Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 1, Issue 2
Spring 2011
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editor, John-Albert Moseley
Layout Design: Nick Appleby

WGSS Co-Sponsors Global Oprah Conference

by Kathryn Lofton

Global Oprah
Poster design by Jessica Svendsen, BA '09 MFA '13

In February an international gathering of twenty scholars contributed to "Global Oprah: Celebrity as Transnational Icon," a conference held at Yale. Kathryn Lofton (American Studies, Religious Studies, and WGSS) organized this event that explored the phenomenon of Oprah alongside emergent practices of celebrity humanitarianism and neoliberal economic exchange. The facts precipitating this event are those describing Winfrey's own pervasive power: there is perhaps no American more globalized than Oprah Winfrey. Every week, The Oprah Winfrey Show is seen by an estimated 44 million viewers and broadcast internationally in 141 countries. Her print and online products permeate the marketplace. Her nonprofit developments have become satellite operations in multiple countries. Her company, Harpo, Inc. tracks this pattern of globalization, superseding the provincial borders of the United States, distributing the O brand as a circulating object of the new international economy. In addition to assessing the literal circulation of her commodity, this conference also considered how Oprah is reproduced in other countries, from Chen Lu Yu, known as "China's Oprah," to the "Hispanic Oprah," Cristina Saralegui. Finally, participants considered how the modes of Oprah's astronomic success -- material and consumer, paternalist and maternalist -- become the strategies of international politics. Papers described Oprah viewer receptions in Saudi Arabia, the representation of India on the Oprah show, the Oprahfication of disaster relief, and the racial politics of philanthropy. WGSS Chair, Inderpal Grewal, also participated and organized a panel as part of the conference. The event attracted a diverse audience that engaged actively with six panels.

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