aren't subjected to rumors of homosexuality. (I know a couple of actors named Matt and Ben who'd beg to diff, but whatever.) So now we can heave a collective sigh of relief: Gayle has never seen Oprah's O-face.

Normally I'd add a G.I. Joe-esque coda to today's lesson (knowing is half the battle, etc.) but frankly, I wish the truth had remained hidden. Now I'll have to delete all the steamy O/G slashfic I posted online last year (NSFW!). I liked imagining Oprah and Gayle as a couple. Steadman always seemed like a figurehead anyway.

"There isn't a definition in our culture for this kind of bond between women": This month's 'O' magazine
"There isn't a definition in our culture for this kind of bond between women": This month's 'O' magazine

Seriously, I'm not surprised by the publication of this sudden yep-I'm-straight essay (which also mentions, counterproductively, that Gayle once borrowed Oprah's panties during a snowstorm). Confession is the very basis of Oprah's empire, the nucleus of her body of achievements. Oprah doesn't just wear her heart on her sleeve; she exposes her entire circulatory system. We know that she was sexually abused as a child, that she endured a stillbirth at 14, that she once smoked crack, that her spaniels Sophie and Solomon are her surrogate children, and that she wants to bust a cap in James Frey's ass. When Oprah was (unsuccessfully) sued by Texas cattlemen in 1998, she moved her entire show to Texas for the duration of the trial and spoke candidly about the suit when most controversy-avoidant stars would bury their heads in the sand.

And this is just our host we're talking about—the actual guests make the grand dame look discreet by comparison. Case in point: a recent show about swingers in which a frumpy married couple scarred their teenage kids by revealing their underground lifestyle. Billionaire or no, Oprah's still not afraid to play doctor with her public.

And yet, Oprah's brand of TMI paradoxically remains a class act. Her guests are carefully handpicked to avoid even the vaguest frisson of trashiness; a recent show about crystal meth featured some of the most attractive, articulate crank addicts I've ever seen. I actually found myself admiring one junkie's flawless complexion and wondering what kind of foundation she used. Nope, you won't see any toothless gums or weeping lesions on Oprah's couch. Nor will you witness any kicking, screaming, or spontaneous boob-flashing. Despite a brief, slightly seamy period in the late '80s, Oprah isn't about exhibitionism or shocking revelations, it's about feelings. Feelings and Maya Angelou.

Oh, and stuff. Sincerity-immune hipsters love to mock Oprah's obsession with creature comforts, and the way her followers will clamor to purchase any support bra or cashmere hoodie their guru recommends. Every year, Oprah's "Favorite Things" show creates a frenzy for tickets, mainly because Oprah doles out an astonishing amount of swag to audience members: digital cameras, jewelry, even fabulous vacations. And yet, her generosity isn't as blindly ostentatious as it may seem to detractors. For instance, when Oprah infamously gave new Pontiacs to her entire audience (while shouting excitedly in that weird Oprah-monotone) the lucky recipients were all pre-screened folks who'd been referred to the show by friends and family because they needed cars. And in 2004, Oprah's "Favorite Things" audience was composed entirely of teachers. You know, because the children are our future and all. And children can't learn properly unless their mentors have $52 fig-scented Diptyque candles.

Yet despite her largesse, Oprah remains a polarizing figure, admired by many but perceived as a smug, arrogant high priestess by others. Cynics mocked her lavish, much-publicized 50th birthday party, her Legends Ball (at which Oprah insisted on being the only woman in red), and her declaration that she would appear on every cover of her magazine. (Oprah raking leaves! Oprah decorating a Christmas tree! Oprah lighting an M80 in a Kroger's parking lot!) Still, if we've learned anything from Donald Trump and Richard Branson, it's that you can't expect a mogul to be humble. Oprah's a self-made billionaire, for God's sake. If she wants to wear red, she can wear red.

She may be hopelessly bourgeois, but you gotta give it up for Oprah. Her Angel Network has raised millions for worthy causes. Plus, the woman simply glows with benevolent radiance beneath those Andre Walker-styled ringlets. Call it her Oprah-aura. When Jerry Springer beseeched us to "take care of others" at the close of every show, we sensed that his idea of a compassionate act was paying the hooker's cab fare home. Even Tyra Banks, who's clearly intent on becoming Oprah's successor, comes off as posed and insincere, nodding briskly at people's boring problems and strutting down an honest-to-God catwalk.

When Oprah calls her troops to action, you can't help but sit up and take notice. This is a woman who would loan her panties to a girlfriend in need, after all. Just don't read into it.

 
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