February 1, 2007

"That's just some women sitting 'round in a book club, and you made it so interesting."

Don't you think that's an odd thing for -- of all people -- Oprah to say?

She's always pushing her book club, yet here she is revealing that she thinks women gabbing in a book club setting is the dullest thing in the world. Or is Oprah getting excited about "Madame Bovary" and the real, deep meaning of female adultery?

She's got Kate Winslet on the show, and Kate's talking about her (Oscar-nominated) role in "Little Children." And we've just seen the book club clip, where those other suburban women don't see the significance of female adultery, and our Kate -- in character -- says:
I think I understand your feelings about this book. I used to have some problems with it myself. But when I read it in grad school, Madame Bovary just seemed like a fool. She marries the wrong man. Makes one foolish mistake after another. But when I read it this time, I just fell in love with her. She's trapped. She has a choice. She can either accept a life of misery, or she can struggle against it. And she chooses to struggle... She fails in the end, but there's something beautiful and even heroic in her rebellion. My professors would kill me for even thinking this but, in her own strange way, Emma Bovary is a feminist... It's not the cheating. It's the hunger. The hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.
Oprah gushes:
Wow! Wow!! Wow. Thank you. I mean, the first time I saw that scene, I got chills. I thought that was so... liberating! I mean, and even now, the little hairs, standing on my head, when you said, "It's not the cheating. It's the hunger."
And X number of suburban housewives plunge headlong into disastrous adultery for the pure brilliance of the hunger. Even Oprah admits that life isn't found in reading groups! Over the years, she's made it seem that maybe it is, but in this intense moment, she makes it crashingly obvious that it is not!

35 comments:

vbspurs said...

And X number of suburban housewives plunge headlong into disastrous adultery for the pure brilliance of the hunger.

*cringe*

This moment reminds me of that scene in the film (and presumably, the book) Running With Scissors.

The ever capable Annette Benning, playing Burroughs' frustrated housewife and would-be poetess mum, has invited the local neighbourhood women for a weekly book club meeting, to talk about this precise topic, Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

The scene revolves around the women saying that Madame Bovary is a misogynist writer's fantasy of women, and how unfeminist a novel it is -- your typical post-hippy pseudo-intellectual claptrap, which deconstructs a torturously, but beautifully written book, by way of modern neuroses.

(SPOILER)

Of course, in this movie, Benning uses these hausfrau-frustrations about being stuck in their marriages, to highlight precisely the HUNGER felt by some women about missing opportunities, amongst them love.

She then uses this to seduce one of her neighbours, whom she had fancied for years.

(END OF SPOILER)

And X number of suburban housewives plunge headlong into disastrous adultery for the pure brilliance of the hunger.

It seems that all these years, and all the freedoms we women now enjoy, are as naught for Oprah types.

Marriage still represents prison-like subservience to an institution which dulls hunger, and creates suicidal thoughts about losing the chains which bind.

Ick, no wonder I have come to deeply dislike Oprah, and her ilk.

Cheers,
Victoria

Revenant said...

It's not the cheating. It's the hunger.

Gosh, you mean sometimes people desire something, even when it means betraying their promises and obligations? What a shocking revelation.

Eesh. The whole *point* of promising to do something is that you're agreeing to do it even if, later, you really don't feel like it. Any idiot can be faithful to her husband when she doesn't know any other men she wants to sleep with. The bit about "forsaking all others" is in the vows specifically because we all know that there will come a time when you don't WANT to forsake all others. That's why you promise forsake them anyway! That's why the vow doesn't say "forsaking all others, unless I'm feeling horny or bored".

vbspurs said...

forsaking all others, unless I'm feeling horny or bored

For real?

I thought marriage was just a piece of paper.

Cheers,
Victoria

Steve said...

I remember seeing Oprah in The Color Purple. Was the hunger portrayed there also brilliant?

MD said...

Madame Bovary's hunger ultimately made a fool of her, though. I mean, in losing herself to her hunger, she was manipulated and allowed herself to be, pretty much. Sitting around reading romance novels, dispirited and unhappy and having an affair are kind of two different things. One doesn't necessarily lead to the other....She also spent her way into trouble. Actually, it's the spending that ultimately undoes her, doesn't it? She wants a glamorous life, she has no out for her passions and hunger, as she sees it, but then she is a narrow and small woman. Her rebellion is that of someone who is limited. She is a limited person. And, so, bless his poor heart, is her duped husband. They all are. It's incredibly sad and, also, completely predictable.

ASX said...

Hi Ann,

This is off-topic, so forgive me, or delete me, if you wish.

But have you taken a position on Bush's apparent inclination to provoke a war with Iran?

