THE HUSBAND and I walk in a boutique in a mall to check out luggage.
It is a Sunday so we are in our Sunday best: faded shirt and jeans and old sandals. A suitcase catches his eye and he asks the sales lady for the price. I stay at the side because luggage is as exciting to me as screwdrivers.
Checking my cell phone, I see I missed a call from my older son. I am jolted when the sales duo trills out a duet to greet a couple who just walks in. When the salesman gets something from a cabinet I am standing in front of, I move out and call my son outside the boutique.
My husband joins me later. I ask him how much the suitcase cost. “P27,000.” Wow, I think. You can buy a lot of boxes with that cash, and even stuff those with groceries.
After we stroll a bit, I remark, “They were rude to us back there.” I list the slights: ignoring us but greeting the other couple, not excusing himself to open a cabinet behind me. “All because we didn’t look as if we could afford their glorified packing boxes,” I fume.
“A pretty accurate reading of us” is all the husband says and takes my hand.
This incident would have just remained as an extended rant shared with my sons if not for Oprah Winfrey. Oprah—who earned $77 million in the year that ended in June, according to Forbes—reported that she was unable to examine a crocodile handbag worth nearly $40,000 because the sales staff thought she couldn’t afford it.
This took place in Switzerland. If an unrecognized Oprah without bling and entourage was rebuffed, a media mogul connecting the snub with racism made the Oprah handbag incident go viral. Apologies quickly came from the shop owner and the Swiss government.
But as it is on the Internet, the issue morphed. The shop owner accused Oprah of overreacting like a scorned diva. Journalists are careful to report that Oprah disclosed the handbag incident while promoting a film she stars in.
An animal welfare group now crusades against Oprah, an animal rights advocate, for supporting the exotic leather industry that tortures crocodiles and threatens the species. Oprah herself has apologized for the undue stir created over the “Switzerland bag flap”.
Before someone else joins what the Washington Post calls a “media brouhaha,” let me quote Oprah on why the tiff over the bag upset her: “You should be able to go in a store looking like whatever you look like and say ‘I’d like to see this.’ That didn’t happen.”
This cry was made by the person heading this year’s list of most powerful celebrities, her fifth time in the no. 1 slot. In their annual “fame matrix,” Forbes considers celebrity standing on the basis of earnings, ubiquity and influence in multimedia networks, including social media.
“So it’s not really about ‘sales discrimination’ but the tenuousness of power,” asks the husband after I recap the news about Oprah.
We’re going home. It’s rush hour in this metropolis of unending rush hours. I am about to launch a tirade about powerful women still being judged according to how they are packaged when the husband takes my hand.
In the virtual world, fame sparks the viral. In the mundane, just connect.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 18, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial page column, “Matamata”