Oprah Winfrey must own half the planet by now. Millions of people watch her show daily, visit her website, and she has had so much success with fandom that she now owns her own cable network channel.
Winfrey’s career in the media world began when she was just 17 years old, hired to speak the news part-time on WVOL radio in Mississippi, where she was born. She hosted the news on the WVOL her senior year at East Nashville High School and for two years of her college career at Tennessee State University. Her media-oriented life only scaled from there. By age 19, she was co-anchoring for local evening news on Nashville’s WLAC-TV, making her the youngest and America’s first female, African American news anchor.
But what made her so motivated on screen is the story of her experiences growing up. Winfrey was brought into the world by a single teenage mother, Vernita Lee, who was a housemaid. Winfrey believed her father to be Vernon Winfrey, who had been a soldier in the Armed Forces at her birth. When her mother embarked to travel North, Winfrey was left to be raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee.
Poverty was a ruling factor in these 6 years of her raising, and Winfrey said she often wore dresses made out of potato sacks so she had something to wear for school. Her grandmother, albeit poor, took serious thought in her learning and what Winfrey could accomplish, teaching her to read before she was 3 years old, taking her to church, and hitting her if she didn’t act proper or do her chores. Once she was six years old, Winfrey returned to her mother’s care, moving to Miwaukee, Wisconsin, where the latter worked too much to support Winfrey’s success in school. On an episode of her Show, Winfrey admitted that she encountered sexual abuse at age 9 by friends and family members alike.
When she turned 13, she ran away from home to escape the abuse. By 14, she was pregnant, but her son died in infancy.
Fast forward to 1986, and the woman who went through so much hardship and started out by speaking the news part-time on a local radio station exploded into fame as she aired the first episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, pulverizing the most watched talk-show at the time, The Phil Donahue Show. Since her big breakout in the 80s, Oprah has changed a lot about what the entertainment world is all about. She brought regular people onto her show, brought empathy, spirituality, personal health, and self-importance onto television, showing what life is like behind the limelight and giving regular people the chance to discover what that fame feels like.
But could all the fortune, worship, and success have changed Oprah Winfrey’s character and essence? Between O Magazine, an Oprah store selling every ensemble she wore on stage, an Oprah website, and now an entire channel dedicated to herself (that you have to pay a monthly fee for), it looks like Oprah Winfrey could tell her viewers to do anything she wanted – and they would probably do it. By her show alone over one million votes went to Barrack Obama during the 2008 Presidential elections. Should one woman be allowed to hold that much power in her hands?