Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom

Page created by Barry Estrada
European journal of American studies
                         17-4 | 2022
                         The Boredoms of Late Modernity

Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick
Fix to Boredom
Łukasz Muniowski

Electronic version
URL: https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/19125
DOI: 10.4000/ejas.19125
ISSN: 1991-9336

European Association for American Studies

Electronic reference
Łukasz Muniowski, “Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom”, European
journal of American studies [Online], 17-4 | 2022, Online since 26 December 2022, connection on 16
January 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/19125 ; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejas.

This text was automatically generated on 16 January 2023.

Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International - CC BY-NC 4.0
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   1

    Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-
    Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom
    Łukasz Muniowski

    1. Introduction
1   In this article, I want to discuss the Oprah with Meghan and Harry television special,
    which was prerecorded and aired globally in March of 2021. Without getting too much
    into its contents, I intend to show why an interview with two former royals, conducted
    by a famous media personality, is such an important cultural (pseudo-)event that its
    overall dullness, the inherent boredom of three people talking about distant, mostly
    irrelevant issues, stays hidden from the viewers. A staggering number of 17.1 million
    people in the US tuned in to watch it on March 7, 2021, its original air date. John Koblin
    describes the number as disappointing, considering that the “special aired after days of
    anticipatory coverage hinting at what the couple might reveal about their experiences
    with the royal family and their decision to leave the palace behind.” In my analysis of
    the way that the television special was advertised and presented, I want to highlight
    the boredom that the media and marketing machines try to fight by creating, elevating,
    and investing in such happenings. While the fight turns out to be in vain as boredom is
    contested with even more boredom, a lack of proper solutions fuels this cycle of
    futility. In agreement with Patricia Meyers Sparks’s statement that “boredom,
    examined, characteristically appears to mean something beyond itself” (x), I want to
    point out how the fear of boredom fuels the creation of programs that lead to the
    creation of further programs and news stories, allowing the media to fill the news cycle
    with various offspring of the main idea.
2   The interview itself, carrying no important message and devoid of any deep meaning, is
    not an occurrence in need of mediation but a product itself, occurring because of the
    fear that the viewer might experience boredom. That is why while it would be tempting
    to categorize it as another instance of the spectacle, as understood by Guy Debord
    (1967), the fact that it was manufactured in order to be mediated and did not occur on

    European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   2

    its own, and the media recognized that its overall dullness could be compensated for
    only by proper packaging and marketing, prevents me from doing so. Instead, I intend
    to use Boorstin’s concept of the pseudo-event, which is inherently American, just like
    the television special that I discuss here. Oprah with Meghan and Harry is an extension of
    the cultural transformation that has been going on since the nineteenth century and
    resulted in the creation of television specials of questionable value and quality. David P.
    Marshall connects the two, stating that “while the nineteenth century produced a
    system of visibility that was dependent on the media technology of print, the twentieth
    century developed new systems of visibility through the media of radio, film, and
    television that produced corresponding mediatized identities” (17). These were made
    possible by the American media system, interested in covering and presenting powerful
    and influential individualities, regardless of how they have gained that power and how
    they are using their influences. As Teresa Keller observes, “in the United States, our
    basic philosophy is that if we err, we err on the side of freedom. Some television is
    trash, but we just have to grin and bear it” (204). My intention is not to question the
    quality of today’s television but to trace the historical developments and the way they
    were influenced by boredom.
3   I will start with the creation of pseudo-events and the boredom––or rather the fear of
    it––that brought them into existence. Even though Boorstin coined the term in 1961, in
    response to the changing media landscape, it is still applicable today, as I intend to
    prove in this article. After providing the historical background, I will then write about
    the celebrity as a human pseudo-event. My focus will not fall on Meghan or Harry but
    on Oprah Winfrey, who conducted the interview and whose media company produced
    the interview. By doing that I will highlight another issue central to the contemporary
    media by trying to answer the question why the interviewer is just as important as the
    people who are interviewed and how it is supposed to guarantee that the interview
    itself will not be boring. By asking the right questions, Oprah, a talk show veteran of
    over thirty years, was supposed to make the interview engaging for viewers not
    familiar with the situation of the Duke of Sussex and his wife. In agreement with the
    paradoxical logic of celebrity hosts, if Oprah was speaking with them, they must be
    worthy of the viewers’ attention.

