US confuses fiction and reality in the outing of Ellen

If No cause exists for furious national debate, the American media can be relied upon to invent one.

Take the feeding frenzy generated by the news that the lead character in Ellen, a second-rate TV sitcom ranking 35th in the national ratings, will be announcing she is gay in a one-hour special that ABC is to air in two weeks' time.

We know this already because Disney, the company that owns ABC, decided the best hope of reviving the flagging show lay in sacrificing dramatic suspense to promotional hype. To whet the public's appetite further, thereby maximising the advertising revenue on the big night, Disney gave the show's star, Ellen DeGeneres, the go-ahead to give Time magazine an exclusive interview revealing that she is a lesbian in real life.

Time duly put a picture of a beaming Ms DeGeneres on last week's cover alongside the breezy headline, "Yep, I'm Gay". Newsweek, having got wind of its rival's scoop, flagged the story on its cover too. Then the rest of the media weighed in. Under a pretence of earnest inquiry, the day and night-time talk shows on both radio and TV have been gleefully arbitrating between Moral Majority crusaders and advocates of gay rights; articles examining the moral, commercial, religious and political implications of Ellen's real and fictional outing have appeared in every conceivable national publication, from the New York Times, to Business Week, to the American Family Association Journal.

Nothing like the same frisson accompanied the novelist Patricia Cornwell's admission last week that she once had a homosexual affair, even though Ms Cornwell's reputation in the world of books far exceeds Ms DeGeneres's in showbusiness. Which provides proof once more, as an academic quoted in the New York Times put it, that television is the "command centre" of American public life.

TV is the medium that gives this huge, ethnically disparate country its collective identity. Such is the blur between fantasy and reality that a social phenomenon as widespread as homosexuality is only believed to exist by the population at large once it has been fictionally certified on a national network.

That was the case with the Murphy Brown episode of six years ago when the lead character's decision to give birth out of wedlock sparked a blazing row about family values, with Vice-President Dan Quayle leading the chorus of outrage.

Compounding the confusion still further this time is Oprah Winfrey who will be making a cameo appearance in the Ellen special as the tortured heroine's psychological counsellor, which happens to be the same function she exercises on behalf of the nation as a whole when she interviews real people in her spectacularly popular TV talk show. And then, as if to lay bare proof that TV is indeed more real than the tangible world, she will be interviewing Ms DeGeneres on her show a week before the special is aired. On ABC, of course.

Ms DeGeneres is also to appear on ABC's current affairs programme 20/20 for what will be billed as a solemn discussion of social reactions to female homosexuality. The broadcast's more serious purpose will be to persuade as many viewers as possible to tune in on 30 April for what Disney hopes will be the biggest television blockbuster since the O J Simpson trial.

O J, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is a living, breathing human being. Murphy Brown was a fictional creation. Ellen is both. All have provoked heated national discussion of the three most consuming and divisive issues in American public life: race, religion and sex.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Senior Data Analyst - London - £38,000

£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London