Bill O’Reilly was really off point in his recent article, “A Gay Time at JCPenney,” claiming that the conservative group called “One Million Moms” was guilty of “witch-hunting against certain people” when they opposed JC Penney’s hiring of Ellen Degeneres as their new spokesperson.
The “One Million Moms” website urged JC Penney to “replace Ellen DeGeneres as their new spokesperson immediately and remain neutral in the culture war,” saying, “Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families.”
O’Reilly begged to differ, writing, “While I sympathize with folks not wanting to deal with homosexuality, I think the Moms are wrong.” He argued that “Kim Kardashian is a far worse role model than Ellen,” adding that “there are scores of media people who are celebrated for bad behavior. If the Moms want to be consistent in their outrage about dubious behavior, they are going to be very busy.”
Actually, a quick search of the Moms’ website indicates that they have been very busy, criticizing the fast-food restaurant Carl Jr.’s for a salacious ad featuring the aforementioned Kim Kardashian in 2010. They have also called on Macy’s to discontinue its “two-grooms” ad in a recent catalogue and they previously urged JC Penney to pull their TV ad featuring the new (and quickly discontinued) program “The Playboy Club.”
So, the Moms can hardly be accused of “witch-hunting against certain people” – unless by “certain people” is meant those who glorify extra-marital sex or who treat women as sexual objects or who celebrate homosexuality.
O’Reilly, however, compares the attitude of the Moms to that of the McCarthyism of the 1950s that “got a whole bunch of Americans fired from jobs because he said they were communists. There was even a blacklist in Hollywood that banished perceived leftwing job seekers from employment in the entertainment industry. That was awful and flat-out un-American.”
But is this comparison apt? And does O’Reilly really grasp the reason for the Moms opposition to Ellen? On both counts, the answer is no.
Writing in Time Magazine in 2007, gay journalist John Cloud noted that today’s kids are “exposed constantly to an entertainment culture in which gays are not merely accepted but in some ways dominant. You rarely see a reality show without a gay cast member, while Rosie O’Donnell is a coveted free agent and Ellen DeGeneres is America’s sweetheart.”
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.