Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Oprah Phenomenon

Australia has been well and truly besieged by the Oprah fever. From screaming teens to crying mid-lifers, it seems few have escaped the grip of the most popular, if not also the most powerful, woman in the world.

Oprah Winfrey didn’t inherit her fortune and she wasn’t born into a privileged family. A classic rags to riches story, she is where she is today largely through her own merit. And it seems to be this which appeals to so many. And of course there’s something totally unique about a talk show host who is more powerful than the celebrities she interviews.

But watching the “Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things” show last night, one might be forgiven for thinking she is really just a brand. And anything with the O-branded seal of approval is something worth buying. Oprah is a marketer and those Favorite Things shows smack of a Danoz ad from the 90s.

The Favorite Things episodes feature throngs of audience members falling all over themselves, crying with joy over the new (heavily over-priced) kitchen knives they will walk away with, while home viewers quickly write down the names of all the products. Everything about this facet of the Oprah franchise feeds the consumerist culture of modern day America, and increasingly the rest of the world. What Oprah has, we must have. If Oprah says it’s good, it must be. Never mind that multi-million dollar international companies just paid well to have their product endorsed by her.

In a clever marketing ploy by our country’s tourism industry, Oprah’s latest “favorite” thing is Australia. Considering that companies like Nike and P&N Cruises probably pay well into the millions for product endorsement, 5 million dollars to endorse a country probably isn’t too bad.

In a media conference during her visit, Oprah promised to repay the Australian taxpayer’s 5 million dollar investment in her, describing her impact on tourism to Australia as “immeasurable”.

Here’s hoping.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deficits of another kind

If you tune in to the right sources and listen very, very carefully, you might just hear the faint whisper which suggests that many children who have been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) might actually be suffering attention deficit disorder of a parental kind.
Around the traps, thoughtful psychologists, school teachers, church leaders and single parents are starting to recognize that children who lack the significant individual attention of one or both parents, are the same children being prescribed Ritalin.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies that suck millions from families each year are unlikely to spread the word, but slowly, ever so slowly, it’s getting out there. And there are no more outspoken proponents of this new-age view than the parents raising children who have been diagnosed with the developmental disorder.

Emily Cairns, Army wife and mother of two young boys, says her children’s behavior changes dramatically on about day 4 of a deployment when her little boys realizes Daddy is not coming home yet. “They cope fine when it’s just a day or two, but more than that and it gets really tough. The last time my husband was deployed, I ended up taking the kids to a doctor because they just weren’t themselves. It was the doctor who suggested it might be a separation anxiety issue rather than ADHD as I had first suspected.”

The online journal, ScienceDaily, recently reported that 1 million children in the United States may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, simply for being the youngest kid in the class.

And yet the hype remains.

Trawl the mummy forums and you’ll find many women feeling helpless about their 2 year old son who simply won’t sit still. Not even for 5 minutes. What could possibly be wrong with my child, they ask, thoroughly exasperated and entirely convinced that if they took their child to the doctor, the kid would be prescribed Ritalin.

At a time when many children are abandoned to mass care at one point or another during the first 4 years of life, it may be useful to look at separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, dysfunctional environments and bullying as a cause for a child’s behavioural issues, before medicating them.

After all, they’re only young. And we put a lot of pressure on children to conform.

© Eva Whiteley 2010