Friday, January 21, 2011

Tiger Mother Meets Oprah?

Cross-posted from Social Issues:

I’m guessing Amy Chua isn’t gonna show up on the Oprah Winfrey Network?? Or is she?

Is anybody watching OWN? I’m not because I don’t have cable or satellite dish (I moved to a new state several months ago and decided to live without it for a while). I’m not a huge TV watcher so I can’t say that I really miss anything, but I’ve been curious about this new network that sprang into life with the new year. Is it possible to create and inhabit what a New York Times media critic called a “no cynicism zone”?

I’ve been trying to think about Amy Chua in an Oprah-like way, sans “mean-spiritedness” (the same mean-spiritedness that Oprah has banned from the new network and from her programming in general). But it isn’t Oprah that’s really helped me. It’s a mental habit borrowed from rhetorician Peter Elbow described (and prescribed) in a book called Embracing Contraries. Elbow considers the wisdom of practicing “methodological belief” (interpretation through the assumption that the person speaking has good reasons, good motivations and good intentions for what s/he is saying) before employing “methodological doubt” (the Descartes-inspired critical stance that the contents of consciousness -– my own and any other’s intuition and claims -- must be subject to scrutiny). These two habits of mind, practiced together and in the recommended sequence, yield a richness of understanding that just isn’t available with either belief or doubt.

But my colleague Amy Shuffleton, talking about Amy Chua in an earlier post on Social Issues, reminded me that in practice it’s not belief before doubt; it’s belief and doubt and belief and doubt and belief and doubt … practiced in a complementary rhythm. The trick is not to get stuck in belief or doubt.

It seems to me that the Oprah Network could get caught in a broken record of belief, the mirror image of the MSNBC/Fox differently-directed revolving doors of doubt. If Amy Chua’s makes it to OWN, it will be a signal that Oprah and her network team realize that mean-spiritedness and cynicism are not the same thing as doubt. And that doubt and belief can walk hand in hand. Richness of understanding is the result.

I’ll have to get my satellite dish hooked up to watch it.

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