    2. Pseudo-Events: Interviews and Talk Shows
4   The creation of the television special and the interest that it aroused––49.1 million
    viewers by March 9, 2021 (Pelski)––would not have been possible without the creation
    of mass society. Edward Shils identifies the process as determined by the move from
    authority to individuality, with more rights allowed to the latter (2). The move to mass
    society allowed the citizens more freedom, which is essential in making important life
    choices. Shils points out that “mass society is an industrial society” (2), which means it
    relies on producing goods––the basis of the industry’s existence. For production to
    make sense though, consumption becomes necessary, putting the consumer in the
    center of the economy. The reliance on constant production and instant consumption,
    instead of the overall quality of the product, as well as its longevity, leads to
    momentary gratification. The products appear on and disappear from the market with
    the same velocity, giving the consumers the impression that their decisions matter. 1

    European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   3

5   Hannah Arendt writes that “mass society and mass culture are interrelated
    phenomena” (43). In her essay “Society and Culture,” she attributes the creation of
    mass culture to the creation of mass society, basing the division between culture and
    mass culture on consumption. While society created culture to turn its products into
    commodities, mass society consumes them in search of instant entertainment, the
    same way it reached for “any other consumer goods” (46). This process occurrs in what
    Arendt refers to as “leftover time... after labor and sleep have received their due” (47).
    While still biological and “natural,” this vacant time is filled with easy-to-digest
    products, which “disappear in consumption” (48), fueling the creation of newer
    commodities to meet the demands of the consumer society. With more time available
    for idleness, one of the most urgent decisions of modern subjects was where to allocate
    the amount of time possible for leisure, making it either meaningful or not. There is no
    free time without labor. As Theodor Adorno points out, “free time is shackled to its
    opposite” (187), and “free time must not resemble work in any way whatsoever, in
    order, presumably, that one can work all the more effectively afterwards” (190). One of
    the activities made available due to the superfluous amount of free time is watching
    television, which Lars Svendsen directly connects with boredom:
         People who watch TV four hours a day will not necessarily feel or admit that they
         are bored, but why else should they spend 25 per cent of their waking hours in such
         a way? Leisure naturally presents itself as an explanation, but leisure gives one a
         great deal of superfluous time that has to be consumed in some way or other – and
         few types of apparatus destroy time more efficiently than a TV. There is ultimately
         hardly any other reason for watching TV for many hours an evening than to get rid
         of time that is superfluous or disagreeable. (23)
6   The same link is established by Sherryl Wilson, who writes that “popular culture
    becomes the antidote to a restless mobility, boredom and loneliness as individuals
    engage in a perpetual search for an escape from a debilitating ennui of contemporary
    life” (65).
7   The demand for television may be equaled with what Boorstin calls the “demand for
    illusions” (9). What the viewers are looking for in their television programs is a sense of
    vacancy, allowing them to simply forget about the limitations imposed on them by the
    neoliberal economy and its social inequalities. The universal need for consumption is in
    agreement with the democratic nature of the programming itself, which, in turn,
    should serve as a unifying notion based on the familiarity of consumption. The
    commonness of needs and desires, however, rarely serves as a bridge between social
    groups or classes as some can afford to consume and others simply cannot. Yet, there is
    another universal feeling, which predates consumption and also does not bring people
    together but serves as the cause and reason for their actions. It functions as a common
    enemy, which can be defeated with similar means, access to which is also based on
    social and material position. That feeling is, naturally, boredom.
8   Similarly to mass consumption, “boredom is a universal experience” (Toohey 169).
    People used various means to overcome it, but at least since the advent of modernity,
    consumption has been one of the most common remedies to boredom. Today’s
    consumerism does not revolve solely around material objects as with the rise of virtual
    currency, streaming services, and online versions of video games or movies––just to
    name a few technological developments––it becomes clear that one can also devour
    entertainment without any tangible material existence. This mechanism, however, is
    not unique to our era: it can be traced back to the beginnings of art, which brought

