In January, 2010, Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD, stated that, “It’s not enough to be ‘Will and Grace’ any more. The benchmark is higher.” (GLAAD is the acronym for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; in my opinion, a more accurate name would be the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Disagreement.)
Also in January, 2010, Scott Harris, writing for InsideMovies.com, noted that, “For a while now, kissing has been a popular pastime, but over the last few years a particular sub-genre has emerged as perhaps the hottest gimmick in Hollywood: girl on girl.”
Things have certainly come a long way since film critic and radio host Michael Medved observed, “A Martian gathering evidence about American society, simply by monitoring our television, would certainly assume that there were more gay people in America than there are evangelical Christians.” (This quote dates back to at least 2004.) And how long ago was it that Elizabeth Taylor famously remarked, “If it weren’t for gays, honey, there wouldn’t be a Hollywood”?
Simply stated, in a media culture where out and proud lesbians like Ellen, Rachel Maddow, and Suzie Orman are as American as apple pie, O’Reilly’s reference to the McCarthyism of the 1950s “that banished perceived leftwing job seekers from employment in the entertainment industry” could hardly be more irrelevant.
But that is really secondary to the larger issue, namely the reason for the Moms’ opposition to Ellen as a spokesperson for JC Penney. O’Reilly notes that “DeGeneres is an American citizen,” adding that, “She has committed no crime. If she wants to promote equality for gays or gay marriage, that is her constitutional right. She should not be dismissed from anything.”
Of course, that is her constitutional right and of course she has committed no crime, but that is not the point. In fact, O’Reilly began his article expressing his sympathies for people who “oppose the in-your-face tactics of some homosexuals” at public events like parades in New York City. “They simply want to be left alone. They don’t want to see explicit displays in public that offend their moral or religious point of view.”
And that is precisely the issue here. Ellen is the poster-girl par excellence for gay and lesbian causes and her 2008 “marriage” to Portia DeRossi was celebrated on the front cover of People Magazine. Her 1997 TV announcement that she was gay made television history, and she is an ever-present, always winsome, spokesperson for gay activism.
That is the context for the Moms opposition to her being a spokesperson for JC Penney, and it is hard to think that the chain wasn’t aware of the message they would be sending when they hired her. It is surprising that O’Reilly’s logic failed him here.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.