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The meaning of Ellen (on American Idol)

She combines the best elements of Woody Allen and Oprah


 

american idolHerein, the fifth in a semi-regular series chronicling the ninth season of American Idol. You can read the first installment here, the second installment here, the third installment here and the fourth installment here.

America in 2010 is a confused place. Americans are of deeply held, but divergent and often contradictory, opinions. On some disagreements they are even unsure as to what they’re disagreeing about. In a recent poll, prompted by renewed debate over the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, 1,084 Americans adults were asked whether they favoured or opposed “homosexuals” being allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Forty-four per cent of respondents were in favour, 42% were opposed. When the same 1,084 American adults were asked whether they favoured or opposed “gay men and lesbians” being allowed to serve openly in the armed forces, 58% were in favour, 28% opposed.

And now here, at this particularly peculiar moment in American history, is Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay woman taking her seat to the left of Simon Cowell, appearing in prime time television on the Fox network to judge a wildly popular, nation-defining talent show.

What to make of this?

It is tempting to make something of the fact that, while openly gay men and women cannot yet officially fight to protect and preserve the American Dream, they can sit in judgment of those who pursue it. But that would be glib. And it would probably exaggerate the significance of Ellen’s arrival on American Idol. It is probably more accurate to conclude that however confusing America can be, it is also easily underestimated.

Ellen is at once the most subversive and the least objectionable person in American public life and maybe the best current demonstration of the American Dream. Thirteen years ago, she announced she was gay in big red letters on the cover of Time magazine. Two sitcoms of hers subsequently flopped, but she has since hosted the Oscars, the Grammys and the Emmys, become the star of a popular daytime talk show, been paid to represent American Express and Cover Girl, and married a beautiful TV actress with an exotic-sounding name. Last year, Forbes deemed her the 40th most powerful celebrity in America, slightly less powerful than Tom Hanks, but slightly more powerful than Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno and Barack Obama. Out magazine currently ranks her the second most powerful homosexual, behind only Senator Barney Frank.

She combines the best elements of Woody Allen and Oprah, somehow cerebral and heartfelt, self-effacing and generous. She’s uncompromising, but never more than she needs to be. The defining three minutes of her career to date might be her shrugging dismissal in May 2008 of John McCain’s position on same-sex marriage—possibly the nicest, but most efficient, deconstruction of a politician and a political position in the history of television.

She debuted last week as a judge on Idol, kissing Ryan Seacrest as she arrived and quickly settling into the role with relative ease. Without dominating the proceedings, she has already established herself as the über-judge: empathetic, but mischievous; blunt and biting, but also encouraging. She watches with deep concern in her eyes and beams when contestants succeed, but will quickly scold the off-key. She prizes confidence. She arrived in time for the final round of auditions—dubbed Hollywood Week, it is essentially a televised social experiment meant to see how many desperate young singers can be made to cry on camera—and seemed determined to impose some degree of humanity on the affair.

On paper, it might not make sense that a populist, explicitly Middle-American television show pitched to a nation openly grappling with the perceived ramifications of homosexuality could, with reasonable success, put a quirky, openly gay woman in a position of prominence. But she fits. If there is anything remarkable about her inclusion on Idol, it’s how relatively unremarkable it seems.

On paper, America is a confusing and messy place. But it is almost always better than it seems.


 

The meaning of Ellen (on American Idol)

  1. Ellen Degeneres is a disgusting person who possesses no morality whatsoever. I think it’s very sad that she is given the kind of recognition that she gets in the media.

  2. Great read and fascinating comments, as always.

  3. "America in 2010 is a confused place. "

    What an awful lede. You like polls, eh? K, here's one showing that gays are four times more likely to vote according to "moral" issues than straights: http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/story.ht

    What does this have to do with Ellen? We're getting there. Consider the last high profile gay to become a judge in a similar setting: Perez Hilton, who found it necessary to inject gay advocacy into a (female) beauty pageant, referring to Miss Prejean as a "dumb bitch" for opposing gay marriage, as most Americans and Canadians do. Also consider Avril Lavigne, who, while wearing devil horns and having no children, voted off a preacherman with a family, despite the rest of the panel deeming him worthy.

    Ellen has already made reference to gender quotas on the show. Point being, as a lesbian she's far too political and is highly likely to let her politics get in the way of judging. A lot of AI contestants come from church choirs, the country music genre, and the male gender, and I don't believe she's capable of judging those people without her politics getting in the way. While Ellen might be popular with the female shut-in set, she gives off a bad vibe to men, trust me on this. Ellen is going to view this as an opportunity to wreak vengeance against perceived enemies of homosexuals. I don't like her, I don't think she is funny, and I have seen her be nasty to one of the few male guests she's had on her show. She's also bossy and attempting to dominate AI – widely acknowledged to be Simon's fiefdom – rather than knowing her place as the new chick: Kara didn't act like she was the chair of the panel when she first joined.

    • Perez Hilton is piling on the hate against last year's AI winner, Kris Allen. Can you guess why? It's because he beat the homosexual Adam Lambert. He hates a straight man because he beat his fellow gay man.

      If gay people are going to hold grudges against straights for beating gays fair and square then it seriously calls into question whether they can ever be integrated into mainstream society. Prediction: people will start noticing and commenting on Ellen's bias towards women and gays.

    • Where are you going to find a better person than Ellen, she is smart, witty, good looking and generous…get over by bias

  4. Good read, I found the poll numbers pretty interesting.

    Not that it matters, but Barney Frank is a congressman and not a senator.

  5. I don't know why they pick judges that don't know anything about music.

  6. Oh my god. Can you give it a rest? So what if she's gay? She's a human being. End of story.

  7. Yes, Ellen is a homosexual, smart, witty ,etc, BUT what are her qualifications to judge a singing/talent competition. My question–Why her? Is it to forward the homosexual agenda? Increase the sponsors' agendas? Or something very simple Ellen was available and cheaper than Paula? Personally, I believe it is a combination of Ellen as a person,her homosexuality–to imply homosexuality is okay and her being available and cheaper than Paula.

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