    European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   4

     with itself emotions and meanings whose impact went beyond the “transmitters” that
     were carrying it. As J. M. Bernstein points out:
          Works of art are commodities just the same, indeed pure commodities since they
          are valuable only to the extent that they can be exchanged. Works’ non-utility,
          their ‘unsaleability’, is the hypocritical source of their value; the art market is pure
          because unconstrained by need. The culture industry’s inversion of this is its
          offering of culture goods, exhibitions or concerts on the television or radio, free of
          charge, as a ‘public service’; in truth, the price for them has been long-since paid
          for by the labouring masses. (10)
9    Yet, as interesting as the journey back in time to trace the beginnings of boredom
     might turn out to be, taking into account the limitations of time, (writing) space, and
     the subject matter of this article, I will not go back further than to 1848, which is when
     the Associated Press was founded. It is precisely at this moment, according to that
     Boorstin, that the news began to turn into a “salable commodity” (13), which was
     possible thanks to the improvements made to the telegraph and the invention of the
     rotary press, allowing for the news to “travel” fast and go to print at a similar speed.
10   This was also when newspapers went from simply retelling events to fighting for the
     attention of the reader, which could be caught with “images of print, of men and
     landscapes and events, of the voices of men and mobs” (Boorstin 13). Boorstin calls
     these changes the Graphic Revolution, in which “vivid image came to overshadow pale
     reality” (13). In other words, fiction overshadowed the truth when looking more
     promising and was ingrained into the social fabric despite being false. No medium was
     impacted by these changes more than television. Walter Cummins and George Gordon
     write that “even if television were not the primary cause of change, it has served as the
     messenger and supporter of ideas and movements,” both intentionally and
     unintentionally (ix). It was instrumental for many social and cultural developments
     that continue to shape our era.
11   The availability of television sped up the process of news reporting, and, as Boorstin
     notices, soon “news gathering turned into news making” (14). This, in turn, influenced
     the creation of pseudo-events, fabricated to fill up the news cycle. The main
     characteristics of a pseudo-event are that it is not spontaneous but planned (1); that it
     is produced for the sole purpose of being reported or reproduced (2), is open to
     interpretation (3), and is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (4) in the sense that it is
     announced prior to its appearance (11–12). It is hard to treat pseudo-events as news,
     precisely because of their pre-prepared nature. As observed by Boorstin: “the story
     prepared ‘for future release’ acquires an authenticity that competes with that of the
     actual occurrences on the scheduled date” (19). This means that, judging from almost
     every news edition, a prerecorded event may be just as much newsworthy and may
     seem as authentic as current events.
12   What is more, “pseudo-events spawn other pseudo-events in geometric progression” as
     “pressures arise to produce other, derivative forms of pseudo-event which are more
     fluid, more tantalizing, and more interestingly ambiguous” (Boorstin 33). This means
     that such an occurrence may be recycled for a week or so, with media experts
     discussing various moments from such an event, (presumably) adding context and
     depth to selected elements of the show. This usually goes on until another story
     appears or is created, only for the whole process to be repeated around a different
     narrative. Such is the case with sports stories concerning whether a given player will
     move to a different team or not, which reappear during every trade deadline. The

