My mother-in-law was a soap opera fanatic.
She loved her characters and spent some part of every weekday with them. For years which turned into decades.
Sometimes I’d tune in just to have something to talk to her about because, besides her son we didn’t have much to say to each other.
Our interests and politics weren’t aligned.
But when a character came out on her show (I think it was General Hospital) she wanted to talk about it with me. It interested and puzzled and eventually changed her views on being gay. She saw sexuality as a human issue and not a political idea as she consistently revisited the topic.
Because of TV.
This can happen in real life too when we love people we maybe don’t understand, agree with or relate to. And the loving and knowing a person can make us shift, change and grow our views and feelings on countless issues.
But sometimes knowing and loving real people makes us too scared or defended or shut down.
Sometimes we need a smaller window to let the world in from.
A window the size of a television (or screen).
We get to meet people we might not run across at school or work or in our neighborhood with a different religion, income, background or sexuality.
Same with books, music or travel.
Life gets bigger.
Mine did—from Oprah.
My mother worked and my father wasn’t in the picture. It was the plug-in box I sat in front of with some food after school that fed and nurtured and schooled and raised up my spirit.
Seeing a woman like Oprah, who wasn’t skinny, blonde or white become not only accepted but beloved was fantastic. Not because she was rare.
I didn’t grow up even knowing how rare she was or that being female, a person of color, heavy, smart, a sexual abuse survivor and ambitious all at the same time was not typical. I’m glad I didn’t fully understand how rare she was (and is). I’m glad I was too young or busy or self-absorbed to know or to care. It made my vision for what’s possible larger.
It helped me become brave and come out as an abuse survivor. Of course, as I got older I understood more and appreciated more—about Oprah and the Oprah Effect she has had.
I had dreams about Oprah, being on Oprah, having her like a book I’d someday write or hoping I’d win a give-away or get interviewed by her (the ultimate making it). I’d fall asleep with a magazine in my hand. I still DVR her Super-Soul Sunday shows and consider them my church.
She’s powerful, rich, a woman leader. She’s been coupled but not married, reveres friendship as well as romance. She has a complicated family history, is movie and book loving as well as a fan of music. She has celebrity and is a Super-Soul Sunday seeker who champions people making the world a better place. She speaks, writes, acts and laughs.
I love Oprah—the televised Oprah—the only version I know.
TV can be powerful. Even when someone isn’t Oprah, the work they do on TV has impact. That’s what I thought this morning watching Orphan Black actress Tatiana Maslany answering questions about why her show is so popular with the LGBT community.
First, if you’ve not seen Orphan Black, do at least once because Maslany plays multiple characters. She’s not only a bad-ass physically and an emotionally tough single mother who was in foster care which would be interesting itself. No, she’s also completely believable in varied roles (scientist, housewife, clone) and extreme states of mind (traumatized, suicidal, trapped or triumphant). She also inhabits the various sexual preferences of her character and her straight, bi and gay characters all interact with, love, hate, fight with and for one another.
Teens today are watching now and not knowing how rare this show is. They stream, watch and take it for granted.
This is the power of television. It can reach people in their hearts and homes and help conversations start where once there was silence.
I’m not too high brow for that.
Author: Christine “Cissy” White
Editor: Travis May
Photo: YouTube screenshot