Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lowest Common Denominator and Oprah

Switching gears completely, I think much of America's cultural struggles has to do with how we're trying to reconcile our cultural and religious diversity into a singular and unifying popular culture. In an age of consumerism, pop culture attempts to attract the widest audience possible. The way popular music, television, print media, etc. tries to do this is to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Love and sex is an example of this lowest common denominator, and this is the reason television and radio are dominated by these themes. Having parts of humanity that we hold in common with our fellow man is not a bad thing. What is bad is when popular culture reduces the vision of our humanity to nothing more than live-for-the-moment sensual pleasures.
I bring this all up because I think this is what Oprah is trying to do in promoting and offering web seminars on Ethan Tolle's book A New Earth. Through the promotion of this book, Oprah is promoting a religion based on New Age philosophy that teaches there are multiple, equally valid ways to get to God, (and Jesus is only one of these ways as Oprah explains here to this Catholic woman) and God is "a feeling experience and not a believing experience." This is a brilliant use of the lowest common denominator strategy. If you're going to sell something like religion in pluralistic, pop culture America, it doesn't get much lower than "there is no one way". Nevermind that Jesus himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) and nevermind that the claim that "there's no one way" is itself a one way narrow minded view of religion. Somewhat related to this topic is this clip of Oprah getting called out on this point by an audience member in the middle of Oprah's show.

Now, this all relates to our conversation on the best way to influence/change Western civilization. Just as St. Benedict had a method, so does Oprah. Use mass media to have a show that focuses on feel good lowest common denominator subjects. As people can relate their own experience and humanity to the topics of the show (since it is lowest common denominator stuff, it's easy to relate to the subject matter), you earn the people's trust. Then you slowly lead them to a new philosophy and a new religion. As a billionaire, and one of the most powerful and successful people in the very influential mass media, who would dare speak out against Oprah's version of the meaning of life?

Ironically, it's the democratization of the Internet that is leading the charge in calling out Oprah. I first read about this issue a little over a month ago from this article posted by Apparently, this wasn't the only site as blogs and YouTube have generated a buzz about this and put it on the radar of the mass media. At the center of it, apparently is this YouTube video that makes the claim that Oprah is starting a cult, which has over 5 million hits. Then Fox News ran this story, asking the question "Is Oprah starting her own cult?" CNN put their finest intellectual and theological experts on this question in this completely unbiased reporting clip. I wonder if CNN's coverage of this topic has anything to do with the fact that is linked to CNN's frontpage.

I view this as a modern day David vs. Goliath. Here you have a billionaire that is the queen of mass media trying to start a religion based on the media values of the lowest common denominator against a handful of unfiltered bloggers and amateur YouTube video producers, who wouldn't have even had a voice but a few years ago. I am real curious how this will all shake out.

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