Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Queer Icons...Or Are They?: Rosie & Ellen

Another topic I've been wanting to write about--well, two in one now: Rosie O'Donnell and "The View," and Ellen DeGeneres.

So, here's something very interesting I've noticed: when heterosexual people talk about Rosie O'Donnell, they talk about her personality. Queers, on the other hand, talk about what she can do, what she does, what she doesn't do, etc, for the "gay community." Hmmm. So, I've commented in a few places about this, such as AfterEllen and The Lesbian Lifestyle (TLL) blog, because what I think gay people do is essentialize other gays, i.e. make gay individuals nothing more than their sexual orientation. I think that's interesting because, in my observation, this is what gay people seem to think heterosexuals do to us.

In Rosie O'Donnell's case, I think this is an incredibly odd thing to do. As I wrote on TLL, one of the last things I think about when I think about O'Donnell is her sexual orientation just because her personality is so out there. To me, for anyone to zoom in on her sexual orientation when they talk about her, they have to be trying. There are so many more noteworthy things about her.

I also wrote that O'Donnell was someone I cared and heard little about prior to her joining "The View." The only reason I took note of her upon her joining that show was I couldn't figure out what the hell Barbara Walters was trying to do, short of trying to sabotage her show. And sure enough...First of all, I could never figure out what that whole thing with Star Jones was, nor could I figure out why so many white people decided they hated Jones and were happy she was gone from the show. What I could see was that Walters was going from "bad" to worse, at the very least.

On a show like "The View," or at least what that show was supposed to be when it first aired, O'Donnell stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't feel she had enough sophistication to be there. I didn't figure she had enough of the kind of career background I imagined as necessary--at least when the show first started (journalists, a lawyer)--to be there. Frankly, I didn't feel she had enough brain cells or standard English to be there. And when Elisabeth Hasselbeck showed up, I wondered where the hell she came from, too. Honestly, she has never fit in, to me, either, although she does a better job than O'Donnell at fitting in. She was this mousey/wimpy little 20-something, boring as hell, oftentimes couldn't get a word in edgewise. All the other women were older, accomplished and had that fire. This was, of course, before O'Donnell showed up. Suddenly, Hasselbeck became interesting.

Before O'Donnell came, I never really thought that much about who was on the show. I have never been a regular viewer of the show, although I have probably watched it more since O'Donnell was on simply because I have had to wake up early enough to be able to catch it since going back to school. So then, upon giving the show more of my attention, it hit me--O'Donnell and Hasselbeck were the show's "affirmative action hires," so to speak. O'Donnell was there to give the "lesbian viewpoint" or to be the lesbian, since they got rid of all the racial minorities they'd ever had on the show (Lisa Ling, Star Jones), and Hasselbeck was there to be the lone Republican and give the "Republican viewpoint."

You know what has also hit me more and more? This show is not as sophisticated as it tries to put on, at least not anymore (and not just because they milked the showdown between O'Donnell & Hasselbeck by split-screening it). In fact, it's really just a reflection of our society and how ignorant white (liberal) people can be. You see, ever since Star Jones was booted out, their guest hosts have been noticeably brown. They don't seem to be anywhere near making a decision about who to give that "token racial minority" seat to, but it seems damn-certain that they are dead-set on it being a black person. Hmmm, so this is what they were trying to be: a black, a Republican, a white "liberal" and a lesbian. Geeeeee...and we're having weekly battles among the panel?!?! What a shock!!! I think having a diverse viewpoint is great, but two things:

First, sometimes you can have diversity of thought without having diversity of background and without trying so hard and being so...damn...obvious. Just because someone belongs to a different one of the major categories doesn't mean their viewpoint is different or that they "represent" that group. If that's clearly why you're trying to have someone around, that's offensive, to me. Second, a person who comes in who clearly doesn't fit in, as was the case with O'Donnell, is a sign that someone was simply chosen for their background and/or to drum up enough noise to raise ratings. However, in order for diverse situations to work and for this kind of show to stay on the air, the people have to be well-chosen and have different viewpoints but still fit together. They have to be able to work together, so, as all the shake-ups on that show indicate, the people they're throwing together are having a hard time working together.

Differences in background often make fitting in complicated, and normally in life what we do when "different" people are in our environment is ignore them. O'Donnell and Hasselbeck couldn't do this to each other, even though in any other situation aside from having to work together they would. Schools work hard to admit students from different backgrounds and, yet, the students who are most "alike" always seem to find each other to the exclusion of everyone else there. At least with schools, each student is admitted for a lot more than just their diversity. Needless to say, these two 'View' women were never really friends--they just had to tolerate each other. So, I couldn't figure out why O'Donnell was going on and on as if she seriously felt betrayed by Hasselbeck. If she really knew Hasselbeck, she had to know she wasn't going to "defend" her with the Iraqi civilians/US troops situation. Furthermore, I'm not sure we should demand that our friends take our side, especially if they're minding their own business and you bring them into the situation, soliciting their opinion, etc. And then there was the Alicia Silverstone snub towards Hasselbeck, which was funny but kind of confusing. What does Silverstone have to do with any of this? The fight was between O'Donnell and Hasselbeck.

