With screams only canines can hear, I too am 'adjusting' to the anaphylactic shock of seeing Oprah in the flesh, yet soon wind down with the rest of the audience into my newly hijacked front row seat.
Oprah thanks this sea of over 9,000 fans, "This is largest crowd we've ever had for our Lifeless series," she says.
An outpouring of love and adulation is flowing from the crowd:
"We love you Oprah!"
"You look so skinny Oprahhhh!"
"Well, I have to get me back to Canada more often" she says cheekily.
"You should come to Montreal next," someone yells.
"Ok, Mon-Tre-Al next," says Oprah like she's ordering takeout.
On the various screens behind her are an array of international Skypers all confined to their digital squares, not unlike the Brady Bunch intro. There's a woman from New Zealand, an Indian couple, and a group of women from the Rockville Correctional Facility -- like a Benetton ad, really. Over on the far left is a live feed of Twitter and Facebook updates, gleaned from audience members both inside the centre and watching on television around the world.
The topic of this Lifeclass is forgiveness, and first out is Iyanla Vanzant who comes onto the stage and sits across from Oprah. Their 'banter' feels off the cuff, as if there was little rehearsal between them, if any at all. Oprah quickly goes to 'tape' as we watch a pre-packaged story about Joseph, a 16-year-old boy struggling with his parents divorce. Joseph hasn't spoken to his father in over three years and is at an emotional impasse. Soon after, Joseph is plucked from the audience and brought on stage to sit next to Iyanla.
This was the first sense that this Lifeclass was not what I anticipated -- where I saw the first cracks in the foundation so to speak. With all due respect to Ms. Vanzant, who is an Emmy winner and bestselling author, what I witnessed next was nothing short of the phoniest, slushiest, fakey fakey belly achy attempt at therapy I have ever seen. Joseph was told to close his eyes, take deep breaths and imagine speaking to his father and making up responses for his father at the direction of Iyanla. This 'session' lasted all of five minutes, from problem to resolution, with Iyanla looking rather self-satisfied with herself and this method of shake and bake counseling. I know this is live television, but with a two hour broadcast, I expected more attention lent to each subject? Instead what we got was the new game show not sweeping the nation, 'Let's totally generalize shall we?'
The ongoing theme of 'not getting to the root of the problem' (ostensibly for time limits) continued with the rest of the speakers who came on one by one. While I enjoyed the nuances in which Deepak Chopra described how to forgive, and how Mr. Perfect Pants Tony Robbins gave sage advice to one of the Skyper's, I felt like I was simply writing down random bumper sticker quotes. I particularly liked Bishop TD Jakes' sentiment about "Gallon people who surround themselves with pint people." That resonated with me, and obviously all 9,000 of the 'yes people' in the audience who nodded in unison. There was often a frustration where I wanted to ask a question for the speakers to clarify or expand on. Oprah is generally great for that -- asking the questions that the audience at home are asking, but she was writing down her own notes from the Bishop. The greatest teacher of all had now become the scribbling student like the rest of us? Clearly she has PVR and can take notes later?!
Oprah, We Have a Problem
Style over substance was highlighted as Oprah bounced from Skype to Twitter feeds in what felt like trying too hard to get her Digiterati cred on. I'm all for being part of the net generation, but since when does her demographic have the attention span of a 16-year-old watching MTV? The set felt like the mother board at the space station, with Oprah regurgitating tweets at a snack media's pace, ultimately eating up time that could have been lent to something else.
There was little audience involvement beyond the handful of speakers who were pre-chosen to ask something under the umbrella of 'forgiveness' -- some of them seemingly from out of town. Why come to Toronto if you aren't going to shine a bit of a light on the live audience and city in general? Why have the speakers counsel these random Skypers from across the world when they could have done some personal exercises with members of this audience? Furthermore, Oprah didn't really say much beyond being generally charming during commercial breaks when people were either asking her to save their communities or pitching a new show to her -- which, to her credit she always handled brilliantly. But, as a paying customer (who both butted in line, and cheated someone out of a front row seat,) I expected more from her -- especially since she hadn't come out like the others before the live broadcast.
My emotions are braided in writing this thorny opinion piece. Oprah is the world's most beloved icon and my personal idol. I know how much pressure she is under to keep her new OWN network afloat, how she is being pulled in many different directions at once, and that she had already had a six-hour Lifeclass that started at 8:30 a.m. that morning in Toronto. Perhaps my expectations were set too high and having never watched the series, I had envisioned much more of an involved seminar.
Either way, I want to say that I am grateful for the experience, I 'forgive' Oprah et al, and if given the chance, would love the opportunity to pitch ideas to the OWN network. Have your people call my dog walker (I have no people) and we'll set up a brainstorming sesh, k?
Love you Oprah!