NOW's Media Cheers and Jeers

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney,
Membership Administrative Assistant

The Hyping of "Ellen"

By now you've most likely recovered from Ellen-mania and maybe you're even ready for some more. With the new fall season beginning -- Ellen's first full season as an out lesbian -- what better time to reflect on the hoopla that ended last season? In case you were on Mars last spring, the main character of the ABC sitcom recognized that she is a lesbian. And if that weren't enough, the actress and star of the show, Ellen DeGeneres, came out of the closet. Every day that led up to the landmark broadcast brought something new: Oprah interviews Ellen and her new real-life girlfriend, nervous advertisers like Chrysler back out, another celebrity cameo is announced.

Just when it seemed as if the show itself was beside the point, the episode aired and transcended the hype. Whether you watched it at a party full of emotionally invested folks or quietly on your couch, it was an hour of fabulous television. Well written and acted, it was funny, sad, uplifting and wise.

When I watched Ellen before it became an event, the title character always did seem a little incomplete. Seeing her realize that she's gay and that she "clicks" with another woman was a revelation.

True, ABC and Ellen served up a healthy portion of self-promotion, but the media devoured it and then began to munch on itself. Reporters reported on the endless reporting, and Ellen frequently shouldered the blame for making us "intimates in her sex life," as a USA Today editorial put it. This from a newspaper that ran almost daily updates on the show and on sightings of Ellen on the town with girlfriend Anne Heche.

Frank Rich, in The New York Times, called the publicity leading up to the show a "striptease." Forget the fact that newspapers and magazines were eagerly selling the story for their own profit. Rich also repeated the line that ABC and Disney, who owns the network and produces Ellen, took no risk in having the character come out because the show was losing in the ratings. This take is especially galling -- a couple of years of "lesbian chic" and how blase' some become about the real risks of being out and proud.

By the end of last season, ABC had a wealth of gay characters on its primetime line-up, in Spin City, NYPD Blue, Roseanne, Relativity (which was not renewed) and Ellen, and that's nothing to yawn at. Now ABC was not so bold as to accept gay-themed advertising from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Olivia Cruise Lines, although a number of local ABC stations ran the HRC ad. But in the current wave of backlash against Disney by the Southern Baptists, it's important that we remind Disney and ABC how heartened we are by the positive portrayal of lesbians and gays on television.

Get the word out: ABC Television, 77 W. 66th Street, New York, NY 10023; phone 212-456-1000, ext. 7477; to send an e-mail go to


The fall issue of MODE magazine should be hitting the newsstands by the time you read this, and if it's anything like the first two issues, it should be bold and sassy and gorgeous. MODE is a new fashion magazine for women sizes 12 and up. The fashion spreads use only "real-sized" models and lots of women of color. The editors only accept clothing advertisements for plus sizes. Celebrity women featured include Cybill Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie O'Donnell. Articles discuss the hazards of dating men who weigh less than you and shopping for larger sizes.

Okay, so there are $200 sunglasses and $900 suits and make-up tips and lots of cleavage and skin. MODE is, after all, a fashion magazine. But that's just it -- here is a glossy, stylish, upscale fashion magazine for women who don't want to thumb through pages of bony models anymore. MODE says that big women can be beautiful and sexy and wear hip, stylish clothes. This publication wants you to feel good about your body. And best of all, no diet plans. So if you buy Vogue or Mademoiselle, or if you stopped buying fashion magazines in protest, next time check out MODE. If you can't find it on your newsstand, ask the manager to order it, or contact: MODE, 22 East 49th Street, 5th Floor New York, NY 10017; phone 888-663-3624; e-mail


Boos all around to the past summer's stinkers . . .

As cigarette advertising changes forever, let's hope Virginia Slims puts an end to that "It's a Woman Thing" campaign. The latest one features a woman putting on make-up in a car and the caption reads: "Why do we apply mascara at 55 mph? Because we can." Women just don't care if they poke their eyes out or cause an accident or get lung cancer -- what a clever concept. Don't bother writing to the tobacco industry; they know it's contemptible.

Beverage advertising, especially on TV, is obsessed with supermodels and bikini clad babes. Pick any beer commercial and it's bound to be sexist.

The most offensive commercial to come around in a while has to be the one in which a pre-teen girl watches all the beautiful young women in her quaint Italian village drinking Diet Coke and asks the older woman next to her if drinking Diet Coke will make her beautiful, too. The older woman tells the girl not to worry, that she's never had a Diet Coke and look at her. The woman's face appears out of the shadows and voila! She is haggard and heavy, clearly the stereotypical old Italian mama.

This ad hasn't aired lately so perhaps more enlightened minds prevailed at Coke. If you see this commercial again, drop Coke a line. The Coca-Cola Company, 711 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022; phone 212-355-5475; web:

Meanwhile, the USA Network has been running an advertisement in The New York Times television guide. The top third of the page includes the names of USA's cheesy crime dramas along with a cleavage-heavy photo of an actress. No surprise there. But the bottom two-thirds of the page are devoted to an extreme close-up of a (soon to be dead?) woman's stomach, complete with navel, glistening sweat and fine body hair. The words over her belly say, "The Curviest Chalk Body Outlines on Television."

Let USA know they can't get away with such a blatant connection of sex and violence. And call your local newspaper if you've seen the ad in the television guide. USA Network, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; phone 212-408-9100; e-mail

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