"The woman sat up straighter. She looked the man in the eye."
June 7, 2007 1:57 AM   Subscribe

Reclusive author Cormac McCarthy's television début yesterday was apparently a bit of a letdown. Watch it here. [Previously]
posted by chuckdarwin (85 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I took one for the team and signed up to Oprah's Book Club website so y'all can watch her fuck up the interview.

(un=metafilter, pw=metafilter)
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:58 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fucking Oprah, man.

I've always been intensely curious about Mr McCarthy. Now I'm still curious.

I'm not curious about Oprah. She's still the lowest-common-denominator lowbrow idiot that she's always been. Why she couldn't have turned it up for the 5 minutes necessary to get a decent interview out of this great author will remain a mystery.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:15 AM on June 7, 2007


un=73yearoldman, pw=has8yearoldson
posted by phaedon at 2:47 AM on June 7, 2007


She's still the lowest-common-denominator lowbrow idiot that she's always been.

I don't disagree with the sentiment you expressed, but I think she is the living embodiment of what middlebrow is.
posted by psmealey at 2:50 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder how Oprah would have approached an interview with James Joyce: "So, Jim... can I call you Jim? Here you've written a thousand page book that takes place over the course of one day. What's up with that?"
posted by psmealey at 2:54 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've just finished reading Blood Meridian. It's savage. McCarthy rips the guts out of the idea of manifest destiny and forces you to sift through them with him. The imagery in the book would be intolerable were his writing not so goddamn perfect. There is probably no writer living in America today who more perfectly channels and challenges our collective national mythos than McCarthy. He's the living incarnation of Melville.

I don't much care if he makes for good television or not.
posted by felix betachat at 2:57 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Looks like most of the fault lies with O. But we can't expect genius artists to be impressive talkers or good interview subjects. Toni Morrison came to a library I worked at and her talk was underwhelming. I guess I couldn't expect everything from a Nobel prize winner. According to all the staff members who dealt with she was very nice and undemanding though.
posted by marxchivist at 2:58 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I fail to see what is really wrong with that interview. It's Oprah. Asking the questions her viewers would have asked. I thought it was very human. What the hell was she supposed to do? Rip his brain out and say "Point to where the ideas come from" or start reeling off page numbers and quotes and reciting some dork's lit analysis trying to catch him out or dig out his unconscious motivation?

The interesting thing about the complaints is that they are so horribly vague and imply that better questions are out there somewhere but are left unspecified because we all, in our superiority to Oprah, already know them. That way we can all feel smart without having to actually be.
posted by srboisvert at 3:10 AM on June 7, 2007 [7 favorites]


srboisvert, I want to know: who is this man? Where did he come from? Why, and how did he become the way he is? What were his formative experiences? He attended school on the GI Bill, he mentions - where did he fight? What service branch? What theater? What did he see in the war, and what did he think of it? How did he come to have an 8 year old kid at the age of 73? What about his wives? Why did he divorce? Does he have other kids?

Where does he like to eat? How did he come to be interested in the Old West? Why was he punctuating 18th century essays? What are his feelings on education, his own and that of others? How did he go from "can't afford toothpaste" to "genius grant?" How does he feel he's repaying his genius grant - what obligation did he feel it put him under, and how did he deal with that?

Maybe I should just take the 5 minutes about colons, semicolons, apostrophes and comma splices as received wisdom and go home. Because, I mean, that stuff was fascinating. Go Oprah. Maybe she'll release some more footage about his thoughts on font faces, octothorpes and colophons.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:20 AM on June 7, 2007 [5 favorites]


Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America

Okay, this is a book written by the wife a friend [link to her website], but it's directly relevant to the discussion as it argues that Oprah's book club has, on balance, been a good thing for all the brow levels of American culture.
posted by Clay201 at 4:06 AM on June 7, 2007


Here are Oprah's first few questions:

Why have you never done [a tv interview] before?

So, you have nothing against the media?

Did you always know that you were a writer?

Are you passionate about writing (she blathers on about passion)?

When you start out to write a book, do you start out with that image (referring to his comment about a "signpost")?

Do you write methodically; do you have a schedule or do you wait for inspiration?

When you started The Road, did you know where it was going to end, or did it 'end itself'?

Where did this apocalyptic dream come from?

Is this a love story to your son?

If you had not had this son at this time, would you have written the book?

What is it like being a father at this time in your life?

Why do you like coming to Santa Fe?
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:06 AM on June 7, 2007


Metafilter: You look just like you do on the back of the cover!
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:21 AM on June 7, 2007


Talking to a writer about writing. How lowbrow can you get? (I found the punctuation discussion to be the best part of the whole interview and wish there was more on his style) Look I get it. You're not lowbrow. You're not middlebrow. Maybe your even better than uppermiddlebrow. It still doesn't make the attack on Oprah reasonable. She did manage to get him to an interview, no doubt with preconditions and prescribed boundaries we are not aware of, with questions, answers and non-answers that ended up on the cutting room floor and all that within the time constraints of her show and prospective audience. Nobody else has managed that. Not even the boy god of comedy central Jon fucking Stewart. That the interview didn't please you isn't that surprising since, and I am guessing, you are not really her audience.