     European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   5

     ability to come up with such news cycles time and time again is related not only to the
     attractiveness of the occurrences at hand but also to the journalist telling the story. As
     Boorstin points out, “the successful reporter is one who can find a story, even if there is
     no earthquake or assassination or civil war.” “If he cannot find a story, then he must
     make one––by the questions he asks of public figures,” he continues, summing up the
     talk show formula (8).
13   Boorstin identifies the interview as one of the simplest, if not the most primitive,
     pseudo-events. Rather than looking at the interview as a means of gathering
     information or conducting methodological research, Boorstin is interested in the rise of
     the figure of the contemporary newsman, which creates confusion as to “who is the
     history, and who is the historian?” (30). Since the 1960s, the work of the reporter is no
     longer based on simply relaying the facts but also on doing it in an entertaining way.
     The stress on entertainment in the way news is conveyed leads to competition, which is
     the basis of the free market economy. The reporters are “free to speculate on the facts,
     to bring new facts into being.... Our ‘free market place of ideas’ is a place where people
     are confronted by competing pseudo-events and are allowed to judge among them”
     (Boorstin 35).
14   The rising popularity of interviews and interviewers gave birth to the talk show, a
     television formula in which the guests talk with a new incarnation of the reporter––the
     host. Wilson writes that talk shows escape categorization due to “the persona of the
     host who facilitates the proceedings and the relationship they engender with their
     studio guests and audiences” (17). This only furthers the notion that the host is more
     important than the guests: the people tune in to hear the questions and the retorts
     instead of actually learning something from or about the person invited to the show.
     Most talk shows follow the same format, which “requires invited guests to disclose the
     most intimate aspects of themselves, recalling past and present difficulties and
     revealing often horrific life experiences to the camera, studio and home audiences for
     close scrutiny and judgement” (2). One of the most prominent figures in talk show
     history is Oprah Winfrey, who hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show for twenty-three seasons,
     from September 1986 to May 2011. She achieved fame and wealth despite her difficult
     beginnings. Nicole Aschoff writes that Winfrey is the embodiment of the American
     Dream as she “presents her personal journey and metamorphosis from a poor little girl
     in rural Mississippi to a billionaire prophet as a model for overcoming adversity” (80).
     She has built her brand on talking with people about their problems and helping them
     overcome their issues in front of cameras and studio audiences. As revered as Winfrey
     is, it is particularly notable that she achieved such a position in the media landscape,
     abolishing the divisions between highbrow and lowbrow entertainment.

     3. Oprah: The Human Pseudo-Event
15   It is a common concept that one achieves almost universal recognition when one can be
     referred to solely by her/his/their first name. “Oprah” is one of those people, and,
     according to the title of the television special, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should
     be as well. It is, however, due to Winfrey’s name being put in front of the other two that
     the viewer learns about the significance of the television special. This gives her power,
     unachievable for either “Meghan” or “Harry,” painting them as add-ons to her show.
     Even though Prince Harry is a royal and Markle a famous actress, it is the former talk

