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.
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
Arts & Ents blogs
Heavy rain and years of neglect may have caused Apollo Theatre roof to collapse
Christmas TV guide 2013: Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all
The Harry Hill Movie, film review: Screenplay isn't so much offbeat as utterly feeble
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Bonuses for goals and top four finish as Luiz Suarez joins Premier League's top three earners
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 5 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
- < Previous
- Next >