You wanted more about his personal life: divorce, late adulthood offspring and war history. I found myself relieved that Oprah didn't pry into it because I anticipated it and was cringing when she came close. Frankly, his personal life is none of my business. You wanted more insight into the man and Oprah failed to drag it out of him. Fine. But she teed it up for him several times and he was reticent. Apparently, Cormac McArthur doesn't want to share his personal life with you. I understand the choice.
posted by srboisvert at 4:23 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


Slate: "...others of us were simply happy to be reminded of a fine line by William Gass: 'The Pulitzer Prize in fiction takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses.'"

Any of you actually read this book yet? I'd love to know just how 'mediocre' it is (or isn't), considering nods from both the Pulitzer and the 'O.'

(Funny how much of a death-kiss the Oprah Book Club is these days, ever since The Corrections. Call me petty, but I wouldn't be caught dead reading a book with Oprah's seal of approval on the cover. If I were to buy McCarthy's book I'd go to extra lengths to find a copy without Oprah's gilded stamp.)
posted by somnambulation at 4:26 AM on June 7, 2007


somnambulation: I gave some of my impressions of The Road here. I found it difficult, but got a lot out of it. For all its darkness, it's a love letter to civil society and deserves to be read as a caution against the coming storm. The vast middlebrow that Oprah speaks to is a perfectly suitable audience and I'm sure if you look hard enough you can dig up a copy without her imprimatur.

Don't let some half-rate Slate critic who pukes tripe in his haste to make a deadline scare you off from what is, by all accounts, a solidly written and ethically profound book.
posted by felix betachat at 4:50 AM on June 7, 2007


I always thought it was so nuts to talk to writers about writing.

That is, the whole point of writing is so, you know, you don't have to talk about it.
That and the groupies.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:51 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


By the way, Oprah's new book club choice is Middlesex (a book I'm grateful that huge chunks of unwashed America will wind up reading).

The interview is a daytime television interview. People need to relax.
posted by hermitosis at 4:51 AM on June 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


I fucking HATED "The Road". My wife fucking HATED "The Road".
I rather felt like I must have missed something, that maybe the book was not plodding and simplistic in its style.

I felt vindicated, however, when Oprah chose the book for her book club.
posted by newfers at 5:23 AM on June 7, 2007


newfers,

I want to really thank you for sharing. Your medal should arrive in 6 - 8 weeks.
posted by kbanas at 5:37 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


I hope you forwarded your comment to the Pulitzer Committee, newfers.
posted by hermitosis at 5:44 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]



So THAT's what you gotta do to get a medal around here.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:50 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


Any of you actually read this book yet? I'd love to know just how 'mediocre' it is (or isn't), considering nods from both the Pulitzer and the 'O.'

I read the book when it came out - and thought it to be his worst to date. I love most of his work, although I was very dissapointed in this one.
posted by bradth27 at 6:08 AM on June 7, 2007


There is probably no writer living in America today who more perfectly channels and challenges our collective national mythos than McCarthy. He's the living incarnation of Melville.

You may get a kick out of reading the contrarian view in A Reader's Manifesto, a jaunty little polemic against pretentiousness in "modern literary bestsellers." It caused quite a stir when it first showed up in 2001 (I believe the Slate critic hated it), and devotes a chapter to poking at what it calls McCarthy's ridiculously overblown language masquerading as
Serious Literature.

On another note: I try and I try, but I can't help having anything but respect for Oprah's book club, generally.
posted by mediareport at 6:10 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oprah-hating is tantamount to hating the Special Needs teacher.

But it really isn't about the teacher at all. It's that Special Needs people make you uncomfortable, and she - the teacher - seems to pander to the Special Needs people in order to help them - gasp - learn!

But it's a whole lot easier just to think of people who need special instruction or extra attention as lesser or bad.

MeFi: Fucking Oprah, man.
posted by humannaire at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


While not an Oprah, I really have to disagree with the "low brow" tag. Oprah has picked many books for her book club that seem like there's no chance in hell her "typical" viewer would read it.

I'll admit to being shocked when she picked The Road as it's been a bit of a bookseller favorite, but among the people who don't mind scenes where, say, a baby is roasted on a spit.

She's picked Faulkner, Steinbeck, and now Eugenides, all authors that could be challenging.
posted by drezdn at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


Signing up for Oprah's mailing list is the very definition of taking one for the team.

My own interest in McCarthy was very strong a number of years ago and while it has waned over the last 5 or 6 years I still remember most of the known facts about him.