     European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   6

     show host that emerges here as the central figure. It is Winfrey who is supposed to
     guarantee authenticity and honesty due to the reputation that she has built through
     the years.
16   The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have stepped down as senior members of the British
     Royal Family, meaning they have given up all their official functions. By doing that,
     they have renounced some of their power, but not all of it as they remain celebrities:
     figures who are not considered to be culturally relevant, yet whose power cannot be
     denied. As David P. Marshall points out, “celebrity has become a way to identify public
     visibility but also underlines how that visibility itself is not an achievement or clear
     accomplishment” (16). It is not, however, that celebrity is devoid of power, which is
     also recognized by Marshall: “genealogically, there is a second element that links
     celebrity to power: celebrity identifies a very elaborate and expanding discourse of
     visibility and recognition. What is developed through celebrities is a rather new and
     contemporary system of value” (17). In this case, the special was a way of sparking
     interest in the production company of the interviewees, Archewell Productions, which
     signed deals to produce content for Netflix and Spotify.
17   Barry Smart connects the rise of celebrity culture with the demand for illusions,
     placing it historically after the First World War, when American soldiers returned
     home from Europe and found themselves lost in everyday life after encountering the
     horrors of war. This led to what Smart refers to as “celebrity-fabricating” by the film,
     the radio, and the mass-circulating magazines (3). The process of fabrication is a direct
     consequence of the Graphic Revolution which, as Boorstin points out, “gave us, among
     other things, the means of fabricating well-knownness” (47). This led to the creation of
     celebrities, whom Boorstin distinguishes from heroes, considered as such due to their
     achievements. He writes that “the hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name” (61).
     The name then allowed for the creation of the brand myth, allowing celebrities to
     become brands and sell products by pure association.
18   Winfrey is well aware of her status, using her influence to promote her most important
     brand––herself, managing to connect conflicting discourses because of the impression
     of authenticity that she so successfully projected in her talk shows and extended to her
     magazine and production company. She turned her life story into a device of making
     herself more familiar to her viewers, purposely becoming the central figure of the
     show. Wilson writes that “all of the voices heard on the show, and the form that their
     articulations take, are facilitated by and filtered through the persona of Oprah Winfrey,
     whose own authority resides in her life experiences, her struggles to overcome
     difficulties and in the notion of authenticity signaled through her practice of adopting
     the confessional position” (157). Winfrey listens, inspires, and gives life advice. She is
     now famous and wealthy, yet her rags-to-riches story allows Winfrey to position herself
     as an authority figure and one of the people at the same time. Wilson writes that “the
     Oprah as celebrity other is simultaneously Oprah as ‘one of us’ thus providing a bridge
     between the audience and the stars, including Winfrey herself” (162). By becoming
     familiar to the audience, she makes her story attainable, her life within reach, ignoring
     the circumstances that stood behind her rise to fame. In Oprah’s story, the American
     Dream is available for everyone: if one fails, it is because of not working hard enough or
     doing things one is not supposed to do (Aschoff 100). The ultimate goal is happiness,
     presumably well within reach of every viewer and member of the audience.

     European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   7

19   In her version of the American Dream, Oprah made generosity a central part of her
     brand. Winfrey is famous for giving away things during her live shows as well as
     building schools in the US and abroad through the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. She is
     also a millionaire and the founder of Harpo Productions, her own media company. By
     all accounts, she can be a role model, a label that she willingly took on and built her
     brand around it. What made Oprah so successful was her personality, which Boorstin
     equals with celebrity, calling the two synonyms (65). Celebrities do not perform any
     vital social function; their existence is justified solely due to mass society’s need to be
     entertained, meaning as long as they are entertaining, they are not replaced by another
     fabricated well-known person. In order to remain that, they need to organize pseudo-
     events to remain in the spotlight. This is exactly what Oprah does whenever she opens
     a new school or conducts a new interview––everything is planned in advance, spawning
     the creation of new pseudo-events, earning her the dubious status of a human pseudo-
20   The same mechanism also applies to the television special, which was prepared by
     Oprah’s media company. She has been friends with Markle, attending the 2018 Royal
     Wedding as her guest, and later on, teamed up with Prince Harry to produce a program
     for Apple TV+. The close ties with the Royals allowed her to prepare the program, but
     more importantly, it was her exemplary reputation as a talk show host that made
     Meghan and Harry decide to take part in the special. As Wilson points out, “talk shows
     are cheap television, attract good viewing figures and represent a sound financial
     proposition for producers” (19). Yet, Oprah’s special was far from “a sound financial
     proposition” as CBS paid Harpo Productions around $7–9 million for exclusive rights to
     the special in the US. They invested so much because Winfrey is a brand that
     guarantees ratings, while her relationship with Markle made it certain that she and her
     husband would be able to present their side of the story.
21   This, in turn, led to a boring, unrevealing special, which was discussed all over the
     world due to unabated interest in the lives of celebrities. Because her talk show has
     been on the air for 24 years, it is evident that Winfrey knew––and still knows––how to
     produce gripping television, sticking to proven formulas. Elizabeth Legge writes that
     “artistic techniques of boredom include repetition and postponement of a conclusion
     or inconclusion” (96). That means that shows are prolonged or broken up by
     commercial breaks in order for them to last longer, which oftentimes has the opposite
     effect––the frustration with the length of a show/series leads to boredom, which
     results in resignation. Repetition and postponement of conclusions are also the key
     features of successful television programs as the first leads to the creation of
     captivating formulas, which allow for better consumption of said programs, while the
     postponement of conclusions allows the topic to be discussed on different platforms
     until a new one appears. That is why Meghan and Harry’s reluctance to actually share
     anything of essence despite the two-hour length of the interview, providing the media
     with just enough talking points to continue discussing the program, and creating
     various pseudo-events in the process, was in agreement with the expectations
     regarding pseudo-events themselves.
22   Doreen St. Felix of the New Yorker called the 2021 television special “the instantly iconic
     artifact of pop culture,” while also taking notice of how carefully, yet somewhat
     strangely, the whole program was constructed. Understandably, the former Duke and
     Duchess of Sussex picked Oprah to manage the two-hour special, which placed her in

