What hath Oprah wrought

I channeled my inner Grandma the other day and wrote a letter of complaint to O Magazine. (I also wrote a letter of praise to novelist Carolyn Parkhurst, and she wrote back to me, but that's not what I'm talking about here. It's just cool.)

The subject of my complaint? Stationery. Not just any old printed notecards, but ones designed by Kate Spade and featured in a multi-page spread in the September O. Stationery that costs $189 for 50 calling cards (that's a boring design, and one of the cheapest ones, too.)

I am not often one to shake my fist at excess or deny anyone the right to have nice things- if you know me, you know that I greatly enjoy shopping and don't like cheap crap. But, as the Slacker's Prince often points out, our worldview is very much shaped by our lower-middle class upbringing. My definitions of "cheap" and "expensive" are VERY different from Oprah's definitions, or the definitions of many people that I meet here in California. Either way though, I find it vulgar to spend that kind of money on cute paper products when there are starving children in Africa.

Which brings me to the conundrum (dare I say "hypocrisy") that Oprah creates on a weekly basis. Oprah defines what is good, acceptable, desirable, and worthy of attention for millions of people worldwide. It sounds glib for me to use "starving children in Africa" in a guilt trip, but those African children are some of the people that Oprah cares most about in this world. Yet she can have an episode about her trip to South Africa air on a Thursday, and then next Tuesday the wildly popular "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode airs, where she gives away televisions, jewelry, cheesecakes, handbags, and other things that have caught her fancy over the year.

Is it impossible to both have extravagant things and provide real support for charities and worthwhile causes? No, it is not impossible. Mostly for Oprah and the SuperRich. Am I saying that Oprah doesn't do enough or that she shouldn't like Burberry jackets? Not at all. What I would like to consider is the fact that most people cannot both make a real difference for a ministry or charity and save for the latest Balenciaga dog collar or Prada silk tampons. So Oprah is sending a very mixed message to her viewers: You can make a difference! You need this flat-screen TV! You need to and can do something about the situation in Africa, or for women in Iraq, or for the kids who can't read in your city! $180 moisturizer is the only way to go!

Which is the priority?