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Title: Oprah and representations of the self : confessional and therapeutic discourse in contemporary American culture.
Author: Wilson, Sherryl Christine.
Awarding Body: University of the West of England at Bristol
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2001
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This thesis explores the ways in which selfhood is constructed and expressed in The Oprah Winfrey Show. The current debate on talk shows within Media Studies tends to cohere around two positions. On the one hand, talk shows are seen as exemplars of Trash TV in which confessions of private pain are exploited for commercial gain. On the other hand, the programmes are seen as a site of empowerment for marginalised people normally denied a voice in the public sphere. This thesis moves away from this binary by examining the cultural context in which Oprah is produced. It examines the show in the light of two distinctive, but at times, overlapping, traditions of thought in American culture in which conflicting versions of self are constructed. These two traditions are the' elite' cultural criticism, and an African American mode of thought that includes a black feminist perspective. The thesis argues that these traditions represent systematic discursive cultural practices that are available as a means through which to read the show. In the 'elite' cultural criticism, selfhood is constructed as empty, anxious, fragmented and dislocated. This version of self is the product of commercialism, commodification and image saturation and is made manifest in the popularisation of therapy. In the strand of African American thought that this thesis discusses, the self is posited as recoverable through the excavation of a personal and collective history, through story-telling, and is situated in relation to close, significant others. The thesis argues that Oprah is an ambivalent text in which both versions of selfhood are identifiable. Further, it is argued that the persona of Oprah Winfrey is the embodied site of these conflicts, acting as the conduit for the expression of a self that emerges from the clash of antagonistic forces. Thus, The Oprah Winfrey Show is used as a case study for the exploration of the ways in which contradictory cultural constructions of self combine in a carnivalesque play to produce something new. This thesis makes the case for an avoidance of the binary that marks the TV talk show debate by exploring the ambivalence that constitutes the text. This, it is argued, presents a fruitful way of thinking through the complexities of a popular cultural phenomenon such as Oprah.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Selfhood, Oprah Winfrey Show, Media studies, Television, Cultural constructions