Civil Liberties

Gay Profusion


According to people who count these things, there are now some two dozen gay characters on TV. But only one of them is the central figure in a series: Ellen is out.

Ellen DeGeneres, star of the sitcom Ellen, discreetly noted her own gayness on the cover of Time ("Yep! I'm gay"). After a campaign to create a media "event," her character came out, too.

The result was a case study in the fluidity of market-driven culture. Traditional, pre-market culture rarely changed its formulas, stock characters, or stereotypes. Its function was to propagandize on behalf of ruling forces, whether religious or secular. The command cultures of modern totalitarianism have served the same purpose. Market culture, however, because it must seek an audience, transfers cultural power to its customers. While not free of stereotypes, its stories and characters are subject to continuing change, whether for mere novelty, for shock, or even for high social purpose.

Ellen is a tepid comedy reportedly teetering on cancellation; its producers' motives were doubtless mixed. But as gay communities gathered for their "Coming Out With Ellen" parties, the larger revelation was not about Ellen at all; it was about a marketplace that was, again, revealed as an instrument of liberation.