A good idea from ... Oprah Winfrey
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton is a philosopher, writer and television presenter. His books include Essays in Love (published when he was only 23), How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and Religion for Atheists (2012)
Sunday 20 June 1999
Richardson, Wordsworth, Rousseau and Freud are among those responsible for changing our attitudes to our emotions, but, in the modern age, perhaps no figure has done more to popularise the virtues of a certain kind of emotional outpouring than the US chat-show hostess Oprah Winfrey. Her show, broadcast in almost every country in the world, is underpinned by a faith that if we could only honestly express what we feel (preferably with tears), then our sorrows would be lightened. We would be purged of our sins, and be happy. Oprah's show has over the years allowed an extraordinary range of feelings and actions - jealousy, abandonment, incest, polygamy and matricide - to be explored in public. Guests are often seen breaking down in tears, shouting and embracing, while the genial hostess watches proceedings with a benign eye. Expressing emotions, however distasteful, is, after all, better than denial and repression.
And yet paradoxically, the one good idea we can draw from Oprah concerns not so much the virtues of self-expression (we can get those from Freud or Nietzsche), but the dangers. However welcome an openness about our inner lives can be, after watching a few episodes of Oprah, we come away with a clear awareness of its excesses.
Oprah is the perfect symbol of the risks of personal expression. Her show enables us to refer in a quick and globally recognisable way to a deeply problematic emotional attitude. We can now be understood from London to Taipei if we say of an evening which has spun out of control, "It suddenly seemed like we were on Oprah," or, of a person who has said too much, "She's so Oprah."
By this, we indicate that someone has, by complete loyalty to the idea that emotional openness is good, lost sight of a tragic fact of social life: our feelings are more endearing to ourselves than to others, and self-expression is not always ideal. If we consider emotional outpouring the supreme virtue, we are likely to be very trying.
It is unfortunate that there has to be a golden mean in this area of life too. It would be nice if we could always express our anger and feel our pain publicly in the rawest ways and not prove offensive. But because we can't, we should be grateful to Oprah Winfrey for representing so clearly the risks of self-expression.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 2 HeForShe campaign: Iceland to follow up Emma Watson speech with UN women's rights conference – for men only
- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
- 5 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
Before They Pass Away: In pictures
Pride: Are US film censors pandering to homophobia?
Kylie Minogue Kiss Me Once tour, London O2 - review: Pop princess still reigns supreme
Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican named highest-selling female comedians
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >