When beef is non-beef

Jezebel has a post provocatively titled, “Here’s What Happens When You Cross Oprah.” Ominous sounding, no? Well, not-so-much.

The brief post rehashes Iyanla Vanzant’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss their falling out over Vanzant jumping ship from Harpo, Inc. for a deal-gone-nowhere with Barbara Walters. Vanzant, a spiritual coach and author who was quite popular in the 1990s, and Oprah have a conversation that, frankly, they could have just as easily had in Oprah’s penthouse. A clip of the interview is on the Jezebel website and it is, to quote Judge Judy, “a lot of who shot John.”

What would be more interesting to examine and track is whether, in her appearances on Oprah’s show and later in her own short-lived show, Vanzant’s message started to diverge from Oprah’s new age spiritualism. As Karlyn Crowley observes in her chapter, “New Age Soul: The Gendered Translation of New Age Spirituality on The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Oprah “translat[es] a New Age vision authenticated by African American struggle.”

Vanzant’s blend of Africanism and new age spirituality would seem to be the perfect mix for a Harpo production. Was this more than a bad business decision on Vanzant’s part? Or perhaps her particular brand of spiritual coaching was too far off the beaten path trod by Dr. Phil, Oprah’s Best Friend Gayle, and other Oprah proteges? Check out Karlyn’s chapter in Stories of Oprah and decide for yourself.


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