A thesis statement: Oprah self-help promotion can help self-improvement for some cases but it can also create self-accountability in which causes people to believe in the idea of blaming the victim, self-help ideology is not effective in most cases.
13 Page Analytical : Throughout the semester, you will work on a paper that will be a minimum of 13 pages, not counting the Works Cited page. You will choose a public figure and thoroughly analyze his or her rhetoric in context. Your paper should contain the following:
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1. A thesis statement that identifies your figure’s main argument and supporting claims that will be the focus of your paper;
2. Relevant historical or political context that readers need to know in order to understand your analysis;
3. A thorough analysis of your figure’s rhetorical strategies (that is, how s/he is attempting to persuade their audience, and for what purpose). Use quotes and examples from your figure’s speeches, writings, or interviews to support your analysis;
4. A thorough evaluation of the persuasive value of his or her rhetoric–is it persuasive? Is it truthful? Deceitful? Explain why you find it persuasive or unpersuasive and truthful or deceitful (or a combination).
5. A substantive discussion of the significance of this figure and why understanding this person’s rhetoric is important.
Your paper should have the following additional features:
1. It must contain at least one primary source of rhetoric from your chosen figure, but it can also combine multiple (for example, you may analyze one speech or a pastiche of speeches).
2. It must contain at least 2 additional resources, not from your figure, to support your analysis.
3. It must adhere to MLA citation format.
4. It must use language and style conventions appropriate for an academic audience.
5. It must be thoroughly edited.
I realize that writing a 13 page paper may seem daunting to you, but I have found that students really improve their writing more quickly (and learn more) when they craft, edit, and perfect one solid writing example. However, it is essential that you work on it throughout the semester; it is very easy to tell when papers are thrown together in a last-minute panic.
Outline and sample:
The Pseudo-Science of Oprah in an Age of Magical Thinking (Specific Title)
Without a doubt, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most predominant American icons of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. From her humble origins in a small farming town in Mississippi, Oprah rose to superstardom in the mid-1980’s due to the success of her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her warm and conversational style as well as her personal charisma lifted her above a swarm of talk show personalities of the era and made her show the longest running and most financially successful of them all. Furthermore, unlike other talk show hosts of the 1980’s and 1990’s, whose popularity largely petered out at the turn of the century, Oprah stayed relevant by expanding into other media projects, such as O: The Oprah Magazine and The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She became the richest African American of the 20th century and the world’s only black billionaire for three years in a row, as well as being named the most influential woman of the 20th century by Time Magazine and the greatest black philanthropist in American history according to Business Weekly. She campaigned for Barack Obama in 2007 and, most recently, received intense media speculation into her own potential presidential run for 2020, following a rousing speech at the 2018 Golden Globes Awards on female empowerment.
Thus, Oprah’s influence on pop culture, and increasingly political culture, is undeniable;however, looking back over her decades long prominence in American life, it is reasonable to question whether her contributions have been positive. Among the critiques are the claims that Oprah popularized and legitimized a number of pseudoscientific notions and gave international platform to doctors and pundits making dubious claims. Thus, this paper argues that Oprah is responsible for promoting a number of pseudoscientific ideas on her show, in her magazine, and on her network. It further argues that the advancement of these ideas are occurring at a crucial time in history when American society needs far more critical thinking than the “magical thinking” she espouses. (Bolded sentence is the thesis. It occurs at the end of the intro and inlcudes the following elements: 1. the specific area of interest (pseudoscience in Oprah); 2. the primary source of analysis (her show and related projects); and 3. a summary statement of the author’s position (a negative appraisal of the value of pseudoscience and a call for more critical, as opposed to “magical,” thinking.)
Potential outline for the rest of the paper
In this section, I would likely elaborate on Oprah’s career and the cultural context in which it bloomed. In the next few pages, I would include information such as:
- her rough childhood (poor, and with a history of sexual abuse)
- her early beginnings (education at TN state university, early broadcasting, first shows (“People Are Talking” and “A.M. Chicago”)
- the trajectory/timeline of her show (1986-2011), the creation of Oxygen Media (1999), “O” magazine (2000), OWN network (2009), in addition to brief descriptions of what these outlets featured.
- a brief setting of context: the 1980’s and 1990’s featured a boom in the Self-Help Industrial Complex, which touted various mystical, positive-thinking obsessed philosophies. Briefly explain how these were met in an economic age of pay stagnation, job instability, downsizing, outsourcing, economic booms and busts, reduced government assistance programs, etc.
The trick is to only include the most relevant information that will help your reader understand any history, terms, concepts, or context necessary for understanding your argument. This is a judgment call. The bulk of your paper should be analysis, not objective reporting on biographical data. For a 10-12 page paper, I would generally try to limit the background section to no more than 2 pages, and for a 12-15 page paper, no more than about 3.
However, feel free to write more than that for your rough draft. It is easier to take information out than put it in later. Write as much as you feel is necessary, and during the editing process, we will discuss how to identify what information, if any, should be removed.
II. Analysis–Part 1 (Analysis of Oprah), Part 2 (Analysis of “Magical Thinking” Culture)
This section will constitute the majority of your paper. Writing an outline will help you organize your paper so that it proceeds in a coherent manner. There are various ways to organize a paper, but the key is consistency. Decide whether you are going to analyze your subject strategy by strategy, claim by claim, example by example, etc.
For example, for this paper I could organize it example by example, first focusing on Oprah’s promotion of the ideas in “The Secret,” and secondly moving on to her support for celebrity doctors (Dr. Oz) and celebrities (Jenny McCarthy), who espoused pseudoscience. A third area I may look at could include an analysis of shows on her network such as “Miracle Hunters.”
Alternatively, I could organize my paper based on platform (first her show, second her magazine, and third her network) or I could break my analysis into pseudoscientific topics (first=medical pseudoscience, second=pop psychology pseudoscience, third=pseudoscience borrowed from physics). Some of these approaches may make more sense than others, but at the very least, your reader should not have to follow you as you jump all over the place. You should signal to your reader how your paper is organized and proceed accordingly.
For the purposes of this outline, I am using the example by example template:
Part 1: Analysis of pseudoscientific claims promoted by Oprah or in her outlets
A. Exhibit #1: Oprah’s endorsement of Pseudoscience in the 2000 bestseller and megahit “The Secret”
- the “law of attraction” – we “create” our own reality through our thoughts
- Economic reality
- Interpersonal Reality
- Medical Reality
- Political Reality
B. Exhibit #2: Oprah’s promotion of “Dr. Oz”
1. “Magic” weight loss remedies (green coffee bean) and other supplements
2. anti-GMO rhetoric
3. Reservatrol (anti-aging supplement)
4. Reparative Therapy–aka “conversion therapy.” Claims to be able to make gay people into straight people.
5. Called before U.S. Senate for inquiry into his claims
c. Exhibit #3: Jenny McCarthy and other unqualified celebrities in Oprah’s orbit who make scientific claims with no scientific basis
1. Jenny McCarthy–anti-vaccine rhetoric
2. Suzane Somers–alternative medicine cured her breast cancer
Analysis Part 2: Examination of how the type of pseudoscience promoted on Oprah fits into a culture of “magical thinking”
1. Example: increase of “flat-earthers”
2. Discussion of examples brought up by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich: prosperity gospels; crash of 2008; etc.
A summary of argument and its significance. Answer “Why should we care whether Oprah promotes bullshit?”