December 8

Republicans repeat mistake: The Australian

The instinct to mock anything that could be considered popular is an unfortunate trait of the self-styled sophisticates who dominate much of the media debate here.

It is evident in much of the commentary on the forthcoming royal wedding, where republicans are in danger of repeating the mistake they made at the 1999 referendum when they assumed that making a negative case would be enough to carry the vote.

 [The Australian editorial 8 December 2010 “ More than just a TV star” ]

Need we say more?

After  proving that being black and female is no barrier to success, Oprah Winfrey finds herself the subject of two prejudices still considered acceptable in politically correct Australia, anti-Americanism and anti-populism. Winfrey's arrival in Australia, where she will broadcast her show from the Sydney Opera House, has been the cue for mocking commentary from the tertiary-educated critics who refuse to accept that anyone as popular as Oprah could serve any useful purpose.

They are so wrong.

The Oprah Winfrey Show may not be everyone's program of choice, but it is hard to argue with the impact of this extraordinary woman.

A study by Craig Garthwaite and Timothy Moore, for example, suggests Winfrey's endorsement was worth a million votes to Barack Obama at the presidential election. Her influence on her audience's reading habits has also been well documented: more than 640,000 copies of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina were sold in the 12 weeks after it was included in Oprah's Book Club, compared with fewer than 12,000 in the previous year.

And then there's Jonathan Franzen, who got huffy about the inclusion in the club of his 2001 book, The Corrections, fearful perhaps of being labelled lowbrow, but who was happy for his new novel, Freedom, to be Oprah's pick for the club.

That's the thing about mass appeal — it's seductive. The 56-year-old Winfrey knows that in spades, so it is really no surprise that Tourism Australia has been happy to fund her visit here.

TA has no truck, it seems, with the analysis of some elite commentators that her audience in the US is not sufficiently sophisticated to grace our shores. Her critics in the US have tried to dismiss the Oprah phenomenon as mere tabloid television, but Winfrey has pioneered discussion of social issues once taboo on mainstream American television and thus has conquered prejudice towards homosexuals and other minorities in a way overt activism could never have achieved.

The instinct to mock anything that could be considered popular is an unfortunate trait of the self-styled sophisticates who dominate much of the media debate here. It is evident in much of the commentary on the forthcoming royal wedding, where republicans are in danger of repeating the mistake they made at the 1999 referendum when they assumed that making a negative case would be enough to carry the vote.  


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