I'm pretty sure McCarthy did not serve in a war. He dropped out of the University of Tennessee and went into the Air Force for two years. I don't believe he went back to school afterwards. One of his postings was in Alaska where he hosted a show on a local radio station. His first wife, maybe the second, it's the one who's the mother of his first son, wrote a book of poems that covers the period of her life when she was involved with him. I can't remember her name but I'm pretty sure the book is 'Desire's Door'. It does not reveal very much about McCarthy at all. He has said that he got interested in the Old West because of its mythic overtones. One of the few formative experiences that he has shared, is that in first or second grade they had a day where students could talk about their hobbies. He was astounded at his classmate's not having any to share and their absence of curiosity. By comparison, he could have given every kid in the class one of his hobbies and had a multitude left over. Probably the biggest development from his genius grant was doing the editing for marine biologist, and a co-recipient of the grant, Roger Payne's, book, 'Among Whales'.

I think that's most of what I know about Cormac McCarthy. There's some miscellaneous stuff like Moby-Dick is his favorite book, he doesn't like Henry James, thinks El Paso is a real city and Santa Fe an amusement park. Surf around the Cormac McCarthy website and you can pick up a bit more trivia but he's really a pretty private person.

Despite the fact that I cared enough to learn the above, I agree with srboisvert, if someone doesn't want to share their personal life with us it is none of our business. We live in a time when there are so many confessional writers, like Vollmann, and so many of far less talent who are in the media's eye that think "the wonder that is I" needs to be shared with all far and wide, that we have a tendency to think we are entitled to every public figure's complete exposure. Well, we aren't. Who is this man? As far as he wants us to know, he is his work.

OK, one last insight. As I have done numerous times in the past, I recommend Suttree. I suspect, and others have hinted as well, that there is some autobiography woven in there. Equating Suttree with McCarthy is undoubtedly very far from the truth. Still, it is set in McCarthy's home town and he has spoken about having to quit drinking as it is the occupational hazard of writers, and he lived in some poverty for a number of years, and he came from a wealthy family and... it's a damn good book on top of it all. Better than the Border Trilogy and The Road, perhaps as good as Blood Meridian, if not, it's close.

If I could ask him anything, I would ask to browse his bookshelves for a few hours. The man is well read by any standard. Instead of these half finished drafts from 20 years ago that he's trotting out now, I would rather he published a list of his 500 or so favorite books. I'm sure there are a host of out of print books that he could point out, 19th century travel narratives, exploration journals, early ethnographic writings, commentaries on Boheme, underrated poets, studies of predators, forgotten histories etc.
posted by BigSky at 6:18 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


mediareport, even the amazon page has people yelling! That must be a very divisive little book.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:20 AM on June 7, 2007


Signing up for Oprah's mailing list is the very definition of taking one for the team.

That's why Bob invented yahoo mail: to be used exclusively as a spamtrap.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:26 AM on June 7, 2007


Interesting that people want to know more about McCarthy and yet want to put down Oprah along the way, considering this situation illustrates that Oprah is someone McCarthy, who talks to no one, would agree to talk to. What does that say about him? What does it say about Oprah? What does it say about you?
posted by troybob at 6:34 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oprah gets a couple of interesting things out of McCarthy: his extreme poverty, the fact that he doesn't particularly care that he's writing blockbusters, he went to school under the GI Bill, he has a son, why he punctuates the way he does, luck/laws of probability. McCarthy gets into what they're talking about and then Oprah says something like "You are sure different from other authors!" and he shuts right up. I wasn't surprised at all when he said that he used to hang with poker players he manages to hide his mortification pretty well.

I think Oprah Book Club hatred is closely related to the Hipster-Frat Boy music thing where a band like Arctic Monkeys blow up and everybody at the party is dancing to them and the American Apparel black rimmed glasses guy is in the corner going "Their first import 7" was sooo much better" and the frat boy goes "YO IDIOT WHO CARES THIS ROOOOOOCKSSS!" The pain that comes from having something you treasure on a personal level torn away from you and given to idiots is hard to deal with and can turn even the most open minded and positive hipster/litster into a jaded and bitter asshole.

on preview: BigSky after watching the interview I can definitely see where you're coming from with Suttree being somewhat autobiographical, at least in the sense that Suttree and McCarthy seem to have chosen a way of life and are following it out to the end.
posted by youthenrage at 6:35 AM on June 7, 2007


it argues that Oprah's book club has, on balance, been a good thing for all the brow levels of American culture.

How about the unibrows?
posted by pardonyou? at 6:40 AM on June 7, 2007


Pardonyou?, they're all watching Tyra.
posted by hermitosis at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2007


Oh yeah, poker. Another tidbit. He was friends for a while with Betty Carey (not sure about the spelling). She isn't one of the poker personalities that became famous in the boom of the last few years but she was around and playing big tournaments in the 70s and early 80s when few, if any, other women were doing so. Reportedly she wasn't a particularly by the wstrong player, but she played high stakes against tough players. I think I heard something about her managing a card room somewhere.

I haven't seen the interview yet, I'll watch it this evening.
posted by BigSky at 6:52 AM on June 7, 2007


That must be a very divisive little book.

