A SWEET MESSAGE FOR AMERICANS: 'WE ARE FAMILY'
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- On the magazine cover, the big headline next to Opra= h's shoulder is as warm and cuddly as the pair of cocker spaniels in her la= p. "WE ARE FAMILY," it says. "Now more than ever: the power and plea= sure of feeling connected."
Inside this new issue of O ("The Oprah Magazine"), the editorial directo= r's lead-off article offers a profound explanation. "Our vision of family h= as been expanded," writes Oprah Winfrey. "From the ashes of the World Trade= Center, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania arose a new spirit of= unity. We realize that we are all part of the family of America."
It's an appealing concept, especially during these uncertain times. Ever= since Sept. 11, countless media outlets have provided similar themes. The = December issue of O deftly hits the now-familiar high notes. Three-quarters= of the way through the thick, glossy, ad-filled magazine, "We Are Family" = reappears in large type, under an American flag and over another message fr= om Oprah. "America is a vast and complicated family," she declares, "but --= as the smoke clears and the dust settles -- a family nonetheless."
Such = sentiments are lovely. But what do they really mean? They're certainly not = meant to be taken literally. Oprah isn't inviting you or me over to her pla= ce for the holidays, and we wouldn't even think of asking her to add us to = her family's top-notch medical coverage.
Likewise, no amount of uplifting rhetoric about the national family can = cut much ice when it comes to the cold, hard realities of dividing up the n= ational pie. Within a family, it would be unusual for some at the dining ro= om table to feast on one sumptuous meal after another while others can't pu= t enough food on a plate to meet their minimal caloric needs. It would be o= dd if some family members got top-of-the-line health care while others got = none.
If the United States is one big family, then it's a remarkably cruel one= , with extremes of privilege and deprivation. The recent book "Economic Apa= rtheid in America," by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, presents sobering s= tatistics. For instance: "In the last 20 years, the overall wealth pie has = grown, but virtually all the new growth in wealth has gone to the richest 1= percent of the population." In the United States, "the top 1 percent of ho= useholds now has more wealth than the entire bottom 95 percent."
"We are family"?
Like other magazines owned by corporate giants, O devotes most of its pa= ges to casting a consumer spell. O is a successful Hearst property, stuffed= with voluptuous ads for high-priced makeup, clothes, perfumes, cars, alcoh= ol and the like. With a paid circulation of nearly 2.4 million copies, it's= in the business of "selling" its readers to advertisers.
The latest O has some macabre twists. Turn the page after reading Oprah'= s little "We Are Family" essay, and a headline appears above a large photo = of the first female secretary of state: "Making Sense of the Unimaginable. = Oprah talks to Madeleine Albright."
When Albright was running the State Department, she worked avidly in sup= port of numerous regimes -- such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and= Indonesia -- routinely guilty of horrendous human rights abuses. But in th= e current edition of O, when she discusses Sept. 11, Albright depicts the U= .S. government as a heroic defender of decency.
Winfrey: "Is there any way to make sense of this calamity?" Albright: = "The only way to make sense of why this happened is that we are a country t= hat stands up for freedom, democracy and human rights."
But the magazine's next spread includes a few paragraphs from novelist I= sabel Allende, who recalls the calamity that befell her native land: "I liv= ed in Chile, a country that had one of the oldest democracies in Latin Amer= ica. We never thought that anything like a military coup could happen to us= -- those only happened in banana republics! Until one day it did happen --= and the brutality lasted for 17 years. The eerie coincidence is that it ha= ppened on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 1973. This was a military coup orchestrated by= the CIA -- a terrorist attack against democracy."
Speaking as someone who has made her home in the United States for the l= ast 14 years, Allende adds: "We are a society that expects to be happy and = entertained all the time. We are also a spoiled society that hasn't had war= in its territory in more than a century. But we contribute to war in other= countries all the time. We invaded Grenada and support the worst dictators= hips all over the world. And it is we who helped create the Taliban."
Spinning the U.S.A as a big family is not only deceptive. It also reinforc= es the notion that Americans are in a superlative class by themselves, dist= inct from the rest of humanity. In contrast, Allende evokes a global vision= : "More than 800 million people in the world are hungry. The distribution o= f wealth is completely unfair and helps to create conditions for hatred and= violence. This can't continue forever without paying the consequences."
Touting our country as a family can produce fog that obscures actual nat= ional priorities and vast economic inequities. To float off on a comforting= media cloud, all we need to do is ignore the real world.Norman Solomon'= s latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." His syndicated col= umn focuses on media and politics.