Why I Did Not Appreciate Oprah's "200 Men" Show

| By Paul | | Comments (30)

Last week, the Oprah show attempted to tackle the problem of male sexual abuse. The premise of the show (see link below) was to bring together 200 male survivors and broadcast to millions in order to "lift the veil of shame."

I do not watch Oprah, nor any other talk show hosts. Of all of them, I probably respect Oprah the most for her willingness to address large societal issues.

But, with this show, I was left severely disappointed as well as seriously triggered.

Many of the statistics were affirmed, like 1 in 6 boys have unwanted sexual experiences or abuse, that more than 9 out of 10 abusers target children they know, that many boys (and indeed girls) are abused by more than one abuser, and that male on male abuse often leads to sexual orientation conflicts in victims.

Oprah had an opportunity to do something really admirable, and the opening image of all the men holding photographs of themselves as boys was extremely compelling and moving. But the show missed the opportunity. The show did not focus on lifting the stigma. I found the show to be unnecessarily sensationalistic. I did not like many of the messages. They were almost uniformly negative. The focus was mainly on dealing with graphic abuse details. The only rationale I could come up with it being done in this way was that it was felt that it was more important for viewership to sensationalize over having frank, perhaps more boring, discussions of the issues.

The guests came off only as victims. That was somewhat predictable. There was no hopeful message from any of the guests. Everyone talked only of the perspective of what was done to them and how hurt they are now. And their lives being taken away. Nothing about moving through and healing. There was no hope. For me, that was the huge disappointment and I found myself getting angry.

There was a segment where two brothers who were abused by priests told their story. That was hard for me to watch and I did not know what to think, probably because a lot of what was said was so similar to my abuse. Perhaps had that segment not been so needlessly graphic, I would have had a slightly different take on the whole show. But, knowing a bit about the clergy abuse scandal reports, I know she chose a rather extreme example. What was the point of choosing an extreme example?

Oprah went on to say she hoped that people watching "will release the guilt and shame they hold." Tyler Perry, one of the guests, talked in a brief comment about men taking back power and healing. And another guest, I think Dr. Fradkin, talked a bit about shame. But those sentiments were clearly not what Oprah wanted the show to focus on. She appeared to be more interested on the shock value of the stories.

While they talked about drug and alcohol addiction and failed relationships, they focused on only the stereotypical male maladies and nothing more. There was no talk about mental health disorders stemming from abuse. There was a passing mention of depression. Nobody mentioned suicide. Nobody mentioned dissociative disorders, other than in the descriptions of abuse which used phrases such as "leaving my body" when abuse occurred. And nobody talked about any kind of path to healing. Nobody.

In what I considered her worst offense, somehow Oprah chose to have a guest, of all the possible guests she could have had, be a man who regularly takes his own children to his mother who still lives with his father who was his abuser. It was as if she did this for a purpose, to call out the man in what I perceived to be a hurtful way. I wondered, as I was watching, how that particular guest was viewed by the 200 men in the audience. Probably he was vilified. I thought it was a poor choice. Surely one of the other 200 men would have made a better choice.

Sadly, nobody asked me!

Of course, I am curious to know what you all think.

Dr. Kathleen Young, a therapist blogger I greatly respect, adressed the show on her blog post: 200 Men: Standing Together to Lift the Veil of Shame.

The link to the full Oprah show can be found at: 200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward. But beware that the show can be triggering.

30 Comments


Nansie said:

Good grief Paul I thought this was not planned well either. She did spend more time on the sensationalizing of it all instead of the depth of the damages and how people struggle healing and fighting for normalcy. I think she bit off something too big for her 1 hour show. The material was poorly organized too but then again only us victims would know all of this. The people out there that haven't experienced this stuff can have respect but they are clueless as to just how much destruction happens to us. I would have like to have seen her take smaller pieces of this topic and present each one well instead of just shocking people. I think this was done poorly. I would love to see you write to her on her website and tell her what she needed to do more of. Maybe she'll get it and maybe she won't but she has so many views that if she did get it right it would be a huge contribution to what we all go thru. Oprah is missing huge pieces of this for sure.

Evan said:

I didn't see the show. It sounds like it was a perfectly awful approach - using people's suffering to get audience.

shen said:

I'm not an Oprah fan... but I can certainly see your point. It's always nice to hear the "solution" and not just dwell on the problem. If it was entirely about victims rather than survivors, that sounds like a ratings grabber more than any help to anyone.

castorgirl said:

Hi Paul,

I was really disappointed in the show. I suppose I had high hopes, and they were pretty seriously dashed.