Oh, it is, but well worth a quick read - just to find where you position yourself in relation to it, if nothing else. Like with most jaunty little polemics, I both loved it and rolled my eyes at it. Mostly, I loved it, not least for the many examples Myers gives of great, lesser-known fiction written in a clear, unaffected way. It's probably strongest in its savaging of critics who fall over themselves praising arguably clunky, impenetrable and just plain awful prose as Difficult Literature with a capital L, but there's also a lot to chew on in his pokes at McCarthy, Proulx, DeLillo, Auster, et al. You'll probably love it or hate it in relation to the strength of your feelings about those writers, whom he gently rips apart.

Get the book rather than the original article; Myers' epilogue - a hilarious critique of his critics' outraged, kneejerk distortions of his argument - is worth the price alone.
posted by mediareport at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2007


I thought the interview was fine but rarely have I found interviews with great writers to be anything special. Grobel's pulled off some good ones, one with Bellow in particular.

ikkyu2, I don't find your questions any more interesting than Oprah's, to be honest. They just seem like they'd be more interesting because we don't know the answers. The same could be said for some of Oprah's--for instance, I was always curious about his use of punctuation, and though his answer was fine and seemed sincere, it's not very interesting--or as interesting as I'd imagined it would be.

McCarthy, like many great artists, seems to believe that interviews are pointless. I put what I wanted to say in the piece! Really, what more is there to say?

Anything a writer thinks interesting enough to share with you will go into a book. That's what makes them writers.
posted by dobbs at 7:36 AM on June 7, 2007


Anything a writer thinks interesting enough to share with you will go into a book. That's what makes them writers.

Worth noting that some writers disagree, and do find value in discussing their books.
posted by mediareport at 7:43 AM on June 7, 2007


mediareport, I'm curious who you're referring to. Most writers I know and writers I don't but have read about say the opposite. They tolerate interviews, yes, but that's not the same thing.

The only exceptions I really can think of are authors who have many interests and love to talk in general. Harlan Ellison comes to mind--however, he talks about those things, not his work.
posted by dobbs at 7:50 AM on June 7, 2007


it argues that Oprah's book club has, on balance, been a good thing for all the brow levels of American culture.

Who else with that magnitude of power (popularity, whatever), encourages Americans to read more?
posted by mrgrimm at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2007


Oprah-hating is tantamount to hating the Special Needs teacher.

But it really isn't about the teacher at all. It's that Special Needs people make you uncomfortable, and she - the teacher - seems to pander to the Special Needs people in order to help them - gasp - learn!

But it's a whole lot easier just to think of people who need special instruction or extra attention as lesser or bad.


Yer a mensch sir. An real ubermensch. Or was this supposed to be in the self-kissing thread?
posted by srboisvert at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2007


I think Oprah Book Club hatred is closely related to the Hipster-Frat Boy music thing

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, that's pretty much irrelevant. It has much more to do with Oprah herself. Her cloying, feigned sincerity, and her constant, ham-handed promotion of valuing false, voyeuristic sentimentality over genuine emotion has been one the most corrosive influences on our culture in the past 20 years.
posted by psmealey at 7:59 AM on June 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


On another note: I try and I try, but I can't help having anything but respect for Oprah's book club, generally.

I absolutely agree.

Put it this way: what if you found yourself in Oprah's position, that is, with millions upon millions of googly-eyed daytime TV viewers suckling at your teat. Would you have said to yourself..."You know what, kosem, you like to read books. You even think you have great taste in books. And records. Why don't you use this otherwise completely fluffy pulpit to influence your audience to read some books and listen to some good records that they otherwise would not read or listen to primarily because all they do is watch fucking TV?" You probably wouldn't have done it or even thought of it.

In a totally non-cynical way, Oprah told her zombie audience to get up off their asses and read books. Good books. What the fuck on earth is wrong with that? Given the context, I think it's astonishing.

You couldn't pay me to watch her cloying, treacly show, and I would have made a few different choices, and I'd like to think that I could have gotten a better discussion out of McCarthy, but I think that the O book club phenomenon is a unqualified net positive.
posted by kosem at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2007 [8 favorites]


We don't know that we've ever seen a more uncomfortable person on television than McCarthy, slouched in that armchair, chin resting in hand, speaking so quietly that even miked up he could barely be heard. He was stripped, by bad lighting and a seeming refusal to wear makeup, of the stern grandeur he adopts in his book-jacket photos. (The brilliant photographer who helped create McCarthy's image, Marion Ettlinger, should show video of this interview to potential clients.) Instead, he seemed ungainly and frail and uncertain. We guess we don't particularly want to see a poised and polished Cormac McCarthy fobbing off anecdotes like a pro, but this sure made for awkward TV.
A man who can spend a half century scribbling away in cheap hotel rooms, agonizing over word choices and sentence rhthym, hunting down obscure books on equally obscure topics, isolated from the literary mainstream, never having anything close to what writers for New York Magazine would call a “career” or, for that matter, two nickels to rub together is probably not going to devote a whole lot of time or intellectual energy to makeup or Projecting! A! Chirpy! Telegenic! Personality!
posted by jason's_planet at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2007


Ever seen Philip Roth in a television interview? He wears this dumbfounded expression like "I can't believe you're actually asking me this..." precisely because he inevitably is asked "Do you have a schedule or do you wait for inspiration?" every single fucking time by some dull network greenhorn who didn't know who Roth was until a day before the interview. The proper thing to do in these cases, and many a good writer has done it, is turn the questions around and pose them for the interviewer.

