Thursday, July 14, 2011

Charity, Oprah, Donald Trump and Anything Else I Can Think of for the Search Engines

I have a confession to make.

I read an unauthorized Kitty Kelly book on Oprah Winfrey.

I couldn't help myself. It was staring at me on the library bookshelf and my daughter recommended it and I just had to find out all the backstage stuff that Oprah didn't want me to know.

I won't review the book here. But I would like to comment on something I find interesting and perplexing.

Charity among the elite.

Celebrities are all about charity. Okay, they're not all about it, but they would like you to think that they are, and Oprah is probably Queen of "I am the most charitible person on the earth" club - she fights this out with Donald Trump.  They have constant battles in their club house about who is more generous and who gets to wear the crown. She wants us to know about all the charities she supports and all the charities she creates. She has devoted many of her shows to her "angel network" and done specials on her South African school for girls, and had those tremendous giveaway shows where every audience member walks away with a car, a trip, pajamas and a date with Stedman.

Donald Trump is the same. He likes to toot his horn about all the charities he supports and what a great guy he is and even has "Celebrity Apprentice" where all the celebrities appear not for themselves but for a charity.

I am not against giving to charity by any means. But doesn't it say in the bible something about giving and not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing? In other words we're not supposed to tell everyone when we do charitable work or how much money we give away. It's supposed to be a secret between you, God and the IRS.

I think an exception can be made if a celebrity represents a charity and by their representation is able to raise more money and awareness for a charity. I'm not against this and a lot of good can happen with this. Marie Osmond and John Schneider come to mind with "The Children's Miracle Network". They've raised over a billion dollars - a sum that they couldn't have done without advertising it.

But I couldn't help but wonder while I watched the "Celebrity Apprentice" why these stars even bothered to appear on the show. It's not a simple game show where they show up for twenty minutes, plug their latest project, answer some questions and get a check for their charity. (Note, I am not against celebrites plugging their latest project - it's part of the job description) Celebrity Apprentice is hard work that takes a while to do, (it's deja vu for some of them when they find they are back to selling pizza's like they did as starving artists)  time taken away from regular work, and the money they raise, I suspect, is well within reach of these celebrities being able to reach into their pocket and write a check for. Why not just do that, make a public service announcement to get the word out there, do a couple of talk shows to promote the charity and move on. Why go through the whole apprentice thing where they are criticized, overworked and ultimately fired? I suspect it's not just the charitiy they're promoting here.

Back to Oprah and those cars. She did not give the cars to the audience. The car dealership did but she claimed she did. Whatsmore, there was a seven thousand dollar tax that recipients had to pay. She refused to help them out with that. These people were people who couldn't afford cars in the first place. If they had seven thousand bucks to pay for taxes they could have bought a decent used car for less than that. So people had a choice. Pay the taxes, sell the car and pay the taxes, or forfeit the car. Certainly the most logical would be to sell the car, pay the taxes and then buy something cheaper, but the point is that Oprah giving them cars - an act that got her a lot of attention and helped to crown her as Queen of Everything - is like saying that Bob Barker gave away cars, vacations and boats while he hosted the Price is Right. None of those things came out of his pocket and he didn't pretend they did. In fact on those giveaway days where Oprah appears so generous, it is not her generosity. She calls up the companies and they donate the goods. If they don't donate then its not her "favorite thing" which means that her "favorite things" aren't necessarily her favorite things, just the ones where she could convince someone to give her 300 of.

So I have no problem with her giving things away, but why not be honest about the giveaway and admit that not one cent comes out of her pocket. Other hosts of other shows do giveaways but they don't add the mantra "isn't Oprah the most generous person on the earth". This must be said twenty times while you wear your satin pajamas and your diamond encrusted "O" necklace, and before you crawl into your Oprah bed with the t-shirt sheets with your latest Oprah approved book club  book.

According to this book (I don't know how accurate Kitty Kelly is) in spite of all the big money that Oprah donates it still comes to less than 10 percent of her income. So really is she that generous? Isn't 10 percent a base that a person begins with for charitable donations? If I'm bringing home a hundred million dollars a year, couldn't I still have a really luxurious life and still be contribuiting generously to the economy by giving half of that away? I could still have the multi-million dollar mansion, the maid, the gardener, the 200 pairs of designer shoes and purses and maybe get by on one private jet and one yacht and still give away 50 percent of my income? And if I'm making all that money and have all that attention is it really necessary to tell everybody about what a great person I am?

The African school is another conundrum. On one hand she appears to have done good to provide an exclusive school for poverty stricken girls, but the money she spent on one school was far more lavish than any girl needs. Girls don't have to have cloth napkins, crystal, china and chandeliers to get an education. I get that she didn't want an ugly school and she wanted them to have nice things, but what she offered the girls was so far beyond anything that most of these girls would ever be able to provide for themselves one day even with success. Showing them "this is what you can have" is one thing. Showing them "this is what you can't have on your own" is another. She could have built a beautiful, functional school with far less money and used the remainder to build other beautiful, functional schools for more poverty stricken girls. Instead she most likely will create girls who will feel unsatisfied no matter how much success they achieve.

I've often been mystified by the need to put on extravagant parties to raise money. Couldn't they charge the same amount, have a less extravagant party and use the money saved for the charity? Now an argument can be made that extravagant parties put money back into the economy by the purchase of goods and services needed for the party - and I'm all about spending money to go back into the economy, but is that really what people are thinking? Aren't they all just looking for an excuse to party lavishly and they can feel good about it because they had to spend a thousand dollars on a seat.

If you notice that I put Oprah's and Trump's names in the title. That is unabashed promotion on my part to get noticed in the search engines.

But at least I'm not asking for money. However if anyone wants to donate to the Anna Maria Junus fund then I'm all for it.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

Great post. I've wondered for years why Oprah gets all the credit. :)