Experts Explain How 'The Oprah Effect' Happened
Evan Agostini, AP
But how has Oprah been able to impact so many people and become the icon she is today?
Experts dub her influence "The Oprah Effect" and say the concept is pretty simple, when you break it down. That's because Winfrey -- who was raised amid poverty, abuse and other childhood trauma -- has been able to rise above her hardships and make something of herself. Her rags-to-riches story means she "personifies the 'American Dream,'" according to Brenda Weber, an associate professor of gender studies at Indiana University.
"She was born in poverty, and she was able to use her talents and her hard work and charisma to become one of the wealthiest women in the world," Weber told MyDaily.
Weber said the idea of the "American Dream" has changed in the last 20 years or so, from the house with the white picket fence ideal to the concept of super stardom and fame.
"Now, celebrities are very much a part of how we view success and arriving and really doing well," she said. "So [Oprah] actually encompasses all the meanings of the 'American Dream' -- poverty to the middle class to the elite class to worldwide celebrity."
Although there's no doubt that Oprah has touched millions of women -- and men -- around the world, her effect on the female population is staggering. From her work to open a school in Africa that ensures impoverished girls get a good education to her mission to help women see the beauty in themselves, Oprah has become kind of a "mother" to people everywhere. Even more impressive is how many women place their trust her.
"Women are asked to be perfect in many roles," said Kathryn Lofton, the author of "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon." "Oprah says, 'First, you don't have to be perfect,' then she gives endless advice so you might still try to be. [And] she simultaneously named the ideal life and exposed herself as imperfect in her effort to create that best life."
Winfrey is always working on creating a bond with the viewers on the other side of the TV set, according to Weber. Since women tend to be inherently in touch with their emotions, her ability to present vulnerability -- in her guests and in herself -- inspires many to gravitate toward her.
"She's about emotional connections with people," Weber said. "She's about wanting to know about human-interest stories. She engages in a form of sentimental connections with people. And more broadly, that's how we think about how women are more socialized -- that they tend to be more engaged with feelings."
With her own Harpo Productions and her other various projects, Oprah has become a brand that has spawned a book club, a charitable organization and even her own network, OWN. It seems that everything she touches turns to gold. And while she could easily be resented for her achievements, money and fame, there really does seem to be more love than hate in her life because of what she does with her power.
"She shows us, unrelentingly, how we might become her," said Lofton, who is also an assistant professor of American and religious studies at Yale University. "She seems as delighted by her success as her fans are."
But despite the wild popularity of her talk show, it remains to be seen whether Oprah can do it again with her fledgling channel. Lofton has her doubts because networks typically don't have followings -- TV shows do.
"If she wants to continue to disseminate the message of her empire, her success will be in her continued pursuit of the edge of media," Lofton said. "Nobody watches networks -- they watch programs."
Winfrey could have the same success with OWN, according to Lofton, if she continues to be a powerful and ubiquitous multimedia brand, a force that "transcends the specificity of her or the specificity of a channel."
Of course, no one knows for sure what the future holds for Oprah. But for many loyal fans, it will be a new journey they can't wait to join her on.
Related: We'll Miss You, Oprah: Real Women Share Their Best 'O' Memories
Around the Web
- What Drives Men Away and What Attracts Them - YourTango
- Bill Clinton: It's Still the Economy, Stupid - The Daily Beast
- Do You Want to Know When Your Friends Run Into Your Ex? - The Frisky
- Would You Marry Someone Who Didn't Have a Job? - The Gloss
- And the City That Has the Most Sex Is ... - The Stir, CafeMom
- 3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Makeup Sweat-Proof This Summer - BellaSugar