That said, come on; it's Oprah. At least if he were in conversation with David Remnick or James Wood or somebody familiar with his contemporaries, we could be assured a reasonably interesting conversation. The good thing is that a guy who never really sold huge numbers of books will now definitely do so. Maybe some of them will read Blood Meridian or Suttree too.

Incidentally, I'm reading Yates' Revolutionary Road now and am dreading the release of the adaptation starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet late next year. Sure, it'll likely end up an Oprah book and it would be wonderful to see Yates getting attention after being neglected for so long by academia and the bibliophobic public, but it's such a shame that a great book requires "the reunion we've all been waiting for since Titanic!" to make an impression in our culture.
posted by inoculatedcities at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2007


You can hate Oprah, but I can't see how getting more people to read is a bad thing. Even if not all her choices are Literature, who the hell cares? Not everyone can read Literature, and not everyone wants to. Even most readers don't. And she has chosen some really good books. I loved Middlesex.
posted by Mavri at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2007


I don't get what so false about it. What people like about Oprah is that she gets genuinely sad, or excited, or angry about stuff, and then actually does something about it, to the extent that she can. And that she isn't embarrassed to reveal (and correct) her ignorance when it is exposed. There is a theatrical element to her persona, which is inevitable since she IS in fact a television personality, but beyond there it's become obvious over the years that what we are watching is the story one woman's own transformation writ large across the consciousness of millions.

People perceive her seamless humanity and percieved virtue as false and obnoxious. I don't think these people have seen very much of her show. Or appreciate how far it has come, considering what it began as-- just another tabloid talk show. The changes that occurred as Oprah herself was given more and more control over it are pretty solid evidence that she has her heart firmly in the right place and is trying to get her brain (and others' as well) to catch up.
posted by hermitosis at 8:31 AM on June 7, 2007 [6 favorites]


...one the most corrosive influences on our culture in the past 20 years.

The fact that you would say this while her spectral opposite, Jerry Springer, is still out there... totally bewildering.
posted by hermitosis at 8:34 AM on June 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


Her cloying, feigned sincerity, and her constant, ham-handed promotion of valuing false, voyeuristic sentimentality over genuine emotion has been one the most corrosive influences on our culture in the past 20 years.

And yet, much as I dislike her, she's a fucking Jedi Knight compared to AM talk radio. You want corrosion, go look there.
posted by trondant at 9:02 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


The fact that you would say this while her spectral opposite, Jerry Springer, is still out there... totally bewildering.

See, I don't get how you can say that Springer is her spectral opposite. To me, they are almost exactly the same. Just slightly different flavors.
posted by psmealey at 9:07 AM on June 7, 2007


Oh, yay, this thread is going to save me an askme. I'm reading No Country For Old Men right now, and there's lot I love about it, but, really, why the fuck doesn't the man use quotation marks? Is there any benefit to not using them that outweighs me constantly being ripped from the narrative every time a conversation starts? The man seems to merge beautiful language and a great story with a style meant to aggrivate.

(I can't watch the interview now, apologies if its covered there).
posted by Bookhouse at 9:21 AM on June 7, 2007


I see and understand your points, but I strongly disagree with them. For example, I thought the new car giveaway was cheap, voyeuristic, and downright gross. Do good works, do what you're going to do, but not like that. There was something incredibly creepy and exploitative about it, not to mention ostentatiously self-congratulatory. Oprah had only mildly annoyed me up to the point, but at that moment she turned a corner.

Obviously, Oprah's wild success and wealth puts in a distinct minority on my viewpoint, but I do think that she's added an element of emotional cheapness and easy redemption to our social fabric that's far worse than anything Springer has ever done. He's a carnie ringmaster and he makes no pretense to being anything else. Her effect is much more subtle but significantly more vile.
posted by psmealey at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


She should have given you a car.
posted by smackfu at 9:55 AM on June 7, 2007


Put me in the, "Getting people to read decent-to-good-to-great books can't be bad!" category. So good on her for that (and I'm assuming she generously donates to charities, etc, etc., so good for that stuff too.)

But then kick Oprah in the shins for helping Dr. Goddam Phil launch his career.

Won't get to watch the interview till tonight. Still want to see it badly, given all that's been said.
posted by sparkletone at 10:13 AM on June 7, 2007


Oprah could be better. Oprah could be a lot worse. But really, the only acceptable criticism of her charitable/inspirational/educational efforts is to do these things better than she does--which not only are you not going to do, but you're not going to even try.
posted by troybob at 10:21 AM on June 7, 2007


I don't need a car. I just need to watch her next episode, so I can feel something again. Oh, please Oprah, teach me how to feel again.
posted by psmealey at 10:22 AM on June 7, 2007


which not only are you not going to do, but you're not going to even try.

