Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oprah Winfrey's Transcendental Meditation episode airs Sunday, and open thread

Update: Triumph of the Incurious: Oprah Visits Fairfield's Pandits

Update: An Alumni's Response to Oprah's Visit to Maharishi School

The episode of "Oprah's Next Chapter" that resulted from Oprah Winfrey's brief visit to Fairfield, Iowa, last October is scheduled to air at 9pm Eastern time tomorrow night (25 March 2012) on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), in the U.S. and Canada. This segment of Oprah's signature show, which has received very little press coverage, arrives just as she and her network are receiving considerable attention for having just laid off one fifth of the network's staff amid poor ratings and rumors of its impending doom.

Last November, as news of this celebrity visit to Fairfield began to ooze into the tabloid press, and other celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres were publicly endorsing TM in the run-up to David Lynch's yearly gala for his TM-supporting foundation, I wrote about the absurdity of this sort of spectacle: the fact that one of the world's most powerful women, Oprah Winfrey, was "endorsing a program that can only be purchased from a blatantly sexist organization, that allows no women in leadership positions, and that enforces a strict separation of the sexes when administering its programs."

The TM movement has cultivated celebrities for decades, both for recruitment and donations, as Gina reviewed in "Transcendental Celebrity Shtick;" the first or historically most prominent of many of those celebrities was, of course, the Beatles. Meditators used to brag about their associations with celebrities, even the most brief encounters with them. Not much has changed, as Oprah's visit to Fairfield spawned its own set of stories in the local paper, another round of personal stories of having seen her, or been seen with her, in town or in the dome.

Tomorrow night's airing of this episode of "Oprah's Next Chapter" may be noteworthy if only because it might provide an unusual glimpse inside the religious inner core of the TM movement. As the press release reads: "Also, for the first time, cameras are allowed inside a top-secret, 80-acre compound where 800 Indian men live spending eight hours a day meditating and chanting." These "Indian men" are pandits, or effectively, Vedic clergy, performing religious rituals that, according to TM movement doctrine, will bring about "world peace." We will likely get to watch some serious gyrations as TM spokespeople, along with a perennially "shocked" Oprah, attempt to reframe these religious habits as completely scientific and rational, and how they should be just more reasons why you, yes you, should sign up for a session with a recertified Transcendental Meditation teacher right now, without delay.

We can also expect a great deal of exaggeration about the benefits of living in Fairfield, as is clear from the 30 second preview. I suppose Fairfield has "virtually no violent crime" if by "virtually" you exclude a murder that occurred in the cafeteria at the TM movement's own Maharishi University of Management nine years ago. A faulty or very selective memory does appear to be one lasting benefit that comes from many years of practice of Transcendental Meditation.

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