Do you think we should expand the conflict into Iran, or try to avoid that escalation at all costs?

Or somewhere in between?

Cheers,
-ASX-

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hdhouse said...

give it a rest. it was a nice moment. ophra does more good deeds than you all do collectively. she puts her money where her heart and mouth are. winslet isn't great but she can read a line better than most of you can write one and if you pooh-pooh bookclubs, you should join one sometime...its like blogging but with thought.

Joe Baby said...

Funny how there's always a camera around when pOprah is doing one of her good deeds.

k_d said...

Sippican (just got your fab catalog, btw... which is fab!), yer killin me!

But your subtext is.. wtf is Oprah telling me about her hunger for? I agree.

It's not about your hungers and your "natural" desires. It's about the promises you make and the way you choose to keep them.

Jinnmabe said...

It's not the cheating. It's the hunger.

Um, does this apply to cheating on my law school exams because I have such a hunger to be on Law Review? Cheating on my taxes because of my hunger to use the money myself? I'm just trying to get clear on which hungers make it ok to break vows, be dishonest, etc. Hunger for sex, check. Anything else, Kate? I need your answer by April 15th (oh, sorry, the 17th this year).

Maxine Weiss said...

All things being equal, Madame Bovary turned out pretty good when you compare her to Anna Karenina....and Oprah just loved Anna Karenina, called her a heroine for all ages.

J. Peden said...

"It's the hunger.The hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness."

No matter what you might say about it, that Patriarchal bondage sure does bring out the best in people!

Michael Farris said...

You do all realize that sometimes authors use a strange devices like 'metaphor' and 'symbolism' don't you?

That means, authors sometimes have characters do things that are meant to be intepreted in a very different way within the context of the work they appear in than the same behavior would be intepreted in the real world that we all live in.

For instance, an author might write about a woman who commits adultery and treat her sympathetically (more or less) because the character is a _symbol_ of rebellion against a repressive social order and an unhappy marriage in the same novel might be a _metaphor_ for restrictive and inflexible social norms.
You may agree or disagree about such evaluation of the world the author lived in and have different ideas about the level of skill that the author brings to that task. But, it's important to remember that just because certain behavior that appears in literature might be interpreted sympathetically doesn't necessarily mean the author thinks that real women in similar situations should behave the way his character did.

Also, there are some things that might be fun/interesting to do in real life won't always be interesting on a movie screen - Cooking and consuming a gourmet meal or sitting for hours at a computer, that kind of thing.

Finally, Oprah is media-savvy enough to know that some kinds of tv programming that might be perfectly entertaining when one is in one's living room watching free or cable tv won't necessarily make gripping cinema (especially in a movie theater).
I think Oprah was commenting on Winslet's skill in making the sort of scene most people don't think would be interesting in a movie and in fact making it interesting. In other words, she was praising Winslet's acting skill, not saying that she thinks book clubs are boring or non-worthwhile activities.

verification word: stawdy - adjective describing an restrictive, over-literal view of art. A person who can't enjoy Jurassic Park because Tyrannosaurus Rex was from the _Cretaceous_ period, goddamit, is being stawdy, as is our hostess and most the commenters here.

Revenant said...

For instance, an author might write about a woman who commits adultery and treat her sympathetically (more or less) because the character is a _symbol_ of rebellion against a repressive social order and an unhappy marriage in the same novel might be a _metaphor_ for restrictive and inflexible social norms.

I might write a story about a sympathetic male character who rapes unwilling women. That too would serve as a metaphor for rebellion against restrictive and inflexible social norms.

But, like adultery, it would be a lousy metaphor, because it is loaded with too much extra baggage.

Michael Farris said...

"I might write a story about a sympathetic male character who rapes unwilling women. That too would serve as a metaphor for rebellion against restrictive and inflexible social norms.
But, like adultery, it would be a lousy metaphor, because it is loaded with too much extra baggage."

First, 'rapes unwilling women' suggests there's such a thing as 'rapes willing women'. Is that what you want to say?

Anyway, it wouldn't be a lousy metaphor because of real-world baggage, but because the power relations are all wrong or too unspecified.
For a metaphor to work it has to have an internal logic and reflect some kind of reality (not exactly but roughly).
Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina can be interpreted as doomed rebels because by almost any standard the societies and social circles they were living in were pretty restrictive, suffocating and unforgiving.
That's not the only possible reading of course (or necessarily the best one) but it is possible and doesn't imply uncritical approval for adultery in the real world except among the stubbornly foolish or those who want to commit adultery and will jump on any justification they can.