Walk in my shoes for a day before you write that bs.
posted by psmealey at 10:22 AM on June 7, 2007


I don't know, with all that stepping over and upon those whose enlightenment is less perfect and noble than your own, you might need those shoes more than I do.
posted by troybob at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2007


Seconding the notion that anything which encourages people to read is not inherently evil. She got freaking Tolstoy on the bestseller lists, fer chrissakes.

I've read books that, upon completion, I wanted to share with anyone and everyone. If I had the influence and reach that Oprah has, you bet your sweet bippy that I'd do my best Georges Perec and John Kennedy Toole household names.

I'd also start a "record club," but that's just me.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 10:43 AM on June 7, 2007


"to make Georges Perec and John Kennedy Toole household names," that is
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 10:46 AM on June 7, 2007


I didn't really intend for this to be an indictment of the Oprah Winfrey Corporation. I don't think she's necessarily a good interviewer, and this McCarthy piece certainly wasn't her best effort. Charlie Rose or Jeremy Paxman would've been much better; she show is too light for someone like Mr McCarthy.

Ad hominem attacks aside, comparing any mefite's charitable efforts to the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time, and the world's only black billionaire for three straight years. (She is also, according to several assessments, the most influential woman in the world) ...is unfair. No one reading this has the sort of money or influence to pursue any philanthropic project in the same way as Oprah.
posted by chuckdarwin at 10:49 AM on June 7, 2007


William Gay is my favorite new author of the last several years, and he also eschews quotation marks. I saw him speak once and he was asked why he didn't use quotation marks, and he said something to the effect that if the writing was clear, they weren't needed. Well, more exactly, it was something along the lines of "You can tell who's talking. I didn't think I needed 'em".

Also, Oprah = meh.
Oprah giving away cars = good use of rich people's money.
Oprah getting people to read anything of merit = universal good.

Oprah may not do things the way I would, but she is at least trying, which I think earns her some slack.

However, I am almost ready to revoke any goodwill she has earned over her promotion of Dr. Phil.

That man is a crackpot, a quack. He's dangerous.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:05 AM on June 7, 2007


Walk in my shoes for a day before you write that bs.

I don't think you quite understood what I was saying, psmealey, or where on earth you got the idea that I was directing anything to you. As should have been plain, I was noting that it is astonishing that a daytime television personality did this. Not you, about whose doogooding efforts on behalf of adult literacy I know squadoosh, and not me, about whose education and teaching or about whose bloodsucking law practice you also know nil. No, not us. Fucking Oprah, man. It is surprising and good, to my mind (very clearly not to yours, and that is totally fine) that Oprah used her celebrity to influence people to read good books.
posted by kosem at 11:07 AM on June 7, 2007


For the record, I'm a fan of Oprah's book club and Oprah in general, and I dislike Jonathan Franzen extremely.

I also know, or feel like I know, that a more intelligent Oprah exists than we saw in that interview; one capable of putting her guest more at ease and having a more interesting conversation with him. I wish she'd done it. That's what I was trying to say.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:16 AM on June 7, 2007


The car thing turned out to be a disaster, poorly-conceived and ill-advised. There's no doubt that Oprah herself was really disappointed in how it turned out. What's interesting about her is how she genuinely seems to want to get better at this-- and at everything, from weight loss, to solving people's relationship problems (hence the inexpugnable Dr. Phil, who, to be fair, was lauded as a revolutionary when he was first introduced on the show, before his cult of personality grew too big for its britches). Her charity endeavors have evolved far past her ability to control them herself, but every time some minor "scandal" breaks or an endeavor goes sour, as will inevitably happen when hundreds of millions of dollars are concerned, what keeps the scandals from exploding is that she seems determined to correct them as swiftly as possible-- not out of fear for her image and throne, but because she has a real need to make sure that her word is kept.

The car thing was actually a fascinating experiment, in my opinion. A car is the most taken-for-granted asset in most adults' lives, but for some people the lack of one (or a reliable one) changes the whole landscape of their lives and relationships. It was an interesting reminder to most viewers, I think, that a relatively minor donation could make a tremendous impact on key individuals' lives. It highlighted the sort of discernment that one ought use in deciding who needs help and how to provide it-- and then unintentionally demonstrated the pitfalls of providing such aid without considering every side of it, not to mention as a huge, public spectacle. It was a lesson for everyone, but you can bet that Oprah took more notes than any of us did.

But really, the only acceptable criticism of her charitable/inspirational/educational efforts is to do these things better than she does--

Right, and since that seems to be her main criticism of herself, I don't see what the problem is. There's nothing wrong with considering oneself to be above and beyond her target audience (most of us sort of are), or to be bugged by the source of any programming for that audience, but it's really a matter of ideology, not character. She has chosen to rise with her class, not out of it, and the relief and gratitude that gets projected onto her by adoring fans is really just an expression of their being given a gateway into a larger world of feelings, sexuality, literature, and socioeconomic awareness that they otherwise might not ever have felt invited to participate in. Frosted with a healthy dollop of celebrity culture, of course.
posted by hermitosis at 11:17 AM on June 7, 2007


Which is to say that persons inclined to evangelize on the topic of reading good books, say, persons like you and me, are unlikely to be daytime television hosts beholden to a lightweight audience. Likewise, daytime television hosts beholden to a lightweight audience...
posted by kosem at 11:18 AM on June 7, 2007


No one reading this has the sort of money or influence to pursue any philanthropic project in the same way as Oprah.

