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One of the reasons the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class struggles in debt is because the subject of money is taught at home, not in school. Most of us learn about money from our parents. So what can a poor parent tell their child about money? They simply say “Stay in school and study hard.” The child may graduate with excellent grades but with a poor person’s financial programming and mind-set. It was learned while the child was young.

Yesterday my friend Dan and I were approached outside of Central Station in Sydney by two college students. They asked if we were free to answer a few questions on record. We agreed and they asked us a series of questions alluding to the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. At first I could not understand why our replies were exciting the two so much. Each question was a variation of the same one, whether we would holiday in New Zealand due to a cheap economy following the earthquake. We answered that we would, in order to help the business and community in New Zealand recover.

When the interview was concluded one of the students said “if only we could get ten more like you”. Turns out most people were stating that they would visit New Zealand purely because of the cheap air-fares.

Rich Dad Poor Dad is not just a single book explaining the importance of financial awareness. It has blossomed into a mini-industry, a franchise managed by co-authors Kiyosaki and Lechter. However, all I knew about this book before this afternoon was that Will Smith really admires it.

‘cough’ Occasionally I have watched an episode of Oprah.

The book opens with an introduction from Lechter, explaining how she met Kiyosaki, a guru of finances and entrepreneurship skills. Confusingly the book’s opening, and much of the novel, features extended dialogue sequences with teenagers and children speaking in quite a verbose manner. This confuses me as the whole style of Rich Dad Poor Dad is to present a series of educational fables, supposedly drawn from ordinary life and yet the ‘characters’, speak in this stilted prose.

Kiyosaki is the ‘son’, of this rich dad – a mentor figure who instructs him in the finer points of capitalism – and the poor dad – who is his biological father, financially crippled due to his public servant mentality. The one father-figure advises pragmatic individualism, the other reliance upon the state, or pension funds, or health care. When presented with a choice between which philosophy he will adopt, Kiyosaki of course opts for the ‘rich dad’. He learns the value of a good day’s work; that schools do not educate students to become dynamic leaders, but unimaginative employees; that the most important thing in life is to learn how to make money work for you and not the other way around.

When Kiyosaki’s biography approaches the present day, rich dad drops out of the story. We learn that his own father was eventually fired from his government job and embraced trade unionism itself, but died with personal debts. ‘Rich dad’, created a vast business empire, which he then passed on to his son. Kiyosaki explains how he has become a public speaker and an educator, attacking the archaic educational systems in public schools for failing to prepare students to cope with the real world.

I was left immensely conflicted by this book. On the one hand I absolutely agree that schools should teach more to students about balancing cheque books and managing debts. On the other this ‘rich dad’, figure seems like a hybrid of Uncle Tom and John Galt. Government is depicted as the source of all evil and taxes a conspiracy theory designed to exploit the middle classes and the poor. In effect the poor dad is a straw man for Kiyosaki’s argument, a target for a series of rebuttals to any residual socialist principles in the American bureaucratic system.

I am a former art student and tax worker. I imagine Kiyosaki would have me burned at the stake.

This book suffers from the same blinkered perspective as A Colossal Failure of Common Sense. The world desperately does not need more ‘Bill Gateses’, more rich dads. It needs folk who are dedicated to the principles of a shared society if we are all to survive. The corporations had their shot with a deregulated world economy. It crashed. Lesson learned – if only.

A false dichotomy of greed.

We were gabbing about Oprah’s abundant advice on how to improve our health, relationships, homes, finances, spiritual lives, fashion sense, and the list goes on and on. Winfrey inspires masses of women all over the world. And yet, it dawned on me, for every Oprah fan I’ve come in contact with, there has also been someone who can’t hide her vitriol about the media sensation. I wondered why.

So Oprah made a very exciting announcement on her show last week. To commemorate the last season of her talk show/infotainment hour, the most powerful woman on American daytime television is bringing her audience to Australia, courtesy of Qantas Airlines and Tourism Australia. Then John Travolta popped out of a plane.

And yes, they’re going to rename the Sydney Opera House the Oprah House.

So I felt it was timely to read Robyn Okrant’s book Living Oprah. From January 1 2008 this performance artist/yoga instructor/self-confessed Oprah addict wrote a blog dedicated to following every piece of advice released by every facet of the Queen of Television’s media empire. From her television chatshow, to O magazine and her online website, author Okrant would dedicate herself to ‘living her best life’, as per Oprah’s instruction. Novels bearing the Oprah book club seal of approval would be read, the medical advice of special guest Dr Oz would be followed and the various exotic dishes that met with approval would be dined upon.

To be honest, reading a book a day seems a lot less daunting now.

Okrant takes us through her experiences living under Oprah’s instructions on a month by month basis. Each chapter ends with itemised breakdown of the costs incurred and time spent on each activity. Also the growing popularity of Okrant’s Living Oprah blog transforms the author into a media personality of her own right, although on a much smaller scale. One of the admirable aspects of her endeavour is her refusal to accept endorsements, despite the financial costs of abiding by the rules of her challenge. Every time a book title is announced on Oprah’s book club amazon’s electronic shelves are emptied.

This leads to an interesting question. Should one person wield so much influence over such a large number of people? I remember Oprah’s syndicated show back in the 80’s when it was indistinguishable from the many other talkshows on the airwaves – Phil Donohue, Arsenio Hall, Regis and Kathie Lee. Oprah is now the face of an incredible media empire. She is courted by corporate, charities, celebrities and national tourist boards. Okrant begins to feel concerned when her guru announces her support for Barack Obama as presidential nominee as a ‘private citizen’. Had the chosen candidate been anyone else on the ticket, would she have been willing to throw her vote away for the sake of her project?

I believe the first time I encountered the word ‘Oprahism’, was in William Gibson’s Idoru. The book is set in a near-future era, where AIDS has been cured due to a mass media ‘saint’ and various new cults have sprung up to challenge traditional religions, including the worship of Oprah Winfrey herself. It was an amusing conceit, but perhaps we are starring at the disturbing reality right now.

Okrant’s book posits how is it possible to abide by any of the lifestyle philosophies, or commercial endorsements, when many are contradictory. A programme promoting detox diets may well be followed by an episode featuring a delicious desert. For want of a better word, Oprahism appears to represent a confusing mixture of cosy Objectivism, a Luddite resentment of modern technology, rampant consumerism and body fetishism. Okrant suggests that Oprah’s influence is so pervasive her audience swallows all of this whole, without any real critical assessment.

Of course Okrant’s own role in this is questionable. How sincere is this project? Is it performance art keyed to trending topics? For one she promotes that execrable book The Secret (which has also received Oprah’s thumbs up) – I don’t object to positive thinking so much, as the poisonous notion of ‘negative attraction’. Also during the period of writing ‘geek chic’, was quite popular. So Okrant quotes “With great power comes great responsibility”, attributing it to Uncle Ben from the movie Spider-man, 2002. I told you I was a geek.” Quoting from the movie does not make you a geek – it makes you an audience member!

While this is a interesting project, I couldn’t help but suspect a degree of parasitism.

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