Now your supposed rape metaphor would be a tough sell because in the real world men (as a group) have more of almost every kind of power there is than women (as a group) do.
It could possibly work if the women in question are convincingly depicted as part of a system that has stripped the man of dignity or something like that.
Or it could be set up as a rebellion if the backdrop is a society that tries to channel mens' sexual drives into socially accpetable forms (marriage) by denying them other kinds of outlets.
But you'd have to set it in a society without many (or any) outlets for sexual activity for young unattached males. Some conservative non-western societies might work. Ahmed (or Chiang) is poor and unmarriageable and marriage is the only way for a man in his society to have physical or emotional intimacy with a woman. His sexual violence then could symbolize misguided or doomed rebellion against an indifferent social order where he's at the bottom of the heap with no prospects.

Tearfree aka Reject the Koolaid said...

Oh for Gawd's sake, do you really believe a suburban housewife is going to go out and commit adultery because Oprah said she understood "the hunger."

Talk about punching a straw adultress.

Ann Althouse said...

"do you really believe a suburban housewife is going to go out and commit adultery because Oprah said she understood "the hunger.""

Not only because... but women's minds have been reframed. Now, you need the situation. That doesn't mean all women will take the adultery route, but X number will, as I said in the post.

George said...

hdhouse--

If you think about it, we really don't know much about Oprah--if anything--except what she lets us know.

For example, she is a billionaire. Do we have any idea what her holdings are?

What does Oprah (and her company/companies) pay in taxe?

Have you ever read an interview with any of her present or past employees or guests that is anything but glowing? Part of the reason for that is that everyone who comes into contact with her professionally must agree not to discuss anything of consequence about the Great Lady.

Nothing is so deceiving as a beautiful surface, as someone once said.

hdhouse said...

oh george/....poor george...born with a dumbstick ....

exxon just announced yearly net earnings 40 times ophra's total worth. i would wager you dollars to doughnuts that the percentage of worth ophra spends yearly exceeds the percentage that exxon spends yearly. wanna bet?

thought not. she does good work. why do you dislike people who do good work? if she were rush limbaugh would you like her then? i often think rush is j. edgar reborn in a suit instead of a dress. you right wing haters are soooo transparent.

ShadyCharacter said...

"exxon just announced yearly net earnings 40 times ophra's total worth."

If nothing else hdhouse, I'm reasonably certain exxon has more than 40 employees/shareholders...

Not to mention you could reframe your stupid point as "exxon just announced yearly net earnings equal to 40% of bill gates total worth".

That dumbstick gets around don't it?

You leftwing haters are soooo transparent! :)

Pogo said...

1. Oprah and Exxon are no different, then, hdhouse. I would agree. hdhouse simply dislike Exxon's source of profit more than Oprrah's. But profit it is. They both give money away, employ people, and contribute to the common good by providing the public what it wants. SO yeah, pretty much the same. All hdhouse is choosing is the worthiness of the monetary success by each. He likes showbiz and hates oil. Fine. But it's all the same to me.

2. And here's Oprah, herself never married, after years of near-common sense from Dr. Phil, justifying adultery simply because women do it. What a moron.

Henry said...

Even Oprah admits that life isn't found in reading groups!

I think Madame Bovary figured out in the end that life isn't found in adultery either.

Let's not forget that Oprah is talking about a book and reacting to a movie scene. When Oprah has her "aha" moment, I don't think she suddenly realized how great adultery is. I think she's excited about a flash of insight into human character.

Of course people don't get transported by book clubs. People get transported by art. Women having affairs. Men smothering their wives. Women throwing themselves off battlements. Men marrying their mothers. All that good cathartic fun.

If Oprah's approach to reading has a flaw it is that she's not wild enough; her selections show a mind overly fond of moral lessons. It's a relief to see her caught off guard.

Ann Althouse said...

Henry: I'm not saying that Oprah said adultery is great. But she did strongly reinforce the idea that a humdrum life, experiencing excitement only vicariously, is not the right way to live and that the truly alive people take risks and transgress. The key is to be dissatisfied and to want things, even when no good will come of it, because the desire itself is real.

Joe Baby said...

Again, I giggle at the idea that Oprah "does good work." St. Vincent de Paul does good work. So does Campbell Soup and the Gerber baby food folks.

Oprah runs a chat show that continues to morph and twist according to her current whims. Yes, there's a general impression that she gives some stuff away, but even these gestures seem to be based on how it makes her feel, promoting herself, or as a didactic measure. Cue "Oprah's Angel Network" or her SAfrican school.

Furthermore, she's in the vanguard of the new moral relativism that worships itself while claiming to "pray to the universe." Classic Oprah line: "no one can judge. It's your personal truth." Bah. What drivel.