Fly in my jet for a day before you write that bs.
posted by felix betachat at 12:20 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


The car thing turned out to be a disaster, poorly-conceived and ill-advised. There's no doubt that Oprah herself was really disappointed in how it turned out.

Can you elaborate on this? I didn't hear anything else about the car give-away once it was done.

Is it even possible for giving a bunch of cars away for free to BE a disaster? Assuming they were not faulty or safety-compromised, of course.

and then unintentionally demonstrated the pitfalls of providing such aid without considering every side of it, not to mention as a huge, public spectacle.

Now you've really piqued my interest. I'm going to try to find on my own, but I'm hoping you respond for "the rest of the story" (another lowbrow favorite).
posted by Ynoxas at 12:47 PM on June 7, 2007


Here ya go.
posted by hermitosis at 12:56 PM on June 7, 2007


The only downside to the car giveaway that I heard about was that the recipients got stuck paying taxes on the things. I remember when I was a kid hearing that this was a big problem for winners on The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune, so I didn't understand why this would be difficult for Oprah's people to anticipate.
posted by Clay201 at 1:02 PM on June 7, 2007


Funny, I searched MeFi for stuff and came up with YOUR post about the giveaway.

It was basically just a big media nightmare that dragged on and on, and was considered by many to be a huge commercial for Pontiac or just a nutty stunt. Then when it became clear that the recipients themselves would in fact have to pay the taxes, it became an even bigger joke. The MeFi thread is sort of a microcosm of the sum global response, as usual.

I'm trying to find info on the aftermath of it all, and can't find much as to how many people kept their cars or decided not to accept them. If there were settlements of some kind, I'm betting they included an agreement to not publicly comment.
posted by hermitosis at 1:05 PM on June 7, 2007


The problem, Clay, is that if someone is suffering financial hardship, it is not considered classy to give them a car, and then tell them they can only obtain the car (which they could then sell) if they can scratch together $7000, which they can't, because they're sufferig financial hardship.

Oprah's people were under the impression that Pontiac would be able to pay the taxes, but it turns out not to be so easy to circumvent after all.
posted by hermitosis at 1:10 PM on June 7, 2007


I don't think you quite understood what I was saying

Fair enough. I did misunderstand what you meant. Apologies for flying off the handle.
posted by psmealey at 1:30 PM on June 7, 2007


Oprah's people were under the impression that Pontiac would be able to pay the taxes, but it turns out not to be so easy to circumvent after all.

Well, that makes it sound like a mistake, rather than a "vile" action to hate her for.
posted by smackfu at 2:02 PM on June 7, 2007


I am glad that Oprah is going with classics and newer but established prize winners. Regarding the comments that reading anything is better than reading nothing . . . I can't help but think of a former co-worker of mine who handed me a copy of White Oleander. I hadn't heard of it, but she said it was an Oprah book club pick (or this may have been before the official "book club." maybe Oprah just randomly recommended it). The co-worker gushed, went on and on about the "prose" and how it was "one of the best pieces of literature" she'd ever read. She told me how Oprah thought it was the most lovely piece of writing ever, and how the language was just so beautiful. She was clearly influenced a great deal by what Oprah thought of this book.

I read the whole thing. Have you read this book? It is on par with a VC Andrews novel. Utter trash. Maybe it would have made a nice, trashy summer beach read. That it was marketed and pimped by Oprah as "literature" is terrible.
posted by peep at 3:44 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Huh. I actually really liked it. And I'm not exactly a nice, trashy summer beach read kinda guy. So I guess this "literature" you speak of is a highly subjective, amorphous, complex category that no one person can authoritatively define.

I wonder what you would have thought of it if you discovered it on your own and didn't feel that by liking it you'd be having your taste commandeered by the mainstream cliterati.

Which is wouldn't have been, because that's not what Oprah's book club is really about. If you look at the spectrum of writers featured, from Maeve Binchy to Elie Wiesel, it's not like she's trying to "pimp" any sort of specific literary agenda.
posted by hermitosis at 6:20 PM on June 7, 2007


Sorry, but interviews with great and complex people are done and saying that Oprah did her best may be true, but she could have done better. Charlie Rose does amazing interviews, even with difficult people (see: DFW). He asks what they are currently reading, what influences them, etc. The direct answer is not the important part, but the thought process and the bits that we pick up by such well-worded questions are. An example being his grilling of DFW on David Lynch. He managed to pry out of DFW some great metaphors to what is described as David Lynch and it was akin to listening to a great lecture. Same with Warren Buffet, when he was dancing around not picking up the WSJ. He was giving his down home speech and Charlie Rose aptly decided to compare the WSJ to a great painting. He realized that Warren Buffet shuts down (or rather evades) when you suggest picking something up just for the money or for the trophy status. Yet he knows Buffet loves newspapers and the WSJ is the business newspaper. So he compared it to an art collector being able to bid for the Mona Lisa.

