Oprah Winfrey is a TV presenter, who is famous for being quite elaborating in the discussion of themes related to social inequality and racism in the United States. Her contribution is huge because her talk-show was one of the first serious TV-series, where the problems of African American were properly addressed. Oprah is a charismatic person. Perhaps, it is the reason why the format of the series in a talk shows. People come and discuss their problems and create polemics, which helps to figure out the roots of the problems discussed in the studio.
Currently, the show is more about celebrities because it gains more and more success with multicultural audience and becomes more commercial than it used to be before. It is the reason why old series are better for the analysis as they create a good data for symbolic interactionalist analysis. This paper will be based on one episode of the show created in 1992 and called “Racism in 1992″. This episode dwells on the discussion of issues related to oppression of racial minorities in America in the end of 20th century.
People come to the studio and share their experience of being oppressed. In the course of discussion, all people use non-verbal communication to prove their opinions or express their emotions. In this episode, Oprah and invited guest Jane Elliot, who is an active fighter for human rights and equality, state that the problems of Racism in the United States is not just the problem of accepting skin colors. They say that racism is more about culture and human values, which rule American society from the inside.
The whole show is based on the discussions, therefore any part of the show can be analyzed. However, the video is rather long, so only first 5 minutes of the video will be analyzed. Firstly, program starts with a short collage of different videos. There people can spot martin Luther King pronouncing his speech, the police officers beating African American people and other photos and videos, which clearly identify that the topic of the talk show will be related to racism. The show starts with the presentation of the topic of discussion.
Oprah is shown in close-up; her face is very serious, which adds gravity to the discussion. She stands still; her posture is confident and authoritative. Her gestures are open; she stretches her hand to the viewers and symbolically invite them to the discussion of the topic. The background, where all people sit is blurred, but it is possible to see that there are representatives of different racial minorities in the studio. They sit randomly and create one community, where people are not segregated from one another using any principles.
Oprah is dressed in black, which can be interpreted in different ways in the context of this TV show. First is that the topic of discussion is serious and official. Second that black dress is like a second skin for her. Oprah punctuates everything she says with her hand, and her gestures are bright enough to understand that she starts the presentation of the topic from explaining how it is important for people in the United States. After the presentation of the conflict, she moves to the people who sat behind her and asks something a usual white old lady dressed in a track suit.
Her outlook is very symbolic because she is a prototypical character. She represents every woman from a usual American neighborhood. She is concentrated on what she says, her face is rather serious. People cannot see her hands on the screen, but perhaps, she is a bit nervous and just stands still. It is obvious that the speaker in interested in the theme of the show because she makes pauses and looks at the other people around her. It shows that she might be seeking the confirmation of what she says from other people in the studio and she turns back to get some support.
When she speaks, her face is shown in a close-up and people can easily notice that she does not look rights to the camera. This fact only proves that she is nervous (Knapp & Hall, 2009). After she stops, speaking Oprah takes her word and summarizes everything which was said. The camera moves two ladies who sit on in front of all other people and it is obvious that they will be the main speakers or cases of discussion. They sit on two sofas and wait for their turns to talk. They sit in two totally different positions.
One of those women chooses closed position and holds her hands on her knees. Other woman sits in a relaxed position and it seems that she is for what other people say (Knapp & Hall, 2009). However, it is difficult to interpret the position of smartly dressed woman in a closed position. She is either against or she needs to add some corrections. The interpretation of the meaning is rather simple. When anyone initiate a conversation (here it was Oprah), all people in the room have to decide whether they are for or they are against (Knapp & Hall, 2009).
They express their attitude by facial expression and gestures because not all people have an opportunity to talk in the studio, but still, if they sit in one room, where such a hot theme s discussed. Even small gestures, facial expression and looks can help to identify the attitude of people to the issue (Knapp & Hall, 2009). After the analysis of 5 first minutes of the video, it is obvious that people take the issue seriously. There is nothing entertaining n the way they look and speak when the issue is related to racism in the United States.
American people are open in their self-expression through non-verbal communication. They tend to express what they think on their faces, but their thoughts do not always coincide (Knapp & Hall, 2009). Racism is one of the main problems in the United States and considering the fact that 80% of information comes from nonverbal communication, sociologists should pay more attention to human behavior in cases like this TV show to spot the changes in attitude of people to one another (Knapp & Hall, 2009).
The way people look at each other in the studio and use closed or defensive gestures show that there is not common thought shared by all people, and all of them have some private interests and concerns in the issue of racism. The observed behavior allows saying that people in the USA get racism as a problem. They confirm that the problem exists because they create different TV shows, but at the same time many of them subconsciously look hostile even talking about this social issue.
American people feel a bit shy about expressing their opinion publicly, they seek the confirmation of the crowd, but, at the same time, there are many individuals, who can speak openly about what they think. For instance, Oprah is a talented orator, and she can easily persuade people by speaking her mind openly and clearly. According to Blumer (1986), “human beings act toward things on the basis of the meaning that the thing have for them”. They express their attitude through their behavior producing symbolic meanings, which appear as the result of human communication within a group or a society.
When people express their point of view they modify the common meaning about the thing and express their self through the verbal and nonverbal signs they use. These three basic principles are the basis for the theory of Symbolic Interactionism. Analyzing gestures and mimics of people, sociologists can get a truthful picture of the situation in the country. Summing up, such shows are vital for sociological investigation and research. Opinions differ, and all of them are often remain unsaid. People hide what they think in the way they look, stand, and speak of course.
Racial discrimination remains a topical issue for the American society because all participants of the analyzed episode articulated the issue in a different way, which shows their concern and interest (Blumer, 1986). However, while it is easy to lie in speech, gestures can hardly lie. Analyzing nonverbal communication people get the comprehensive picture of what is going on in America today. The analyzed episode was just the beginning of a long discussion, but it already showed that Americans do not have common opinion concerning racism. Still, the video is rather old, so, perhaps, now the situation is at least a bit better.
Courtney from Study Moose
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