Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oprahism and the Church of Obama

Many people have noted that Obama's rhetoric often feels off, but fewer have looked into why that is so. A great part of Obama's success has been his ability to invoke values detached from belief systems. To break away symbols and ideals from religious and national value systems, and mix and match them into his own soundbites. Like the famous Hope poster, that mixed patriotic color schemes with socialist realism, or Obama's own logo, which mixed corporate branding with national politics-- Obama's "brand" was built out of a barely coherent mishmash of clashing elements. The only thing they all have in common is that they are bricks in the wall of Obama's image. They all combine together to promote him.

None of this could have succeeded if context mattered, but Obama's people were piggybacking on a culture where context had ceased to matter. Where growing numbers of people could not be bothered to understand and would not care about the different elements being combined together, only whether the final product appealed to them or not. Obama's image had more in common with the way hip hop artists sample songs, than with a symphony. His campaign was the perfect trailer to a movie that would never be released. It was the marriage of corporate advertising campaigns, pop culture, radical politics and Americana-- thrown together in a pot and boiled into one indecipherable mix that was appealing, and yet completely void of meaning.

Obama's speeches were robotic, not just because they were delivered via teleprompter, but because they had been assembled together artificially out of bits and pieces of old presidential speeches into generic templates that were meant to awe audiences through their presentation. And if afterward no one could quite remember what he said, or what he promised or why they were even impressed-- in an ADD culture that only added to his charm. And so Obama kept on saying very little of substance, yet entertaining his audiences. His speeches called up spirituality devoid of religion, Americana devoid of patriotism and ideals devoid of ideas. He appropriated them all and used them as props in his show.

His obvious inspiration for this was not Jeremiah Wright, who did however provide plenty of textual inspiration, but Oprah herself. Oprah's success lay in marketing that same diffuse spirituality, not grounded in any actual belief system. Instead what she offered was an endless self-centered buffet, spirituality as self-empowerment, with herself and her chosen gurus as the center of a new commercial belief system.

Obama echoed that same self-centeredness, telling audiences, "We are the ones we have been waiting for", a quote from one of Oprah's favorite authors, and appealing to their own search for meaning. A favorite Oprah theme. The search for meaning is a common enough crutch for the narcissist, who wants fulfillment on his or her own terms, rather than commitment. Oprah has been catering to her audiences' endless search for meaning, as expressed through products and courses they can buy. Obama was just the latest of those gurus offering a meaning, consisting entirely of inspiring quotes cribbed from more talented people, with no actual application to anything.

The implicit subtext of the commercial search for meaning is that the meaning itself can never be found, but searching for it is what makes you a better person. That search for meaning as identity defines Oprah, it also defined Obama, who turned that into his own brand with two separate books chronicling his search for meaning, as his identity. His own mentor, Jeremiah Wright, had discovered that packaging his Black Muslim background and Leftist politics into Trinity Church would make him more salable, than if he had marginalized himself as some radical crank. (It took videos of his own shameless speeches and stepping on Obama's media friendly toes to do that.) Obama similarly discovered that selling Islam and Alinsky in a vaguely Christian tone would make it go down smoother. And with enough tri-color bunting and American flags and hymn books scattered around the Trojan Horse, fewer people would notice what was really hiding on the inside.

Obama had daringly sold his journey as America's journey, encouraging voters to not only identify personally with him, but to identity America itself with him. Positioning his own background as the embodiment of America. This should have been an obvious warning sign, because rather than identifying with Americans, he expected them to identify with him. Structuring his campaign as a journey, he spoke to the need for drama by the detached and disaffected. People who were too busy looking for meaning, to understand that meaning cannot be detached from the larger religious and cultural ideas that define civilization. Yet that was exactly what Obama appeared to offer, context free ideas, faith without religion, hope without anything tangible to actually hope for. It was a one-sided romance in which the public, like chicks waddling over to a wire mother, mistaking a sham for substance.

If Oprah offered fast-food meaning on television, Obama offered fast-food solutions in politics. Paying for it was never an issue. Consequences were off the table as well. By clothing a self-centered appeal in altruistic clothing, people felt they were engaging in self-improvement, when they were only being manipulated by professional egotists.

Oprah and Obama did more than share a pastor. They shared broken families and a profound greed and resentment that they learned to disguise professionally as empathy and ambition. By channeling the resentments of others, they could get what they wanted, without appearing harsh or abrasive. By selling other people on answers they did not believe in themselves, they could position themselves as spiritual leaders, without the fuss and limitations of organized religions, written creeds and higher deities. Instead they marketed their own life stories as a form of spirituality, convincing their followers to become invested in their success. Their own achievements were no longer personal, but national and global.