The negatives were the focus, to the exclusion of almost all hope. I also found it very superficial... but then, may be my expectations were more in line with a current affairs/news hour long special report, rather than a talk show? But then, doesn't the topic deserve an hour long special report?

I wonder what would have happened, if they had a male survivor host the show? Would that have changed the dynamic, and made it more balanced or powerful? I know Oprah is a survivor, but so am I, and I know that I don't understand what it is like to be a male survivor.

I was stunned the way the show seemed to leave the men interviewed... the clergy abuse survivors seemed dissociated; while the man who allowed his mother to look after his children, looked stunned.

I hope today's follow-up show is better.

Take care,
CG

Ivory said:

I watched it online later that night. I was mortified. Not until I read your post above, tho, did I realize that Oprah DID portray them as victims. Gosh.

I'm glad that she is trying to point a finger at the intensity of abuse (she has been abused, too) and the impact it can have on someone's life. The men Oprah asked about the consequenses it has had in their lives didn't really answer the question. Some of them gave answers one would expect, like drugs/drink and anger. I think maybe people might not be ready for the complete truth - another reason I keep dragging my feet on publishing my book.

I thought about you while I was watching this, Paul, and hoped you didn't see it.

Paul Author Profile Page said:

Thank you everyone for your views on this. I'm glad I wasn't the only survivor who saw some major flaws in the show. As to tomorrow's show (it will be broadcast here in the US on Friday), it's supposed to focus on wives and significant others. I think I understand why she is doing this. I think it has to do with her show being mostly a female audience. But it's too bad. Because the follow up show could have focused on recovery and healing. While I didn't say it in the post, I find it a slap on the face to us survivors, those of us who focus so hard on healing, to not at all talk about it. But, then again, it's media, and I rarely have high hopes for any media.

Meredith said:

Dear Paul

I cannot imagine your devastation over this airing of Oprah's intensity. I had stop watching Oprah many years ago because I honestly felt more injured by the sensationalism than helped.

In the nineties, she did a show on a man with DID, and much of his presence on the show demonstrated how his inner child lived, from day to day. I was mortified, then infuriated. I felt like the point of that particular airing was intended to exploit the unusual elements of DID. I cannot remember EVER "showing" someone my inner alters, and I was embarrassed for the entire DID community.

I haven't watched her show, since. I am more than a rating, and I deserve more respect than I witnessed. I wrote to the show, but never received an acknowledgment of my point of view.

I am glad, at least, that you were able to put this post together (with a contact email!). I cheered after reading your post, and your follow-up letter to Dr. Young. I was less than impressed with her response to you, though. Guess fame and infamy suck intelligent dialogue from some folks' heads.

~meredith~

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Meredith:

Thank you for your comments Meredith. Yes, I remember that show in the 90s. My family watched it because it was near the time I was diagnosed. The man on the DID show was Robert Oxnam. I am not sure if I watched the show. I read the book and was underwhelmed to say the least. In her first post on the "200 Men" show, which I linked to here, Dr. Young did not glorify the show, at least to my read. She asked for opinions. But I saw her follow-up where she admitted she did not catch some things she would have liked to. I think it's a mark of a great therapist, and person, to admit when he or she says something not so well, and then makes the effort to fix that. Dr. Young did that, and that's why I respect her. Thanks again for your comment. And, no, I will not be watching today's episode.

tai0316 said:

Paul,

I specifically did not watch that show for pretty much the reasons that you brought up. I had a bad feeling about it even though I hoped that it would be done well. I'm so angry that this happened, a squandered opportunity. And I hate it when they sensationalize things just for the audience, it's sick. It's like they want to be entertained by this. Why? Your thoughts on there being no message of hope was a very good point and one that should have been a focus of the show. How sad. Oprah is a victim of abuse herself so I don't understand why she chose to go that route. I don't watch talk shows either. I may catch one here or there if it's something that I'm really interested in, but usually they disappoint. Someone asked me if I saw her interview with someone with DID and I said no. I simply wasn't interested in them making it "fun" for the audience, so they could hear everyone gasp.

I am sorry that you were triggered and you were very rightly angered. I'm so sorry that this was handled so badly.

Michael said:

I was OK with the show. I might not have been had I not read these comments before I watched it. It may be because what they were speaking to was molestation which although I experienced that by the time I did I had much experience with other trauma.

I can go with as far as I know it was historic and information even if not complete is helpful.

I give all of them credit for making the attempt when no one else even tired.

Glen said:

I did not see the show. I've not yet come to terms with my own abuse, and am just not in a place to deal with a show of that kind right now.

