The Oprah Incident

Years ago, Oprah Winfrey tried in vain to recruit me into her flock by sending me coded messages through the metal fillings in my teeth. On the advice of my physician, friends, and family, I had my fillings removed, stopped watching her show, and canceled my subscription to O Magazine. For a time, my life resumed a degree of normalcy, until this last month, when OW again found a way to contact me. She came through an old friend, Corky Crayn [names have been changed], who works as an event planner in Chelsea and who told me about the much anticipated “announcement” OW was planning to make on her season premiere.

“She’s coming out of the closet!”

“She is not,” I replied. “She’s probably just marrying Steadman or spawning.”

I avoided the premiere when it aired on Monday, September 13th, but I couldn’t help searching the Internet afterwards to find out what the “announcement” had actually been. When I read the article on Yahoo that described the events of her premiere, in which OW gave away brand new Pontiac automobiles to every member of her studio audience, I couldn’t help but feel a measure of disgust. OW knew I loved Pontiacs ever since Michael Knight drove a Trans-Am on “Knight Rider,” and I felt she was doing this just to upset me. I responded by writing the following email to some friends with whom I keep in touch via an email loop:

FROM: Judd Trichter…at this point, this is nothing more than materialism. seeing people jump up and down because they get a new car looks to me like a rich person throwing money in the street and laughing at the poor.

Though I had only sent this missive to my friends, the email (as with all my thoughts and digital correspondence) quickly found its way over to the control room at Harpo Productions, OW’s company. One of her staff, whom we’ll call Squeaky, responded with this letter which was then forwarded to me:

From: [Squeaky]
Subject: Oprahpoor judd. is he truly so pathetically embittered in his own life that he takes a gesture as big as giving people cars who really need them as being a BAD thing? i will make sure no one offers him a car.

Another OW acolyte, whom we will call LuLu, also responded:

From: [LuLu]who exactly is judd mad at here? pontiac, for advertising their product? … or is it oprah? (someone who contributes more to the greater good of humanity than judd could every think he could…) or is [it] those horrible, disgusting people who got free cars – AND HAD THE NERVE TO TAKE THEM!!???

At the time, I could not see that the good people at Harpo (Oprah spelled backwards) were actually reaching out and trying to help me. And so, hiding behind the Marxist politics that had been crammed down my throat as a young boy growing up on The Upper West Side, I responded in a shameful manner:

FROM: Judd Trichter…Using the 48 minutes between commercials to be a commercial for pontiac? No. I don’t like it… If giving away cars on TV makes you a saint, I’ll go light a candle to Bob Barker.

I’d prefer [OW] devoted 48 minutes to the most important election in the last 30 years. To the issues our country is facing. To the war we’re engaged in. She’s got a big ole soap box and a whole bunch of loot, it gives her the freedom to speak to the people who are watching her show… Let her say something more than buy Pontiac…I wouldn’t take a car from Oprah. Unless it was a hybrid.

Lucky for me, the good people at Harpo had not given up in their fight to save me from Helter Skelter. Later that day, I received a longer, more confrontational email:

From: [Squeaky] Subject: hater…you’re obviously to be admired in your grand gestures on behalf of the environment judd – but… get informed about who you are spewing about. then make your feeble attempts at convincing us of your own superiority over OW.

second of all…. judd… you righteous crusader you … if you looked into it… you would know that this was not an ordinary oprah worshipping audience. massive amounts of time… [were] taken to ensure that the audience was booked with hundreds of people who are in need of a car… the long list includes people like one single mom who walks 5 miles a day to work in order to support her family. and this company GAVE AWAY their cars because oprah asked. it HAS to be a bad thing…. because why? because they may get some good buzz and then sell more cars this year? well that’s awful. that is truly bad. you spotted the catch – it would suck if everyone got a good deal. although… last time i checked, the economy for american companies needed a little nudge here and there. but it’s probably still wrong. let’s tally:

* some poor people win.
* an american car company, who employs thousands of hard working judd like individuals. they win.
* oprah’s ratings win.
* people all over the world who do not possess hard coal-like hearts who get the pleasure of watching and maybe even shed a tear of joy in seeing the sheer glee of these people’s dream coming true… those people…win too.

so when i add that up…. i see that everybody wins…

lastly judd…. i am really glad you are on the case of drawing attention to this important election…. i feel better knowing you are focusing with your laser beam logic on it and i will rest more at ease tonight for sure. in fact… share with me. what have you done so far to aid in this important arena?

here’s what i did: i did a piece last week on a 30 year old woman who is living in iraq. this piece tells the story of [Brittany], a beautiful and extraordinarily strong woman who i am proud to now call my friend. my piece, shot at her house in baghdad, tells … what life is actually like for normal people living there right now. we see her machine gun by her door, that she must keep there for protection because women in iraq are being raped & kidnapped daily… and there are no police or anyone else to call for help… it tells of hearing bombs every day and how she came close to becoming addicted to valium – as thousands of iraqi women are because of their unbelievable living conditions. it tells the story of how her father and brother were murdered by saddam hussein’s regime and how much she hated him… and then goes on to tell that despite all this, she feels strongly that things in iraq for women right now – because of the american ‘liberation’ … are worse than they have ever been. i can only hope that at least one person, out of the millions who will be watching, will see this and consider reconsidering if the war in iraq was worth what is happening there now

…now please judd, i feel too good at this moment… please use your supreme powers of buzzkill and bless me with your description of why all this is really the devil’s work….