Self-realization as religion is a thoroughly self-indulgent faith, which is what makes it both hollow and appealing. It begins with religion as therapy, and ends with therapy as religion. It borrows religious metaphors, while discarding their meaning. That is the faith that Oprah and Obama have successfully sold millions on. A vaporous hope and faith, with nothing standing behind them. Both came with an innate understanding of the profound weakness of their followers in a post-modern age. They copied the templates of the intersection of religion and entertainment, removing any gods from the equation, and leaving behind personal narratives, feel-good cleaning rituals and of course, money.

But while Obama proved that you can run a campaign, the way you run a talk show-- you cannot actually run a country the way you run a talk show. Oprah's paranoid commitment to secrecy could not be successfully mirrored at the White House, no matter how hard Obama tried. And people expected more from an elected official put into the highest office in the land, than they did from a talk show host. And there was no avoiding that. And now it is Sarah Palin who's creating her own media empire, with books, a TV show and public appearances. Meanwhile Obama is discovering that reality cannot be remixed. That trotting out upbeat brands, slogans and logos is no substitute for results. And that eventually even loyalist reporters will have questions they want answers to. If only to the question, "Why can't I ever ask you a question?"

Yet there is a larger problem behind Obama and Oprah, the problem of a culture that neglect context, and instead favors short-term entertainment. When the Obama Administration ends, it may well go down as the most expensive bit of public entertainment in American history. And what is worse, is that even if Obama is somehow shown the door tomorrow, the cultural blind spots he exploited will still be there, and only getting worse. The self-help shelves of bookstores are still jammed with the search for meaning. That same empty yearning, which Obama exploited so very well.

There is a hole in our culture, and it is there because the verities that once defined us have been marginalized. Religion and national identity are relentlessly mocked by the same media culture that has usurped their place, with its own replacements like Oprah. What once provided meaning to people, lies by the wayside. And instead people search for personal fragmented meanings, for happiness and self-realization, when the search itself represents a denial of the mature commitments that make happiness and self-realization possible. Behind that fragmentation is a culture's loss of who and what it is. Leaving behind lonely individuals looking for something to hang on to, and at the mercy of predators whose own identities come from gaining their confidence, and preying on them.

The left has always understood that it can only succeed by replacing religion and nationalism, either through direct assault, or through the Trojan Horse effect of dressing their own ideas up in mock nationalistic and religious colors. The left was never atheistic. Its religion was government, its functionaries and doctrines were its priests and its creed. The Communists radically launched a direct assault. The more moderate socialists rode inside the Trojan Horse. And their depredations have left behind a West with a wounded soul. It is not only the likes of Oprah and Obama who know how to exploit that wound. There are far worse predators drawing closer to the campfire. Islam is preparing to engulf a Europe that has turned its back on its own values. What predators will come for America in the night is still an open question. With Obama and Soros, we have seen the first ugly glimmer of what may be coming. But unless America reclaims its soul, far larger predators will arrive on the scene.


Brock Townsend said...

The top picture is more than I can bear.....:)

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

more than I can bear too

Morey said...

Hallelujah Save them Whales!

Laurene Tuttle said...

You can mock all you want both people are terribly impressive and greatly needed by many.
Miss Oprah is a saint. Obama is messiah. You think that's a joke?
These people lay down their very lives for the American public and for some of us, this is very very real.
You need to have your head examined Knish because what Obama and Oprah do for America is priceless.

Anonymous said...

I used to be lonely until I found the Oprah show. But then my afternoons were filled with brightness for the first time in years.
I was raised a Protestant, but the church is vague and valueless at best. The ministry are boring and hypocritical.
Not Oprah. I began to watch her when she was broadcasting in Chicago.
I found deep respect for that lady and if she loved Obama and thought the nation needed him, well I did too.
She knows. She is spiritual and deep and right minded.

The left is not the problem in America. It is the religious right that has brought deep degradation to the states with their evangelical haughtiness and their servile love of guns and landfills.

Islam will not make inroads in the USA because there are no merry hymns about someone like Jesus in that religion and that is what the evangelicals love.
Also there are no happy holidays for people to stay home and drink hot chocolate around the fire either.
Its why Judaism never made any progress.
But if Oprah is a religion then its a darn good one.

Yonah Moshe said...

"both people are terribly impressive and greatly needed by many."

They have convinced you that you need them. And you say the bloggist needs HIS head examined? LOL, You just made his point.

Yonah Moshe said...

"But if Oprah is a religion then its a darn good one."