That's how a great interview is done. Oprah's like the Missouri river, a mile long and an inch deep.
posted by geoff. at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2007


OPRAH

Thank you for coming, Sir. Let me ask you, have you been born blind? If not, how did you lose your eyesight? Was it painful?

HOMER

Here no wind beats
roughly, and neither rain nor snow can fall; but
it abides in everlasting sunshine and --

OPRAH

There is a lot of violence in your books. Do you find this troubling, the effect this could have on our children?

HOMER

His eyes glare as he prowls in quest of oxen,
sheep, or deer, for he is famished,
and will dare break even into a well fenced
homestead, trying to get at the sheep--

OPRAH

How did your agent deal with all those offers from Hollywood? Are you planning to write an original screenplay? Are you happy with the film adaptations of your work?

HOMER

They threw their spears as he bade them, but
Minerva made them all of no effect.
One hit the door post; another went against
the door; the pointed shaft of --

OPRAH

Do you travel with an entourage? A seeing eye dog?

HOMER

Leda the wife of Tyndarus,
who bore him two famous sons,
Castor breaker of horses, and Pollux
the mighty boxer--

OPRAH

Thank you very much for coming sir.

*applause*

FADE OUT

COMMERCIALS
posted by matteo at 7:47 PM on June 7, 2007 [6 favorites]


A good interview of an author as done by Scott Simon of Weekend edition. Here he interviews Michael Ondaatje.
posted by Eekacat at 8:50 PM on June 7, 2007


me: Worth noting that some writers disagree, and do find value in discussing their books.

dobbs: mediareport, I'm curious who you're referring to.

Just about everyone I've read in the Paris Review interview archive, off the top of my head. Most of the authors clearly do more than "tolerate" the interviews; they seem to relish the chance to discuss their work - and work habits - at length with an intelligent interviewer.
posted by mediareport at 9:33 PM on June 7, 2007



I hope you forwarded your comment to the Pulitzer Committee, newfers.

The Pulitzer committee can gargle my balls.

But of course, I forgot : general consensus = good, therefore The Road is a work of genius, despite having too many scenes like this :

"I'm scared, dad"

"I know."

"are the bad men going to come back,dad?"

"No."

"I'm still scared, dad."

"I know."


so, to say that the Oprah interview revealed McCarthy as boring, I'd say that it revealed him to be a character in his own godforsaken book.
posted by newfers at 9:44 PM on June 7, 2007


hermitosis wrote:

The problem, Clay, is that if someone is suffering financial hardship, it is not considered classy to give them a car, and then tell them they can only obtain the car ... if they can scratch together $7000...

What part of my post made you think I didn't already know that? I didn't bother to add "which sucked for the recipients" because I figured there was no need to state the obvious.

And are you sure it was 7K? I usually buy very inexpensive used cars, so maybe I'm out of the loop, but wouldn't 7,000 be at least 25 percent of the total retail cost of the Pontiac? This seems like an awful lot for even the most tax-happy of states. Maybe part of that was transportation and/or delivery cost (I'm assuming the audience members hailed from all across the US) or insurance?

Of course, if the taxes/fees/etc. were only two grand, that still would be too much for most people who are experiencing financial hardship. The dollar amount doesn't change the conclusion; I'm just curious about the details.
posted by Clay201 at 6:46 AM on June 8, 2007


I wasn't being snide. Some people don't think it was a big deal because they figure the person could just sell the car and THEN use the money to pay the taxes. I was just attempting to clarify.

I can't find details on the rest of it. I think it's been effectively swept under the rug by a diligent PR brigade.
posted by hermitosis at 7:07 AM on June 8, 2007


Well, that makes it sound like a mistake, rather than a "vile" action to hate her for.

Golf clap.

This is typical of your posts over the years, smackfu (I only have a recollection of you because you purport to inhabit my state, and that your comments have consistently annoyed me for at least a couple of years now). From what I've seen you overstep whatever truth or chestnut that might be present in the hyperbole that's offered, but move past it quickly to drill into the literal significance of a comment that was clearly meant in jest of parody. You then trip over yourself to not get the joke and try just, ever, so earnestly hard to critique the commenter.

Now don't get me wrong, at times, this can be incredibly wry, but mostly it's disposable, irritating, and boring. I suggest a new schtick.
posted by psmealey at 7:36 PM on June 8, 2007


apologies in advance for the ad hom. time for me to take a time out. I blame Oprah.
posted by psmealey at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2007


Ha. I didn't know I had an enemy. Neat.
posted by smackfu at 8:48 PM on June 8, 2007


(And I don't usually read the posted by lines, so it was an accident that I heckled your posts twice. Sorry 'bout that.)
posted by smackfu at 8:54 PM on June 8, 2007


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