Did “Snobbish” Oprah Winfrey Really Mock Indian Culture In Her “Next Chapter” Special?

July 25, 2012  |  

 

Oprah’s rep as a media mogul who can do no wrong just keeps becoming more and more unhinged as the days go by. As of late she’s been heavily critiqued for the fails of her OWN network, side-eyed for the stars she’s chosen to feature in a race for ratings, and now she’s rubbed some segments of the Asian community wrong with her “Oprah’s Next Chapter” special on India.

Perhaps the most-telling of the critiques regarding the two-part series which aired in India this past weekend is one written in the popular Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar under the headline, “Snobbish Oprah Mocks India.” The reporter wrote:

In a typical American snooty style the talk show queen tried to portray superficial ‘sob story’. Oprah was anything but a good guest when she went around the small 10 by 10 feet house interrogating the family members about their ‘poor’ living style and ‘miserly’ living.

The small family of five, stunned by the arrival of an unexpected guest were the most gracious host. On the contrary, the American guest left no stone unturned in mocking the family.

She asked the otherwise happy children how they could live in such a “tiny” room and actually wanted to know, “Don’t you feel it’s too cramped?” She also asked the six-year-olds whether they were happy.

She then interrogated the father about whether he was happy and satisfied. He got teary-eyed and said that he wished he could earn more and provide for a more comfortable life for his children. After making him weep in front of his family, Oprah said that she knows how awful it is for children to see their father weep.

She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marvelled at how all their clothes fit onto a small shelf.

She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV which adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story. When their older daughter told Oprah that she’d like to go to London to study further, Oprah also played her role as American ambassador to the hilt and said, “No. Come to America, it’s a lovely country. It’s the best”.

This was latest in a series of attempts made by west to show India as a poor misery ridden mystic land.

Next, Oprah Winfrey, ‘the Queen of talk shows’, immediately proceeded to the home of one of Bombay’s richie-rich families. And then displayed her haughty self there as well.

The joint family which was dressed in full Indian regalia served her a meal on silver thalis and katoris. She looked at the food and then made her best statement of the entire episode – “So I hear some people in India STILL eat with their hands.”

As pointed as this negative reaction was, it was far from the only one. MSN points out that the management of the leading Indian TV channel, CNN-IBN, posted an open letter to Oprah from an offended fan on its website, which reads:

“Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country. But as a responsible public figure about to air a show that will be beamed across the world, you should have done your homework. Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it. A millionaire here eats the same way a pauper does. You have been to Asian nations. You should know that.”

On Firstpost.com,  Rajyasree Sen called the special “Myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche,” while India Real Time notes the overarching point all critics have is that Oprah’s special depicted “India as Westerners imagine it, one stereotype at a time.”

A spokesperson for “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” sidestepped all of the criticism in a recent statement, simply saying:

“The intention of the program was to explore the beautiful culture and spirit of the country. We enjoyed the time we spent there and were touched by the people who so generously shared their stories for the show.”

They might have to come up with something better than that to combat all of this backlash. Check out the questionable clips from the special here. Do you think Oprah’s coverage mocked Indian culture?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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