Another one who is so blinded that they embrace this religion of nothing with open arms. Pathetic and precisely what is wrong with America.. too many like this fool. There really must be something in the water...

Anonymous said...

Oprah once gave me a few bucks when I was down on my luck in Chicago. It changed my life.
You can call people fools Yonah but you sound like a man whose head is stuck in a big fish.

Anonymous said...


I think one of your best.

Surely, there is some parody in the previous comments? Nobody can be that dumb and still breathe.

Anonymous said...

Jealousy from the right which has no icons who are looked up to at all.

RichardFromOz said...

Oh-oh, Daniel. I fear from the sudden dropping of the standard of responses from some of the "contributors", the leftards have found you.

mindRider said...

@ anonymous ....Also there are no happy holidays for people to stay home and drink hot chocolate around the fire either......
Its why Judaism never made any progress......
You apparently have no idea about Jews and their happy holidays, as for those the entire world should already have been Jewish and on a diet!
I do however agree that Oprah may have filled a void in many empty lives which empty religious words could not fill as not every pastor, priest or rabbi has the gift of "connection".

TheGhostofBelleStarr said...

Honestly...Oprah is the biggest sanctimonious, guilt-ridden, elitist snob to ever epitomize liberal guilt. She makes her enormous success due to her vacuous existence on daytime television stroking the emotions of scores of pathetic women who would do better reading books or expanding their mind over watching the daily chit-chat about the most superficial tripe our pop culture can pass from its bowels. Oprah...just be thankful you pull down more than the GNP of most small nations in the world each year, and please just shut your dang yap!

Every time I see her doe-eyed, rapt, child-like attention on the latest trend of spiritualistic nonsense she pedantically dissects as some form of new enlightenment she is bestowing upon her dumbass lemming masses everywhere, I desperately want to skewer my eyeballs like martini olives, and guzzle them down with some gin.

tickbird said...

Mr Greenfield,

Most of the comments confirmed exactly what you wrote about. Oprahism is the religion of which Oprah is the high priestess and Obama is the god. Laurene Tuttle is obviously a devotee and so are so many in your country. Tragically so.

Jules said...

Dear Daniel,

Absolutely spot on yet again sir.


p.s. Can you explain why EVERY (and I mean EVERY) time I try to send a link to one of your articles on facebook, FB demands me to complete one of those "identify the obscured text" security checks before I can post it. Seems mighty strange and a tad sinister that your blog is being singled out for this treatment time and again?

gonzomocha said...

got to really wonder at the 'trojan horse'....that has now emerged on your site....where have these useless idiots/do gooders....been hidin'

my best line in your marvelously worded piece is the one that runs...'profound greed and resentment.....disguise professionaly as empathy and ambition'......absolutely on the button

personally can't tolerate the un-abashed charlatan....and was mightly pleased to hear that her new network was having financial problems and shedding staff at a rate....

could'nt happen to a 'nicer' person..chuckle chuckle

Harpo Amabo said...

Oh dear. All those starry-eyed, bedazzled people are merely demonstrating it is exactly as Mr Greenfield said.

Worse, no matter how thoughtful or objective articles like this, there seem to be enough people being taken in to sweep Obama into a second term –– and for that matter will keep swallowing without thought whatever the illusionists and delusion-makers tell them.

Yes, you will indeed receive a few dollars, a few warming words, from the promoted great and good but they will ensure they stay on top.

fsy said...

There are far worse predators drawing closer to the campfire.

Not sure that's possible.

fsy said...

Oh-oh, Daniel. I fear from the sudden dropping of the standard of responses from some of the "contributors", the leftards have found you.

It would be perfectly fine (although perhaps time-consuming) to just not publish their empty nonsense.

Edward Cline said...

This won’t count for anything, but I nominate Daniel for next year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. What a damning portrait he writes of Obama, a creature who feels a need to be something without actually being anything, a manipulator of contextless ideas and raw emotions and exploiter of resentments and wishes for the unearned who can’t be anything unless he is seen as master of the universe by all the selfless and rudderless sheep. Without obedience and adulation, he is truly an empty suit – nay, an empty vessel. Frankly, he’s an amateur in that respect – look at Putin, or Robert Mugabe, or Hitler, or Mao, or Stalin, or the faceless Party tyrants of China, but his professional standing as a wannabe tyrant and half-successful demagogue who keeps reality at bay by commanding the tides and the weather to do his bidding, doesn’t make him any the less dangerous.

No Pulitzer was awarded this year for fiction. It ought to have gone to an anthology of Obama’s speeches. Or to his biographies.

vladtepes2 said...

