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A Dialectic With the Everyday: Communication & Cultural Politics on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club
Unformatted Document Text:  Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 4 readers who presumably decided not to write in. Thus, I am reluctant to treat their comments necessarily as typical of the Club as a whole. I believe these voices are significant, nevertheless, because those invited to participate on air were considered by producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show to be ideal readers whose relationships to the book(s) under discussion, they hoped, would resonate with the broadest possible audience. I am under no illusions, therefore, about the possibilities and potential limitations of my using television transcripts. Television programs are highly mediated and structured re-presentations of “reality,” and the Book Club discussions shown on air are highly selective and conventionalized interpretations of much longer conversations. 7 Doubtless, they were strategically planned, organized, edited, and arranged bearing in mind Winfrey and the producers’ conceptions of the larger conventions of commercial television and of what might appeal to The Oprah Winfrey Show’s television audience. One might be tempted to discount the value of television transcripts, moreover, on the grounds of their apparently allowing me to sidestep a crucial engagement with “real” people in their “natural” surroundings. I would argue, however, that interviews and ethnography also consist of highly structured sets of human relationships and patterns of social interaction. The presence and/or involvement of the researcher, for one, undercuts any strong claims one can make about the “reality” or “givenness” of the scene of these forms of research. Furthermore, both interviews and ethnography consist of a range of highly mediated activities, including the researcher’s translation of “first-hand” experiences into field notes, the transcribing of conversations, and later the writing, rewriting, editing, and possible publication of scholarly research papers (Nightingale, 1996, 107-125). It is my contention, then, that it is less useful to imagine “real” participants in Oprah’s Book Club and “real” people working behind-the-scenes. Rather, it is more helpful to consider actual participants whose involvement in and belonging to the Club manifest themselves in determinant – sometimes electronically mediated – contexts.

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 4
readers who presumably decided not to write in. Thus, I am reluctant to treat their comments
necessarily as typical of the Club as a whole. I believe these voices are significant, nevertheless,
because those invited to participate on air were considered by producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show
to be ideal readers whose relationships to the book(s) under discussion, they hoped, would resonate
with the broadest possible audience.
I am under no illusions, therefore, about the possibilities and potential limitations of my using
television transcripts. Television programs are highly mediated and structured re-presentations of
“reality,” and the Book Club discussions shown on air are highly selective and conventionalized
interpretations of much longer conversations.
7
Doubtless, they were strategically planned, organized,
edited, and arranged bearing in mind Winfrey and the producers’ conceptions of the larger
conventions of commercial television and of what might appeal to The Oprah Winfrey Show’s
television audience.
One might be tempted to discount the value of television transcripts, moreover, on the
grounds of their apparently allowing me to sidestep a crucial engagement with “real” people in their
“natural” surroundings. I would argue, however, that interviews and ethnography also consist of
highly structured sets of human relationships and patterns of social interaction. The presence and/or
involvement of the researcher, for one, undercuts any strong claims one can make about the “reality”
or “givenness” of the scene of these forms of research. Furthermore, both interviews and ethnography
consist of a range of highly mediated activities, including the researcher’s translation of “first-hand”
experiences into field notes, the transcribing of conversations, and later the writing, rewriting, editing,
and possible publication of scholarly research papers (Nightingale, 1996, 107-125). It is my
contention, then, that it is less useful to imagine “real” participants in Oprah’s Book Club and “real”
people working behind-the-scenes. Rather, it is more helpful to consider actual participants whose
involvement in and belonging to the Club manifest themselves in determinant – sometimes
electronically mediated – contexts.


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