     European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   8

     the familiar role of the “celebrity other.” As Loren Glass observes in her discussion of
     the recommendations from Oprah’s Book Club, “Oprah not only represented mass
     cultural acclaim, her show also reinforced the association between such acclaim and
     the predominantly female readership to which she catered” (53). In a similar way, the
     special itself was directed at female viewers, discussing issues such as motherhood,
     depression, and racism. Furthermore, a larger part of the interview involved just
     Winfrey and Markle, with Prince Harry serving as an add-on even when the three were
     holding a conversation. While commendable and refreshing, the female perspective has
     been chosen to provide more talking points for pundits rather than to deepen social
     awareness about the discussed issues. Motherhood, depression, and racism have been
     covered numerous times in Oprah’s talk show as well as in the programs her company
     produced. It is safe to say that she knows her public and knows how to address it.

     4. Conclusion
23   Oprah’s rise to fame as well as the 2021 television special result from the fear of
     boredom that fuels the creation of pseudo-events. In Winfrey’s case, that means
     repeating the same, uninspired formulas over and over, during every similar event,
     turning it, somewhat paradoxically, into a showcase of boredom. Oprah herself may be
     characterized as a human pseudo-event because of her ability to produce such
     occurrences one after another, an ability which she acquired through almost four
     decades of work in the media. Pseudo-events are not spontaneous as they are produced
     in advance and may be interpreted, reported on, or reproduced at will. Oprah with
     Meghan and Harry television special is exactly that––a pseudo-event produced in the
     middle of a global pandemic, as billions of people are living in fear of getting infected,
     just to redirect their attention to something presumably more newsworthy, which,
     nevertheless, does not influence their lives. The interview could have been a welcome
     distraction from the tragedy of the everyday if it would be in fact its purpose. Instead,
     for most viewers, it was impossible to relate to the revealing of personal issues of the
     rich in a time when everyday activities, such as going to a store or walking the dog,
     suddenly became life-threatening occurrences.
24   My intention was not to comment on the contents of the television special but rather to
     highlight how it is another in a series of pseudo-events, created in response to
     boredom, available to societies rich enough to afford leisure. It falls in line with Donald
     Trump rallies, publication of some unearthed documents, or basically every event
     concerning non-fungible tokens. Boorstin notices that “we are deceived and obstructed
     by the very machines we make to enlarge our vision” (259), by devoting our attention
     to pseudo-events, which are fabricated only to make us forget about our living
     conditions and/or fuel our consumption. While the fact that Meghan Markle brought
     up depression was important, as it started another public debate about mental health,
     the interview itself was produced in the name of finding a quick fix for boredom, which
     may creep at us at any time.

     European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   9

Adorno, Theodor. “Free Time.” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, edited by J. M.
Bernstein, Routledge, 2001, pp. 187–97.

Arendt, Hannah. “Society and Culture.” Culture for the Millions? Mass Media in Modern Society, edited
by Norman Jacobs, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 43–52.

Aschoff, Nicole. The New Prophets of Capital. Verso, 2015.

Bernstein, J. M. “Introduction.” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, by Theodore
Adorno, edited by J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, 2001, pp. 1–28.

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. Harper Colophon Books, 1961.

Cummins, Walter, and George Gordon. Programming Our Lives: Television and American Identity.
Praeger, 2006.