For a minute there I thought you were going for an allusion to Obama as Lucifer, "the morning start", the one who would make himself God and build a religion around himself.

chapter 14 of the Book of Isaiah: "And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve, That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ! ... How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." (KJV, Isaiah 14:3-5, 12-15).

Yael said...

Daniel, It seems we're on a bit of the same wavelength.

BeeSting said...


I agree with others, this is one of your best descriptions of BHO's character. Removing the symbols of America i.e. our flag,and replacing it with his hollow, big fat zero logo is disturbing to Americans.

I would love to have you give this article as a speech at the GOP Convention - time to wake up America. Apparently, from reading the comments, you have touched the nerve of a few of his blinded followers.

Mr ED said...

The religion of the New Left preaches that its acolytes will find meaning (and redemption) within their own personal godhood. All attempts to find meaning elsewhere are not only doomed to failure, those attempts are in and of themselves evil and must be utterly destroyed so as not to interfere with the glorious search for redemption to be found only within ones personal, private sense of ethics (personal godhood). At least that is true for the elect who know how special they themselves are and how much better the world will be after they. the elect, have their chance to rule.

Those would-be gods of the New Left (Obamesiah, lying media scum, et al) truly believe they know best in all things and that those who resist their personal mission of godhood - leading we mere mortals into the perfect future - simply need to be forced at the point of a government gun to accept the self-appointed Leftist gods vision of the "perfect" world, all for their own good of course! Naturally that "perfect" world the Leftists create is just as corrupt and pernicious as human nature itself, but the Leftist gods believe themselves noble, corageous and utterly infallible and expect the little people they rule over to thank them for the blessings of the Leftists infallible wisdom and enlightenment.

But that is and always has been the New Left - Symbolism Without Substance - Morality Without Morals. While New Leftism isn't a religion in the strictest sense, there are a great many similarities between a much older totalitarian religion (Is-lame) and the newer totalitarian religion of the New Left. They both profess to be comprehensive systems that offer not only religious meaning, but also provide a government and set of laws by which humans should be governed. And that government, its laws and those who rule must not be questioned about their judgements nor the wisdom of their decisions - They are doing gods will (even if they themselves are the "god") and as such are beyond any need to explain themselves to the little people. The little people will just have to be made to submit and obey "gods will". Sound familiar?

TheBeatGoesOn said...

I have your site bookmarked and find the effort, your writing ability and topics of great importance. This particular piece is very well written and thoughtful. Your insight and ability to express your "ideas" is quite admirable. May I say "thank you Daniel" for doing a wonderful work for many. Dare I use a trite saying in that "you punch above your weight class". But you have class, Sir.
Thanks again,
Charlie Whiting
Blue Ridge Mtns. of S.W. Va.

A Random Blowhard said...

Context, you say. Well, two things about that. First, that it remains the duty of every voter (consumer) to caveat emptor, be responsible for validating claims - be skeptical! If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Second, that we usually have some kinds of "gatekeepers" who attempt to enforce truth in advertising. Historically this has been the MSM. Who gave them the millenium off? What about the party apparatus, that is supposed to give us qualified candidates?

Context is not magic and does not enforce itself, it takes work on the part of many.

That said, your Oprah/Obama comparo is just so valid, it hurts. Still, Oprah seems to fulfill the needs of her context. And here's a thing, arguably, if all Obama is is a good laugh, maybe that fulfills the context, too. Our president is not the god-king of the USA, he's the top of the administrative branch. In may large organizations, all that is is a figurehead that people can unite behind, the real work being done in the bureaus. So, as hollow and wrong as Obama might be, let's not blame it all on him, personally.

dwight said...

Religion, sex, and politics. And drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll. Sex is the third rail between the other two in a sub-cultural transit system.

Obama is a rock-star politician. Oprah is a day-time-media groupie's drug of choice.

Fast food. Free sex. A man doesn't have to be a breadwinner in order to have his cake and eat it too. And a woman doesn't have to manage a home and family in order to find fulfillment in the marketplace.

Sex is just a word that means whatever Freud and Kinsey want it mean.

The past was a riddle pregnant with meaning; but now the future is an answer that can mean whatever we want it to mean.

I have a riddle for Chicago politics and Chicago religion. When is a young, first-time mother not expectant? When she is with fetal tissue.

Unless we can bring ourselves to repent for what we have done with our words there is no real hope or true change for us. Or for our children.

Keli Ata said...

This is wonderful Daniel and and should be labeled important. You nailed Obama. I'm tempted to ask how you managed to get Obama on your couch to analyze him but Obama left his diary open you didn't have to.

There always has been something off about Obama and his version of transparency and secretiveness. Sort of like Putin's response to voter fraud--live streaming video of each and every voter. Transparent spying and deception.

