Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who is this woman, this Oprah?


I'm interested in pop culture, more so than many other types of culture, and thus enjoyed yesterday's book reading and Q&A with Kathryn Lofton, author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, at Labyrinth Books. Lofton is an assistant professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale. Read a bit more about it here.

Oprah is an intriguing media icon to weigh in on, but I hadn't previously considered her "sermonizing" as religious per se, and I left the talk seeing how religious frameworks do indeed apply to her, from her humble beginnings to her androgyny to her congregation of an audience. I consider this a piece of a larger American idea of Mogul as Hero, which we discuss rdea of egularly in a course I take called Strategic Leadership Across Sectors, taught by Jeff Sonnenfeld (one of our "BFD" professors). Professor Sonnenfeld applies the hero-journey mythology to modern-day executives, convincingly. What that says about us, and our values, is of course great fodder for debate. 

Anyway, this larger-than-life aspiration seems often in business school to be framed as a given aspiration, or a calling any of us might answer. I don't think an MBA is a path any likelier to lead to greatness than any other path -- Oprah doesn't have one -- but our program's focus on management and leadership leads us to discussions about our goals and visions, and how we can best use the tools of power to shape the world. I have an internal block against this type of talk and don't seek "power" per se; I just want a good job I enjoy that's stimulating and provides. Still, if I can clearly envision myself in a organization's higher-level jobs, I may want to be in them.

On another topic, I dabbled in a bit of karaoke yesterday at one of our April Foolery events. These are daily activities for students at SOM, ranging from sports to meals to whatever. The party then ended at a friend's house in the form of the American Idol game on PlayStation, or one of those newfangled consoles ... everything after NES is modern to me. Back in Texas, karaoke was like my part-time job. Now that I'm a non-drinker I had to rely on my own courage, not Long Island Iced Teas, to get me up there, but I did it nevertheless, twice. It helped that the stage was not the center of patrons' attention.

Speaking of "old lives," for one of my classes we're putting together a persuasive video (more or less a PSA), thereby allowing me again to use my video-editing trick from days of yore. Our job is to try to incorporate some theories about persuasion to get people to want to be organ donors. I may try to post the final product here.

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