However, based on what I've heard... I must say that like many others I'm appalled at the sensationalistic approach she would take. I'm also angry that she would portray them as 'victims' instead of 'survivors'.

My hope is that it wasn't all about ratings, but about getting some of the issues into the forefront. Maybe in the future she'll do a show that centers on men recovering/healing from abuse? Hopefully the idea was to generate enough of an audience to actually generate more discussion on the issue? ... admittedly I have no idea though.

Thanks for the link to the show Paul. I have watched it. Really disappointing. But I always remembered myself: it's a talk show and not a serious special report about it.

Nevertheless, I hope that I can watch the second part too.

It was interesting to hear their short definition of "Forgiveness". Never heard this definition before.

Take care

LSC

Nansie said:

I think this was too big of a topic for Oprah to take on with the limited time constraint she has. She has been thru this stuff and I have always believed that Oprah is basically a good and caring person. She did however shine some light on this subject that many people do not want to think about or see. She did not do it right but I think her intentions were good. Yea, unfortunately she is about ratings too... that's the sad part. I know she did a show once on DID where the girl sat on stage and tried to expain what it was like and then was able to summon forth her various parts for everyone to see. This horrified me because all I could think of was a circus act on TV. I wish someone, somewhere could do this right and get some light on this for us all. The more validation it gets I think will make it harder for the psych community that wants to do away with the diagnosis or make light of it. This is huge stuff and not something to be sensationalized. I don't know what the answer is.

Paul Author Profile Page said:

Thank you everyone. It appears the second show may have been better, but the full show is not up.

I thought you might be interested in reading the view point of a male survivor who was on the show: http://womenspeakout.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/i-came-forward-on-oprah/

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Christopher de Serres:

Thank you Chris. I am glad you got to have a powerful experience.

carl said:

I am so done with Oprah,

In the beginning, I watched Oprah periodically as there seemed to be noting hidden that she would not expose. Not to mention she was African American. Exposure, however, should be done in a tactful and uplifting manner. It ultimately in this life boils down to ratings ie, what sells. Some years ago she showed the unbelievable, earth shattering prevalence of sexual abuse, even marking the places saying that those in authority roles already knew all about it. she off the cuff pleaded with her audience to do something, we should all do something,lol. All she has done is prove what we all-ready know, they are out there in numbers that are mind blowing, that the authorities know them, that nothing is really being done, etc. So she is just a paid puppet to get everyone riled up with nothing changing. this sensationalism panders to the sexual sadist which is disgusting and a whole another type of abuse. And by the way, her audience is poor and struggling with survival. My opinion is for her to put her money where her mouth is and actually use her position, voice, and money to do something about it. It is not like her audience has her resources, contacts, wealth, etc. Makes one wonder who she is trying to please? The masses, who she herself states are sexual abusers???????

Hi Paul,
Just saw the reference to this post on Blog Carnival against child abuse ~ I agree with you about this and I am always disappointed about these kinds of shows... why don't they talk about the results of abuse, the mental illnesses and depressions, (which I suppose answers the question why they don't talk about therapy) but why is there never really any solution? Release the shame is just a part of it. No one actually says HOW to do that either. I had no trouble talking about my abuse but while in treatment for Dissociative Identity, my therapist helped me realize that I didn't have trouble talking about it because I was so disconnected from myself! Once I disclosed it and was actually connected to myself, it wasn't much of a relief at all. (well for some people who are not dissociated it is a big relief but how long does the relief last? Because then what? The "reveal" is only the beginning ~ the tip of the ice burg. I had to look at all the things I believed about myself as a result of the abuse; the lies that I believed because of it, that I was devalued and defined by it. (and by other abuse) My whole life had to be looked at in retrospect before I really recovered. NO one talks about that! I wonder if it is because recovery is so huge or if it is because no one knows the real answer. (there are a million WRONG answers out there.. like just forgive or put it behind you) but I know for me just trying to put it behind me and do "acceptance" type things are what led me to worse and worse mental health issues and farther from healing and wholeness.
I am really glad that I found your blog today Paul,
Darlene

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Darlene Ouimet:

Hi Darlene, Thank you for coming by via the Carnival. I'm sorry you had so much trouble finding a healing path. I'm hoping you are on one now.

Darlene Ouimet replied to Paul:

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your well wishes. I did find a healing path and I am now an inspirational writer/speaker and mental health recovery advocate. I dedicate my life now to talking about that path, and to delivering the message that healing and wholeness and living fully after abuse and depression is possible.
Have a great day!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Darlene Ouimet:

Thanks Darlene. I will check out your website!

