Oprah Winfrey’s live show about “dating violence” and Chris Brown’s alleged beating of Rihanna was one of those TV moments when Oprah becomes a nationwide town meeting, in which Winfrey uses her extraordinary outreach and influence on America to try and shed light and counsel on a cultural issue. Dedicating the hour to “all the Rihannas in the world, and all the young men who would think of hitting a woman,” Winfrey didn’t shy away from arguing with young members of the audience who expressed sympathy for the male violence of which Brown is accused.
After a report from Entertainment Tonight correspondent Kevin Frazier that Rihanna and Brown are recording a duet and may write a book together about domestic violence, Winfrey told one teen her take on the Rihanna-Brown situation: “If you go back to a man who hit you, you don’t think you’re worthy of being with a man who won’t.”
At Winfrey’s side was Tyra Banks, who’d given over her own talk show to the same topic earlier in the day, and repeated a sentiment she used there: “There’s no excuse for a man to put his hands on a woman, ever, ever, ever.” She also talked about a relationship she’d been in, in which she felt herself a victim of “emotional abuse.” Banks intruded too often into the interviews Winfrey conducted, it seemed to me, but she did make a valuable point when one teen expressed disappointment that Rihanna apparently hasn’t abandonded Brown and therefore wasn’t a “role model.” Banks reminded the audience that Rihanna is “a girl… an entertainer,” not a role model, and shouldn’t have to bear this added pressure.
Winfrey’s presentation was most interesting when interviewing teens in pre-taped moments and live via remote locations such as Boise, Idaho, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Declaring her show a “huge, teachable moment” for America, Winfrey also interviewed a pregnant young woman, Britney, whose boyfriend, the father of her child, was in jail for attacking her. This interview was at once electrifying and queasy-making.
The hour skipped around a lot, with Winfrey showing a clip from a 1993 show she did about a girl whose boyfriend killed her, and then brought the mother of that girl onstage to talk with Britney and her parents. This seemed a stretch, since this woman, not identified as any sort of professional and speaking as she put it, based on “what little I know about this situation,” couldn’t offer much in the way of useful advice. As always, Winfrey was sincere, careful with her facts, and offered a lot of websites and phone numbers for viewers in similarly troubled or dangerous situations to contact. She concluded by calling out, “God bless, Rihanna, Chris!”
Did you watch? Do you think Oprah is a useful forum for the discussion of these issues?