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.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food