She was raped as a young girl and later gave birth to a stillborn at 14. This is a severely damaged woman who is monumentally wealthy and powerful...with a popular television show that appears to be a cry for help. She continues to sell the ever-changing Religion of Oprah, always gathering new-age pablum in an attempt to exorcise her demons.

James Frey is more honest and helpful.

PatCA said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I imagine it's as shallow as others of its genre. They avoid any blame for this unsatisfied hunger and terrible ennui being imputed to the woman herself; instead, it's always The Patriarchy!! where men are either dumb or evil.

And, yes, I fully expect X number of Oprah-bots to try a little adultery, those who were teetering on the edge of it anyway. It's all about the brilliance, baby, a little bauble for your amusement today: a car, an affair...

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Ann: I'm not saying that Oprah said adultery is great. But she did strongly reinforce the idea that a humdrum life, experiencing excitement only vicariously, is not the right way to live....

I'm not convinced. I didn't see the show, but I keep coming back to the fact that Oprah is responding to a movie scene. For her to say "That's just some women sitting 'round in a book club, and you made it so interesting" makes a lot of sense when you're talking about a movie. Nobody goes to the movies to see people sitting around doing the humdrum stuff that people do. Art wouldn't exist if it wasn't escapist.

Literature and theatre allow not just the vicarious enjoyment of dramatic action(something one can mimic, whether adultery or bank robbing) but entry into the emotional life of another person. Oprah's excitement with Winslett's performance is arguably derived from the latter aspect of art, not the former.

MD said...

Michael Farris:

I think Madame Bovary is doomed by the society she lives in and the restrictions placed on women at that time(which are depressing and horrible), and *also* by her own narrow and feckless character, which serves as a metaphor not only for societal restrictions on women, but for provincialism. She is the complete provincial, despite her dreams of being borderline-aristocratic. The hunger is real, the hunger is meaningful, but it is the hunger of someone who doesn't have the resources, from within or without, to make a meaningful life for herself. Being a tragic figure doesn't necessarily make you a great one.

By the way, the husband has restrictions placed on him by society as well. The descriptions of his schooling and early life....he, poor man, is just as limited by society and by his own nature. We can pity them both, can't we, while understanding the larger metaphor?

vbspurs said...

Joe Baby, ouch! I'm glad I'm not the target of your barbed tongue. ;)

I agree with a lot of what you wrote, and loved the way you phrased it, either way.

My only interruption to your flow would be to say that regardless of why she does it, she DOES help out a lot of people, and she IS very generous.

It's not a question of freebie tschokes here and there.

$28 million per annum, isn't chump change, and it's not all done for publicity.

Whatever else, give her at least that.

Cheers,
Victoria

Revenant said...

Oh for Gawd's sake, do you really believe a suburban housewife is going to go out and commit adultery because Oprah said she understood "the hunger."

People's decisions about whether or not to betray their spouses are based in part on how they think society will view their action. So, yes, the endorsement of adultery by a person respected as an advisor by tens of millions of women will cause more adultery, specifically among those women who were on the fence beforehand.

It is obvious that societies which celebrate X have more X than societies which condemn X. It is equally obvious that high-profile and respected spokespeople can influence what society celebrates or condemns. If follows that such people can can cause more or less X within society.

Harkonnendog said...

You've come a long way, baby!

My buddy dumped his middle-aged wife for a stripper... he feels the same way about himself (minus the feminist part of course). He really thinks he's some kind of hero, lol. He stayed true to himself and his own desires. He refused to let society dampen his ardor! He's a rebel!

Michael Farris said...

md:

I originally wrote more but the computer ate it, so I'll just say that I don't disagree with you one bit.

I'll just say that a kind of admiration for Emma's determination to break free from a constrained mundane existence doesn't preclude judging what she actually does as massively wrong-headed and recognising that her motives are pretty shallow, or vice versa.

Also, I haven't seen the movie in question so have no way of knowing anything about the context in which the Winslett character makes her comments except to note that just because a movie character says something doesn't mean anyone is supposed to take it as what the screenwriter, director or actor believes (I realize you get that point, I'm not so sure about a lot of the other folks here though).

Revenant said...

My buddy dumped his middle-aged wife for a stripper... he feels the same way about himself (minus the feminist part of course). He really thinks he's some kind of hero, lol. He stayed true to himself and his own desires. He refused to let society dampen his ardor! He's a rebel!

I forget who first made this observation, but how many women would have loved "The Bridges of Madison County" if it had been about a *man* cheating on his faithful, devoted, and hard-working *wife* with an attractive stranger while she was out of town with the kids? I'm guessing not many.

Harkonnendog said...

Lol...