And then we're right back to gays, lamenting the loss of a "lesbian viewpoint" on TV. How selfish. Besides, I never look at O'Donnell as a "lesbian viewpoint." I don't connect myself or other gays to her at all. When all that nonsense between her and Donald Trump broke out, I pretty much agreed with his opinion about her. Just because someone is gay doesn't mean I have to like them, act like they are my role model for coming out or anything else, or look to them to be some proxy-politician for me. I've learned in very painful ways firsthand that two people being gay doesn't mean they are anything to each other. Sometimes they can be enemies. O'Donnell is someone who means nothing to me, gay or straight.

I write about her and "The View" debacle because the way that gay people view her underscores something I've written about before when I've discussed why I don't want to come out. I don't think anyone should be regarded as primarily a gay or lesbian voice, or primarily a gay or lesbian being. That's something I don't want to happen to me but am certain that it would once I came out. Immediately, gay people would have expectations for me that I can't and don't want to meet. I don't want to be essentialized down to being gay, especially when there are so many more important things about me and other things that I focus on way more than my sexual orientation. Straight people would start looking for things in me that confirm that I fit what they think about gays, and the people who have known me for a long time will be kind of confused because I don't do XYZ "gay" thing. Yet, it's unavoidable. And it's something I'd expect more from straight people but would get more from gay people.

While there are gays who seem to want all of us to be a unit and to be the same, there are other gays who seem hell-bent on proving gays are no different than anybody else and fitting in with everyone. This is how I view Ellen DeGeneres. I don't like her or Rosie O'Donnell. And I almost feel bad saying I don't like DeGeneres. I believe she's a nice, good person. But she, to me, has become the white lesbian Oprah Winfrey...and that's not a compliment. Her, Winfrey and Obama all seem like the same kind of people, desperate to be accepted by the mainstream to the point of almost totally ignoring, respectively, their sexual orientation or race. It's almost as if she's trying to take back coming out.

DeGeneres hardly has gays on her show, and it seems like when she does it's a queer person from a show with a decidedly strong heterosexual following, such as TR Knight from "Grey's Anatomy." As someone from my coming-out group mentioned once, she never has had the cast of "The L Word" on her show, and a lot of heterosexuals watch that show. I understand perfectly that she and Oprah need to appeal to a certain kind of audience (apparently, straight white housewives) in order to keep their shows on the stations they're on and to be as famous as they are, but, apparently, doing so is more important to them than these parts of who they are. These are two people who absolutely don't need these shows, though, or could have their shows on other stations that would allow them to have more gay/black guests and more issues that appeal to these audiences.

When DeGeneres had her own TV sitcom, I thought she was funny. This was actually before she came out. And then when she came out, she went overkill on her sexual orientation (which is what got that show cancelled, I'd say). And now she's going overkill in the opposite direction. I mean, she actually sits on her show and talks about how hot and sexy various guys are, then says, "Am I right, ladies?" and/or flirts with male celebrities. Ummmm...ok. Everyone knows you're a lesbian, Ellen. It's fine to say a guy is good-looking, but she talks as if she wants these guys just as much as those bored housewives in her audience do. It's about as weird as a heterosexual male talk show host doing it. She probably points out how sexy a male celebrity is more than she mentions Portia de Rossi, her girlfriend, on the show, and I've only heard her mention Portia approximately two times.

There's a happy middle ground. She doesn't have to be all about being gay, but it'd be nice if she didn't ignore it 95% of the time just to be in with straight people. Her sense of humor has really suffered for it. She was lame when she hosted the Oscars or whatever it was she hosted earlier this year, and she's unbelievably lame on her show. She just stands there, babbles awkwardly and makes no sense, and talks about hot guys. Yet, this is someone gay people absolutely love and look up to--someone who wouldn't even have you on her show if you were a famous queer entertainer. She wasn't always this bad on her show, but now I can barely stand to watch it.

I have to mention one more thing about her show that drives me crazy--the dancing. It really just reminds me of one of those happy black slaves or servants entertaining "massa," which is essentially what she's doing, not to mention doing badly.

This is the part of the post where I almost find myself wishing I knew how to accept comments on just this post so that I can see what other gays think about Rosie, Ellen and the rest of 'em.