Three and a half years into Obama's reign and the second he opens his mouth I literally change the channel. Channel surfing literally and figuratively!

The MSM (Main Stream Miss) and led me to another controversial network to enagage me in US politics.

Keli Ata said...

Re your articles and FB: FB is getting pretty strange lately. I tried to like The Alyona Show and got a pop asking if I really wanted to like The Alyona Show.

It sort of like FB asking are your really really sure you want to publicly admit to liking this show?

I'm getting the sense that liking anything remotely controversial will put me on one watch list or another.

This is anti-cyber censorship week. Forget SOPA and PIPA.

CISPA is far worse

Lawrence Howard said...

Yes employ censorship to silence those whose opinions differ from your own. What freedom!

Anonymous said...

".....thrown together in a pot and boiled into one indecipherable mix that was appealing, and yet completely void of meaning."

I think you were thinking of this:

Shemot 32:24 "...Then they gave me the gold and I threw it into the fire, an out came this calf!"

The time we are in is the "Time of No Context" - this is why people cannot think for themselves, don't know how to measure from a baseline, spiritually and are emotionally labile consequently voting for anyone who makes them feel good.

...anyway counting down to the next big happy holiday - kate b

Edward Cline said...

Lawrence Howard: Whom are you accusing of censorship? Your comment isn't clear. If it's Daniel, the charge fails. This is his blog, and not public property, and he may edit or delete commments as he wishes. The only entity that can practice or impose censorship is the government, which has a monopoly on force. In fact, one couldn't even charge the MSM with censorship when it omits certain facts or evidence that don't fit an agenda -- the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman issue is a case in point. One can only charge the MSM with encouraging emotional insanity and lynch mob justice. So, if you're reading this, please do the other readers a courtesy and clarify your comment.

Jim Milord said...

Thank you Daniel and bless you. I cannot believe that these people could be so bad and effective on their own without water and fertilization by a corrupted culture dying to, um, die.
Jim Milord
Bellingham WA

Keliata said...

Edward: Not to meddle but it was fsy who suggested not posting certain comments.

BTW: You're absolutely right about government censorship. I've experienced government censorship for my writing off line a little over a decade ago. You're right.

Lawrence Howard said...

@ Edward
My comment was clearly marked as aimed at fys. Learn to read before you start barking your head off at people.

Anonymous said...

An angry man hating lesbian, and a closet homosexual male - they have met their match. Who are we to judge?

Anonymous said...

To Laurene Tuttle,
I postulate:
Nobody's excrement tastes like ice cream. Not yours. Not mine. And perhaps to your disbelief, not Obama's or even Oprah's. That said, now go get a life.
To Daniel,
A great article among great articles...You outdid yourself more than you you usually do.

Not Ovenready

fsy said...

Lawrence Tuttle,

Read my comment again. I never advocated "censorship" based on opinions, I simply suggested a reasonable filtering of content-free, repetitive spam.

As others have mentioned, your original comment was just nowhere near the intellectual standard seen in the comments on this blog, and that is was gave it away as trolling.

fsy said...

Oops, I meant Lawrence Howard.

Edward Cline said...

Lawrence Howard, you chastised: "My comment was clearly marked as aimed at fys. Learn to read before you start barking your head off at people."

I wasn't "barking my head off." I was asking for clarification, calmly and civilly. I don't read all the comments here so "fsy" eluded me. Calm down.

Julia said...

See Ross Douthat "Bad Religion: How we Became a Nation of Heretics" I think Greenfield and Douthat are channeling each other!

To follow Obama or Oprah, to believe they have all the answers to being a happy, fulfilled individual or to creating a better society, is to follow a false messiah.

We have a watering down of mainstream religion into a homogeneous feel good spiritual food substitute. I respect everyone’s right to believe as he or she wishes, but I refuse to shop at the church of feelgoodism for my faith. American religious laziness is part of the intellectual laziness we find within Ivy covered walls, in schoolrooms, round America’s office water coolers, and round American dinner tables. Our laziness makes us vulnerable to charlatans and false messiahs.

Keliata said...

That is so true Julia. So true.

The thing about happy, feel good religions is that they are just that--feel good.

There is no Jewish Vidui or Catholic Confiteor. No remorse for sin or recognition of sign. No thumping of the chest to demonstrate that sorrow and guilt through our own actions. To accuse ourselves.

Keliata said...

oops. typo. I meant to write sin twice.

Keliata said...

Chest tapping during Vidui has always reminded me of chest compressions in CPR. It's essential for the person to be revived.

Post a Comment