Finkielsztein, Mariusz. “Consumer Boredom: Boredom as a Subliminal Mood of Consumer
Capitalism.” Late Modern Boredom, special issue of European Journal of American Studies, vol. 17, no.
4, 2022.

Glass, Loren. “Brand Names: A Brief History of Literary Celebrity.” A Companion to Celebrity, edited
by David P. Marshall and Sean Redmond, Wiley, 2016, pp. 39–57.

Keller, Teresa. “Trash TV.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 26, no. 4, 1993, pp. 195–206.

Koblin, John. “Oprah, Meghan and Harry Draw 17.1 Million Viewers to CBS.” The New York Times, 8
Mar. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/08/business/media/oprah-winfrey-meghan-
markle-prince-harry.html. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.

Legge, Elizabeth. “Boring Cool People: Some Cases of British Boredom.” Boredom Studies Reader:
Frameworks and Perspectives, edited by Michael E. Gardiner and Julian Jason Haladyn, Routledge,
2017, pp. 88–106.

Marshall, David P. “Introduction.” A Companion to Celebrity, edited by David P. Marshall and Sean
Redmond, Wiley, 2016, pp. 15–20.

Pelski, Denise. “Meghan Markle & Prince Harry’s Oprah Interview to Re-Air Friday As CBS
Reschedules ‘MacGyver,’ ‘Magnum P.I.’ & ‘Blue Bloods’ Originals.” Deadline, 9 Mar. 2021, https://
reschedules-macgyver-magnum-p-i-blue-bloods-originals-1234710935/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.

Shils, Edward. “Mass Society and Its Culture.” Culture for the Millions? Mass Media in Modern Society,
edited by Norman Jacobs, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 1–27.

Smart, Barry. The Sport Star: Modern Sport Star and the Cultural Economy of Sporting Celebrity. Sage,

Sparks, Patricia Meyer. Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind. The U of Chicago P, 1995.

St. Felix, Doreen. “The Rigorous Empathy of ‘Oprah with Meghan and Harry.’” The New Yorker, 8
Mar. 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-television/the-rigorous-empathy-of-oprah-
with-meghan-and-harry. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.

Toohey, Peter. Boredom: A Lively History. Yale UP, 2011.

Wilson, Sherryl. Oprah, Celebrity and the Formations of Self. Routledge, 2003.

European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
Oprah, Meghan, Harry, Pseudo-Events, and a Quick Fix to Boredom   10

1. For an analysis of consumer boredom, see Mariusz Finkielsztein, “Consumer Boredom:
Boredom as a Subliminal Mood of Consumer Capitalism” in this issue.

The article uses the 2021 Oprah with Meghan and Harry television special as a case study to discuss
pseudo-events and news cycles, which are represented as an antidote to boredom despite their
lack of newsworthiness. I trace back today’s pseudo-events to the beginnings of the Graphic
Revolution, during which news was transformed into a commodity, and its entertaining value
gained major significance. As a result, the figure of the entertaining newsman has become more
important than the relayed story. In response to the fear of boredom, which grips mass society,
instead of only reporting current events, the media started making news, that is producing
pseudo-events, which are planned and marketed. In order to explain this process, I discuss
Oprah, a talk show giant, as a human pseudo-event and the main reason that 49.1 million
watched the special.

Keywords: celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, pseudo-events, Graphic Revolution

Łukasz Muniowski is an Assistant Professor at the University of Szczecin. He has published over a
dozen of academic articles on various topics, including gentrification, geek culture, American
literature, video games, and television series. He is the author of Three-Pointer! A 40-Year NBA
History (McFarland, 2020) and co-editor (with Aldona Kobus) of Sex, Death and Resurrection
in Altered Carbon: Essays on the Netflix Series (McFarland, 2020). In 2021, Lexington Books
published his monograph Narrating the NBA: Cultural Representations of Leading NBA Players after the
Michael Jordan Era. His newest book, Sixth Men: NBA History off the Bench was published by
McFarland in 2021.

European journal of American studies, 17-4 | 2022
You can also read