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Oprah

I’m not quite sure how to feel about a recent post at change.org announcing Oprah’s plan to make over a family homeless shelter. America’s talk show queen is pairing up with Benjamin Moore and has asked contestants to fill out an online form indicating in 100-200 words why their shelter is the most deserving of a makeover. The contest is now closed (sorry, folks), but I imagine a future episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show will be dedicated to unveiling the transformation.

My immediate response to this news included a requisite rolling of the eyes–which is often the case when I hear about yet another one of Oprah’s magical makeovers, favourite things giveaways, and other stunts that encourage endless consumption. And I always get miffed when I see corporate sponsorship disguised as benevolence. Oh, thank you, Benjamin Moore for donating what is probably a very negligible amount of paint and supplies in return for HUGE publicity.

Making over a homeless shelter seems like such a flawed idea. Is this really the best way to help homeless families that have been hit hard by the recession? It comes off as a frivolous gesture that doesn’t in any way tackle the real issues that homeless people face. Wouldn’t it be better to donate money towards the provision of basic needs like food and clothing, or perhaps building more shelters so that everyone without a home has a place to go?

But then I started thinking a bit more. I spend a lot of time enjoying the pleasures that are associated with being surrounded by beauty and beautiful things. And I’ve chosen to decorate my apartment in ways that make my space feel like a home to me. So is it fair to say that an aesthetically pleasing environment is a luxury that shouldn’t be afforded to the homeless? While Oprah’s homeless shelter makeover will in no way contribute to the elimination or reduction of homelessness or poverty, it will provide a certain amount of dignity to its recipients. And I think that feeling of dignity and overall comfort in having a reasonably updated home can go a long way to lifting people out of difficult situations.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, we all know that Oprah is a near-omnipotent media magnate who’s got the power to enlighten and persuade. Millions of people watch her show every day, and the topics she covers often inspire her viewers to take action and create change within their own lives and communities. If Oprah does a show that educates Americans and the world about the impact of the recession on the homeless population, I have no doubt that her viewers will respond and start making the types of contributions that do actually effect change. So Oprah redecorates a shelter, but then her viewers take on simpler yet equally meaningful tasks such as donating clothing, food and time to a local shelter.

So, as I continue to mull over the pros and cons of Oprah’s homeless shelter transformation, I’ll leave you with these questions: within the context of homelessness, is it sometimes necessary to balance pragmatic concerns with aesthetic, pleasure-driven ones? Is Oprah doing a good thing?

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Oprah got on Twitter late last week and nothing divided a Twitter nation so deeply. A sampling of the good, the bad and the ugly tweets that flew.

The good:

niwrinick: im slighly obsessed at following oprah on twitter….what a dork
andirichmtl: oprah told me to twitter. I obeyed. Mock me.

jconthemove: @Oprah Just saying hey. Welcome to twitter. Love the show.

TerriCohen: Oprah, your hair looks fantastic today.

torontoist :) RT @walrusmagazine: So excited that @Oprah’s on Twitter. So sue me.
capsulet: i guess i have to follow @oprah huh? i feel guilty.

KiwanTheMDN: SOMETIMES I REALLY WISH THAT OPRAH WAS MY MOM. IF SHE WAS MY MOM I WOULD NEVER HAVE ANY PROBLEMS.

The bad:

abrocket: RT @astroengine: RT @Avinio: Why I don’t follow Oprah on Twitter http://bit.ly/zh8Fy

cursingmama: Wondering – now that Oprah has approved – has Twitter jumped the shark?

darwinshome: RT @caseymckinnon: Watching @Oprah‘s Twitter episode feels considerably like banging my head against a wall. <– I feel the same way.

oprahandme: Following @oprah even less exciting than following a slow-moving semi down some nameless midwest highway in the middle of the night.

ToddESingleton: I’m issuing a Twatwa against Oprah and Barbra Walters for being reckless with our fragile technologies! Stop the idiocy with Twitter!

globecampus I for one eagerly await @oprah’s daily tweets about her struggles with her weight, self-esteem and related issues.
globecampus RT @Oprah EXCUSE ME SHOUTING BUT I JUST PUT ON TWO POUNDS OVERNIGHT AND NOW I NEED TO GO TO MY HAPPY PLACE.
The ugly:

SUSYQSUPERSTAR: Hi Oprah, how are you? I just found out today my bf of a yr was cheating. He even had the other woman call me to tell me!


WinslowHorse: @Oprah Hi!! Glad to see you on Twitter! Check out our horse program for children and adults with special needs www.winslow.org

indigo_bow: @jackyan I think #Oprah does sum gd 2 ppl who doesn’t know how 2 use technology thats all. Not 2 wreak technology

And the scary:

nevaehbond: @Oprah Oprah people follow you on your show because you are the only God they see representing a Good example

Frau mit Kind, German Federal ArchiveYou know we all love a good story about mompreneurs, those smart women who climb their way from dirty diaper obscurity to millionaire status. They develop a product all moms need, they do some clever marketing and voila! They’ve made it to Oprah (and believe me, when my daughter was born, I looked down at her and thought, “You’re gonna be my ticket to meeting Oprah”).

Well, it turns out that the reality–at least for some moms–is a bit more dire. The Globe and Mail reported yesterday on some bummer numbers from Statistics Canada. “Highly educated women face a much more severe loss of earning power when they have children compared to mothers with less education,” says the Globe. “Mothers who are highly educated earn less than childless women with similar degrees of education.” How bad is the disparity? “At age 30, hourly earnings of mothers averaged $15.20 in 2004 compared to $18.10 for childless women.”

The explanation from StatsCan is that the more highly educated you are, the more specialized your skills. Leaving the work force to go on mat leave means it’s hard to catch up when you return to work.

But it could be just as likely that when you have kids, you just don’t have the same opportunities to be a workaholic as you were when you were child-free. If your highly-educated self were working in a high-paying job, you would no longer be able to stay at work all hours–and this might force you to leave that lucrative position for something with lower pay, fewer benefits and more flexible hours.

Does that make you think twice about poking holes in the condoms? Or reaching for the Ph.D.?

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