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Ellen DeGeneres: A force for Sexuality in the Media

2 May

In recent years, sexuality has come a long way in media and society as a whole. In the past, sexuality was a topic rarely discussed. For example, gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals were often associated with a negative stigma, thus media often avoided the topic. Over the past few decades, shows have begun to introduce sexuality as a way to inform consumers about the topic and as a way to eliminate negative associations.

Ellen DeGeneres is a public figure who has proved that she, and homosexuals as a whole, live normal lives. Throughout her career as a stand-up comedian, actress, and talk show host, Ellen has become a role model and voice for those in the GLBT community.

 

Comedy and Acting Career

Prior to her debut to fame through her talk show, Ellen was a stand-up comedian and actor. Her career began as an emcee at a comedy club in New Orleans. In 1982 she was recognized nationally when a taped club performance won Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America”. She was recognized for her stand-up several times in the following years. Ellen’s acting career began in “Open House” a sitcom on FOX. From there she moved to ABC’s show “Laurie Hill” which led to her role on “These Friends of Mine” which later changed its name to “Ellen” from 1994 to 1998. In 1997, Ellen received the Peabody Award for her role in “Puppy Episode” in which her character, Ellen Morgan, came out as a gay woman. She was the first out lesbian main character on a TV show that aired on one of the top three network channels. Sexuality has always been a difficult and often avoided topic. Her role in this show was controversial but paved the way for opening up the subject for discussion. Although the show didn’t last long after the coming out episode, it was still a victory for Ellen and the GLBT community. Her following acting gig ran from 2001 to 2002, in which she was the star of the CBS sitcom “The Ellen Show.” From there Ellen appeared on a varity of shows including the “Larry Sanders Show.”

 

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show”

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is a talk show that addresses all aspects of society and culture. The show focuses on the controversial topic of sexuality including gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. Since its beginning in September 2003, the show continues to be a great success. The first year of its debut, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” was nominated for twelve Daytime Emmys and won four.

Ellen herself has become a large name and an influential figure. Recently she was noted in Forbes’ time five “most influential women in the media”. In a February 2008 show, Ellen spoke about Larry, the victim of discrimination due to his sexuality. Larry was a 15-year-old boy who was shot by a classmate because he was gay. She spoke of this instance to bring light to the issue of violence against GLBT individuals. Ellen stated:

On February 12th, an openly gay 15-year-old boy named Larry who is an eighth grader from Oxnard California was murdered by a fellow 8th grader named Brandon. Larry was killed because he was gay. Days before he was murdered, Larry asked his killer to be his Valentine. I don’t want to be political, but this is not a political issue, this is personal to me. A boy has been killed and a number of lives have been ruined.

Somewhere along the line, the killer Brandon got the message that it’s so threatening and so awful and so horrific that Larry would want to be his Valentine that killing Larry seemed to be the right thing to do. When the message out there is so horrible that to be gay you can get killed for it, we need to change the message.

Larry was not a second-class citizen. I am not a second-class citizen. It is okay if you’re gay.

I would like you to start paying attention to how often being gay is a punch line of a monologue or how often gay jokes are in a movie. And that kind of message, laughing at someone because they’re gay is just the beginning. It starts with laughing at someone, then it’s verbal abuse, then it’s physical abuse, then it’s this kid Brandon killing a kid like Larry.

We must change our country and we can do it. We can do it with our behavior. We can do it with our messages that we send our children. We can do it with our vote. This is an election year and there’s a lot of talk about change. I think one thing we should change is hate. Check on who you’re voting for and does that person really truly believe that we are all equal under the law? And if you’re not sure, change your vote, we deserve better. My heart goes out to everybody involved in this horrible, horrible incident.”

Ellen’s comments regarding Larry’s death exemplifies her passion for equality for all and to eliminate the discrimination of individuals based on their sexuality. With her success, Ellen can be a voice for all, including Larry.

Relationships

Being a public figure, all aspects of her life inevitably become public as well. I plan to analyze the impact of Ellen’s relationship, in particular the one with her partner Portia de Rossi.

 

Connection to “Popular Culture and Queer Representation” by Diane Raymond

I also intend to connect Ellen and her role as an open lesbian to Diane Ryamond’s article “Popular Culture and Queer Representation.