Return to Syllabus   Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378

Striphas, T. (2003). A dialectic with the everyday: Communication and cultural politics on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 20(3), 295-316.

Note: These comments are not designed to "summarize" the reading. Rather, they are available to highlight key ideas that will emerge in our classroom discussion. As always, it's best to read the original text to gain full value from the course.

Striphas studies the social impact of Oprah’s Book Club, seeking to understand how this powerful influence on the reading public constructs what the author terms a “dialectic with the everyday.” To that end, Striphas asks, “How have those who orchestrated and participated in Oprah’s Book Club together negotiated the purpose and value of books and reading?” (p. 296). Answering this, the author situates himself within a feminist framework, proposing that participants in the Club might imagine their activities as counter-patriarchal. From that perspective, Striphas surveys literature on women-as-readers and finds two common themes: (1) women’s reading is often demeaned in dominant society (and even by some feminist scholars) and (2) scholars should nonetheless reveal how women’s reading can be considered as important and, potentially, emancipatory. Here, Striphas draws from the work of Janice Radway and Tania Modleski to propose a “feminist aesthetics” that works (sometimes subtly) to place women in a meaningful and transformative position in relationship to dominant society through their interaction with these sorts of texts.

Following this introduction, Striphas draws from transcripts to illustrate how Oprah’s Book Club speaks to (and respects) the experience of the show’s female viewers. Initially, the author notes that page length and subject matter is selected according to seasons - presumably to accommodate the changing nature of women’s duties: “Oprah’s Book Club producers were sensitive, in other words, to how books and reading could be made to fit into the routines of women’s lives, rather than placing the burden on women to adjust their schedules to accommodate books and reading” (p. 302). Striphas then notes how readers of Club books used these texts to position themselves outside of their duties within the home and “the sometimes tedious and unfulfilling role expectations placed upon them as women, if only temporarily” (p. 302). Another strategy of Oprah’s Book Club is its emphasis on “actuality,” the sense that books, even fiction ones, reflect reality and offer a lens upon the “everyday lives” of its readers (p. 308). [Stepping outside of the reading, one cannot help but reflect on Oprah’s anger at James Frey’s deceptive book, A Million Little Pieces]. Doing so, the Club “provided women with symbolic and practical resources with which to challenge reified conceptions of their subjectivities” (p. 308). This component leads Striphas to propose a Dialectic with the Everyday.

The Dialectic emerges when women simultaneously escape their everyday lives and confront them. In this manner, “Identifying with characters and events in specific Oprah’s Book Club selections . . . allowed these participants to interrogate some of their everyday assumptions and routines” (p. 310). Striphas concludes with a discussion of how, despite the essentializing nature of Oprah’s Book Club (with its presumed audience), this phenomenon deserves continued research as an exemplar of a feminist aesthetics. What remains, the author adds, is to study the impacts and changes women may experience when they close the book.

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