September 16th, 2010

Why is it only OK on Oprah?

Like millions of others around the world, we watch and commiserate as Americans bare their souls on the Oprah Winfrey Show about sexual abuse, gambling addictions and other problems. But, asks PAMELA NG, why do we get tongue-tied when someone close to us suffers the same problems?

A whopping 7.4 million American people watch Oprah Winfrey. Daily. And that is only in the United States. Internationally, I am not sure of the statistics but I am sure it is in the millions as well.

Many of my friends and even my own mother watches Oprah’s talk show. I watch it too, and for good reason. A woman this influential deserves attention and respect for taking responsibility and talking about real issues.

Some of these are issues which many people squirm away from – mental illness, single parenthood, ADHD, incest, sexual abuse, rape, gambling addictions, alcohol abuse, for example. Sometimes her shows are the only avenue viewers have through which to open their eyes to certain harrowing realities of life.

This is so especially in Asia, where such difficulties often remain cloaked in shame, with survivors ridden with guilt. I wish there were an equivalent in Singapore. But maybe we are not quite ready and our Asian upbringings bind us to silence. The proximity of 4.5 million people on our small island is perhaps daunting in itself.

Awareness is the beginning. It lays a foundation for understanding, and opens the channels for discussion.

However, I notice a disconnect. It is one thing watching Americans bare their soul, uncover uncomfortable truths, heal and cry for all to see and empathise with. It is quite another to embrace a closer reality: a survivor who is a friend, a neighbour, a relative, mother, son or sister.

Suddenly, the communication freezes. No longer a matter of entertainment, discussion flees a dry mouth, instead, we get side glances or undisguised embarrassment and discomfort.

Why does it stop at entertainment value?

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