So polluted was my mind from the writings of Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, and others who hate freedom and loathe what America stands for, that when I received this letter, all I could do was laugh at this Kool-Aid drinking mouth-breather who failed to see the irony of doing a show about the sufferings of an Iraqi woman one day and giving away American automobiles the next. But little did I know, the seeds of my salvation had already been planted, and it was only a matter of time before I would convert to the light that is OW.

Later that day, as I drove to a meeting at Disney, I pondered the exchange I had earlier with the Harpolites. Did I really believe that giving away cars on national television was a bad thing? Surely there are far more egregious examples of companies exploiting and manipulating the public. OW was no Monsanto, BP, or Halliburton. Perhaps I was only arguing with Harpo because I felt slighted. Perhaps I had allowed my previous relationship with OW to dictate my position when it wasn’t actually a position I supported. After all, was I really some idealistic, left-wing radical, hell-bent on saving the world through honesty in media? Obviously not if I was driving to a meeting at Disney.

When I arrived at the gates of the studio, a strange thing happened: the guard (OW bless him) wouldn’t allow me to enter the lot. Now this kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood — a secretary forgets to call the gate, they give the wrong name, etc. – and, usually, a call to my manger will remedy the situation. This time, however, my manager didn’t answer his phone. No big deal. I called my agent. His assistant answered and said he was out of the office.

“Can you get him on his cell?” I asked.

“No,” she said and hung up.

Strange, but again, not out of the ordinary. I am often treated like crap by my agent’s assistant (especially after that incident at the circus), but as I drove home in my rusted-out Firebird, the voices in my head began to draw strange connections: Disney owns ABC, ABC airs OW, OW studies Cabala.

My phone was ringing when I entered my apartment. It was my mother. As usual, she’d been crying.

“Listen to me,” she begged. “I’ve spoken to two lawyers today, and one of them has a son at Harvard. They told me that OW is a very powerful person, and that if you don’t stop what you’re doing, she will RUIN YOUR CAREER!”

They’d gotten to her.

That night, I dreamt I was shopping at The Beverly Center, drinking a Jamba Juice and listening to my Ipod, when, all of a sudden, a large black woman descended from the food court.

“Judd, Judd,” she spoke, “why persecutest thou me?”

I awoke the next morning in a cold sweat, knowing my life would never be the same. The scales fell from my eyes. I would resist OW no longer. I called Arty from Philly who now lives in Silverlake and still wets his bed.

“Arty,” I said. “I’m changing my name to JT and dedicating my life to the light that is OW.”

“You’ve come,” he said, and there was a great warmth in his voice (and in his bed).

Arty came over with his video camera, which, before now, we had only used for the most vile of purposes, mostly involving aspiring young actresses and their mistaken belief that we were producers and they were at an audition.
“We must serve the greater good,” said Arty. But in discussing it, we realized that it would never be enough to watch OW, to buy O Magazine, to eat what OW tells us to eat, and to read the books OW tells us to read. For us to reach OW, we had to be OW, or some approximation thereof.

We came up with a plan.

“Gather some homeless,” I told Arty. “But only if they are beautiful and extraordinarily strong!”

Arty left to begin his mission, and I drove to the nearest Ralph’s supermarket where I approached the manager.

“If you give me five shopping carts,” I said, “then I will give you five times their worth in free publicity!”

This was the Ralph’s on Third Street and La Brea, with everyday low prices such as $1.99 for a gallon of Clorox, and buy one roll of Bounty paper towels, get another for half off. Ralph’s Supermarket, open twenty-four hours, seven days a week, for all your shopping needs.

Next, I stopped at the local gas station, where I met a beautiful and extraordinarily strong, young Mexican named Oscar, whom I am proud to say, I will definitely buy my gas from, if I need gas, and when his is the closest station offering the best price. Oscar told me that he has a brother in Folsom, that his father was crushed to death working in a pipe foundry, and that his sister has three kids whom she struggles to support. He keeps a recently legalized assault rifle under his desk “in case some vato comes to fuck with me” and often smokes marijuana cigarettes in order to help him deal with the stress that comes from listening to tejano music.

After showering, I rendezvoused with Arty in the alley behind my house. He had gathered several dozen homeless people, but some of them were neither beautiful nor extraordinarily strong, so I sent them away. Others were incoherent or non-English-speaking, so I sent them away too. How OW I felt! Of the remaining homeless, I asked if I could film them as they described for me the degradation and failure that they had encountered in their lives. They refused, so I hinted there might be a reward. And when our homeless friends finally told us their heart-wrenching stories of how they struggled with moving stuff from one place to another, we surprised them all by giving them their very own customized shopping carts and filming them as they jumped up and down expressing their gratitude! (Some of the homeless didn’t jump up and down, but we figured we could fix that in post).

Arty and I were both flying high, but we still felt we hadn’t achieved OW. After all, we didn’t have an audience for our charity, and we hadn’t been compensated for our effort. So, I decided that what I would do is write down my OW experiences as a little story, mix in some details about my upbringing so I could masquerade as a man of the people, exploit the story and the individuals in it to promote my career, and sell the whole pile of shit for a whopping sum… to The Idiot
* Originally published in in The Idiot magazine, October 2004.

About Judd

I'm a writer, screenwriter and director in Los Angeles. For years I had a column called Filth that was published by Rudius Media. Now you can read it here. You can also click a link to preorder my new novel, Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Enjoy.
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