October 2002

Sonia Pereira

magazine whore

O My Gosh, It's Oprah!

Not too long ago, I opened up a thread on a Chicklit.com forum about magazines one knows better not to subscribe to, but for some inane reason (like the evil ingeniousness of marketing strategies), does so despite better judgment.

Now, I am not necessarily a magazine snob. After all, I've admitted to reading Elle Girl and Vogue on a regular basis. But I also like to pride myself on my collection of Grand Streets and Paris Reviews as well. Which makes it all the more difficult to admit my fairly recent subscription to Oprah's O, the magazine that features it's constantly smiling namesake on every single (freaking) issue.

I must stress the importance of the fact that I am in no way an Oprah fan, which is not to say that I don't like her, I just really have no opinion of her. Wait, yes I do. I think Oprah's pretty cool in terms of coming from a rough childhood involving sexual abuse. Looking at what she's accomplished without it being handed to her on a silver spoon (unlike so many of today's "it" people), really makes one have a lot of respect for her business sass.

And unlike Martha, she seems to be more sincere than your average TV personality. Plus, the woman gets points just for not being a goofy, singing catastrophe, like yet another TV feel-good woman with her own magazine.

So, after having established that I am not really that biased (for or against) concerning Oprah, I'll go on to say that O is both a cool magazine and yet often terribly trite for the more informed reader. Or perhaps, just for a reader period.

From reading (mostly flipping through or skimming) O I'd say her target audience is middle-class to upper-middle-class women who want self-help techniques to improve everything from their marriages to relationships with their folks and who don't really read much save for what's currently on the Oprah Book Club agenda. Basically, the same audience as her show. Which becomes somewhat of a problem for me. I'm married, yes, (which may be part of the weird reason why I started subscribing to O as well as Martha Stewart Living) but I'm also twenty-six-years-old and an avid reader of Bitch, Bust, Magnet, Nylon, etc. In other words, magazines that don't quite jive with this whole Oprah sentimental deal. So, why the hell do I keep reading it?

Well, sometimes O can be surprising. It often features articles written by respectable authors (such as A.S. Byatt and Penelope Fitzgerald) as well as fun fashion pieces that relieve me from the overflow of fourteen-year-old models and g-strings. (Which reminds me that there are no annoying "Guess" ads with girls wearing ugly denim jackets either.)

Last month's September issue had a really cool feature on www.mirrorproject.com, which is a site founded by Heather Champ, a woman who digs taking self-portraits in mirrors. The site consists of different people around the world submitting photos of themselves in reflective surfaces like spoons, mirrors, etc. After reading the article, I went to the website and (yeah, I know it's dorky, but I've been taking pics of myself all the time after getting my damn digital camera) posted a tiny, teeny pic of myself. And even though you can barely see what I look like, still...who woulda thunk O could bring me such a fun thing to do?

In the same issue a series of women entrepreneurs are profiled (gosh, I love when mags do this...) in a spread that's followed by rules for the O Big-Dream Contest, in which anyone can submit the magazine a "dream" business idea and perhaps, win the right connections to make it happen. Maybe it's just me, but I think that's pretty darn rad.

And then in the same issue there's an interesting article on Elizabeth Targ, a doctor devoted to studying the power of prayer on healing sickness. Following that piece is a nice spread on photographs of NYC, cool photos, not of Fifth Avenue, but of wacky graffiti and little dogs huddled on the street like a posse of miniature Alfs. Sweet.

Though some issues of O are better than others, I still must warn any who have not yet experienced the magazine that it isn't always so packed with semi-substance. I have zero tolerance for anything "New-Agey" and O tends to serve up a hearty dish of psycho-babble meant for the kind of person that reads "Chocolate for the Woman's Soul" or some other such tripe. There's the annoying "Dr. Phil" who likes to yell at people and call it tough love. And there's the token interview with some schmaltzy character such as Chris Rock, Brandy, or Phil Donahue. (Ewe. Those, I always skip.) Other than that there's some all right recipes for those in need of new ways to spice up the dinner table, and some nice spreads on products Oprah personally picks and writes little captions about (but they tend to run from one-hundred to about four-hundred smackeroos, so I wouldn't exactly call it catalog shopping).

Bottom line? Don't fear this magazine. If you want to buy it, don't freak out if the punky girl/dude behind the counter is going to think you're a dork. (But if you do care, just stick a copy of the new Punk Planet over it when you hand it to the cashier. Then again, that might only emphasize your dorkyness, so, better just to brave the waters.)

O is not my kind of magazine, but it's fun when something fluffy and easy to make fun of is needed to battle the intensity of the newspaper and the inanity of US.