Paul, thank you for sharing your view point about the "Oprah Show of 200 Men." I watched the show with the idea that many, if not most, of those men were revealing their abuse for the very first time in their lives. If that is so then Tyler Perry was probably the only one in the room who has had any kind of therapy to work through his abuse issues. These men were very much into their pain, some probably for the first time. They aren't at the survivor stage of recovery that many of us are in. They are just beginning that journey.

I saw the show as just opening the doors to let society see that sexual abuse doesn't just happen to women. It happens to men too. I can see how the show might be triggering for some survivors who watched it. It triggered my compassion for those men and their families because I still remember what those first years were like when I was in so much pain from the incest that I didn't know who I was or what I was feeling or how to control what I was feeling. I think people need to know how bad the abuse can be, how damaging it can continue to be even when we are no longer children.

Patricia. I can see your points. The idea that the men were all new to this I don't think is true, though. I wish it were and so they were supporting where the audience was at. But I think it was the case that it was just poorly done.

Adrian Fiorano said:

Hello to all,

After both parts of this show aired I am dissapointed that part 2 is not available to view as of this date on her website. Part 1 was torture as I am a survivor of incest from age 9 (possibly earlier) until my mid-teens. I am now 32 years-old and still struggling one day at a time.

We don't have cable or even TV reception so after searching for a download, I have Part 2 and it was definately better in terms of...shall I say an attempt at focusing more on healing and also the caring family and friends who shared the impact it has had on them. Something should have been mentioned regarding the need for loved ones to join in counseling and recovery.

Most of what I would add to this has already been said but in closing it is, if anything, truly a two part show regarding content from start to finish. Could have been better, could have been worse.

Best...

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Adrian Fiorano:

Adrian, I'm glad you found the second show. Yes, it definitely did not achieve its potential (or its billing). But it's a step.

Bunty - 37 - Female - Australia. said:

Im in Australia and got to see Tyler Perry (respect) interview on Oprah today and he mentioned the 200 men show, so I watched it online today (since I don't believe it has aired here yet in Oz).

This show affected me on many levels. My heart aches.

I say hooray to Oprah for even broaching the subject.

And I say namaste to those brave, brave men for going on the show. I honour them for being so brave and seeing them all with their childhood photos made me cry.

I wanted to post to say I do agree with your comments Paul.

I would like to further add that the obtuse level of detail left me highly upset and incensed also.

I felt like they were wanting to 'prove' how bad the abuse was in the name of sensationalised tv viewing and ratings.

Of which I thought was absolutely unnecessary on a show that only had 40 PRECIOUS MINUTES dedicated to what I thought was to be in the name of emancipation and empowerment of those who have been so terribly abused.

Why are they made to have to explain their experiences all over again in such full on detail? Do the producers want to give a sense to justify their pain or quantify the legitimacy of their experience? I wonder if these men feel as though they have had to 'prove' themselves and if they felt violated, exposed or seriously triggered for doing so?

I wanted to see the time spent expressing ideas around approaches for victims to enable acceptance and positive forward movement and spiritual growth in dealing with this issue - in the name of KIND, GENTLE SUPPORT and respect for all those men. De-shaming those who were harmed, and in the process, bringing more awareness to the community and de-stigmatising the issue.

Hi Bunty. Thank you for stopping by. I think that when Oprah pushed survivors to share publicly on such a stage like that the level of graphic detail they did, it's directed at an audience that is not survivors. For survivors, this level of detail is almost always triggering. For the rest of the world, it is to provide a shock factor. I'm sure the motivations were good: shock factor to rest of the world will maybe wake people up? Or I could be less kind and say that maybe it was done for ratings. In any case, what she did comes at a cost to survivors who watched it.

Mark said:

I was an audience member on both shows. I was grateful that Oprah paid the expenses of all of us and also grateful that the issue of male sexual abuse was given exposure on such a venue.

What I have found profoundly disturbing is the feeling expressed by many fellow participants in the two shows that they were deeply moved by Oprah---or rather by being in her presence. It was almost as though they had been healed by touching the hem of her garment. Rather than seeing the productions as being in the presence of a Christ-like healer, I felt both during the taping and since that the two productions were more like being in the presence of the Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard couldn't create intelligence, compassion, or courage in the Scare-crow, the Tin Man, or the Lion. All the Wizard could do was hand out trinkets.

Or, as the song of a many years back said, "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't already have".

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Mark:

Hi Mark, Thank you for sharing your experience on the Oprah show.

Roll Dog said:

I am glad that the 200 men told their story regarding child abuse so that other victims would be encouraged.

People need to know the truth about this world and that nothing/no one is what it/he or she appears to be.

Life is not a fairy tale, those of you are doubtful.

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