If you didn't actually see the footage, you really missed something. Oprah this week gave everyone in her studio audience a car--that's 276 if you're counting. The event has been reported widely, but watching the tape, as I got to do today (blown up on a big screen in a classroom to help point out Aristotle's ideas about tragedy, actually, but trying to explain this viewing situation is more than I want to do), is something else. I'm usually not too much of a sap, and find cheap sentiment deplorable (why I love Pauline Kael's bitter denunciation of The Sound of Music
so much, for example), but it made me well up. These people were so darn happy. It was stunning tv, elemental, as if it were wired directly to our medullas, since evolution by now has made tv watching one of our primary functions.
You see, the audience thought only one of them was getting a car. Oprah had all these models dressed the same as if they were Robert Palmer babes (and who is the cheesecake for in Oprah's demographic?) deliver little boxes to all the audience, and Oprah chided them not to shake the boxes or open them until she gave the word. Whoever had a set of keys in her box would get the car. Then she says go, they open the boxes, and the screaming, better than for the Beatles in '64, commences. And crying. And jumping, a kind of levitating. Oprah starts screaming, pointing her hand mic as if it's a holy water wand, granting a Pontiac benediction, "You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car," and then a big leap towards auto heaven for, "Everybody gets a car!"
Cut to the outside of Harpo studios, and there they all are parked, bows atop them just like in the commercials, and a huge banner drops from the far wall: "Your Wildest Dreams." That's evidently the theme for Oprah this season, and she certainly couldn't have had dreamers more wild than that audience. Still, you can't help but wonder why a car is so much happiness, even in the U.S. where personal mobility is nearly a part of the Bill of Rights, why, even if purely for personal gain, one's most outlandish hope might not be for more. Why not want to be Oprah, say, with her $50 million home. Why not want the looks of a Emmanuel Beart or a Jude Law. Why not want the smarts of a Stephen Hawking and none of the disability.
But, of course, it wasn't just one person getting a car. The collective craziness of the moment just ratcheted up the zany joy. But of course it was on television, and forget about wildest dreams, it seems that you aren't quite a person until tv has validated you as the survivor, the apprentice, the American idol, the last comic standing, the date no one dare eliminate. Even "stars" need reality shows to prove their stardom, now, so how could we not want the CBS eye to elevate us regular guys?
And of course there's the kindness of Oprah, who in many ways seemed happiest of all. Sure, she did good. She surely got to bask in a wild lovefest, too, the sweet center of so much giving. Could she have ever dreamt of this moment, at the dawning of her career, back in the early 1980s before The Color Purple
and a talk show empire and a Bob Hope Humanitarian Emmy Award, when as an anchor for the Six O'Clock News on WJZ in Baltimore, she crossed a picket line to deliver the news.