The darkest side of The Oprah Effect is something that is not visible. It is the effect it has on the mind of the public. It is an Orwellian “Thought Police” with a democratic twist and a voluntary acceptance of ideas. It is the public being brainwashed — yes, brainwashed — into welcoming alternative facts. Think of a mile long queue of people at a bookstore in Pyongyang waiting to buy a book “recommended” by Kim Jong-un. Now think of the Barnes & Noble in Northern California where Tim Watkin — who wrote a Washington Post oped piece about “The Secret” — worked for several months. “Three times in less than two weeks, the store sold out of ‘The Secret.’ Time and again, the customers coming to the counter were working-class people, spending their hard-earned money on this piffle — $16.76 for the book and $34.99 for the DVD,” Watkin wrote. “When I started asking why, they said they’d seen ‘The Secret’ on Oprah.”
We normally don’t pay attention to the pernicious effect pseudo-scientific ideas have on the mind, unless they cause physical harm. The Sedona, Ariz. incident is just one example. There are many more, hundreds of thousands more. When Oprah publicizes alternative medicine and New Age spirituality, she is brainwashing her 40 million plus followers. The direct effect of this brainwashing is the spike in the sale of the facial cream or the weight-loss drug she recommends, or the book she lists in her book club. But the more subtle and more dangerous indirect effect is that her followers lose the ability to think critically. They turn against rationality and science, because Oprah has a word or two for conventional doctors who criticize Suzanne Somers and her medical advice!
A public brainwashed by the Oracle embraces her “apostles” with open arms. But to be an apostle, you have to have certain qualifications. Suppose you are a doctor and a professor of surgery at Columbia University, and you write to Oprah about your interest in educating the public about their health and how scientific medicine can help them. You’ll never hear back from Oprah! Now suppose you are a doctor and a professor of surgery at Columbia University, and you write to Oprah about your interest in educating the public about their health. You also indicate that your wife — a Reiki Master — introduced you to the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish Protestant fundamentalist who, late in life, became a spiritualist and Sweden’s most famous trance medium, and that you have subsequently been profoundly influenced by him. You tell Oprah, “When Lisa and I got married, there was no ’til death do us part in the ceremony,” because Swedenborg had convinced you and Lisa that marriages are intended to last forever in paradise. Now you have Oprah’s ears.