Ellen DeGeneres is dead right. Halfway, anyway. When ABC slapped a "parental discretion is advised" tag on her sitcom last Wednesday because of a comic kiss between her and co-star Joely Fisher, hers was the only ABC sitcom to be so unfairly singled out. When "Spin City" had a kiss between two men for almost the exact same comic purpose, there was no such red flag.
And when Mariel Hemingway engaged Rosanne in far less comic (and far more ideological) lip lock, that, too, was treated differently.
I haven't seen the film, but I understand the current sitcommy semi-hit "In and Out" has a boffo same sex smash-mouth between Tom Selleck and Kevin Kline. The film is rated a nice Peoria PG-13.
The only other show on the entire ABC network to be festooned with a finger-wagging parental advisory is "NYPD Blue," a show which, at any given moment, is liable to feature beheaded bodies, nude bodies and uncorked language which your Aunt Petunia never heard of, much less has ever used.
Something is definitely more than a little askew there. DeGeneres -- ever mindful of the messages sent to troubled gay teen-agers (she mentioned it, you remember, in her Emmy speech) -- was furious about what she thought that advisory conveys: a covert message that there is something wrong with gays.
Well, no. It's there, I think, that she starts being wrong. All ABC's admittedly unfair parental advisory on last week's "Ellen" conveys is information that every gay teen-ager ought to have: that straight society is made deeply uncomfortable by any suggestion of homosexual behavior, no matter how much it pretends otherwise. And, in this case, it's that hypocrisy that may be more injurious to them in the long-run than self-evident heterosexual discomfort. (Know your opposition -- truly. It's an axiom of all socio-political struggles.)
The irony of the "Ellen" case is that female homosexuality is usually far less troublesome to most people than male. No matter what idea a movie or TV show may sell, male homosexuality isn't about a love of dancing or bow ties or Barbra Streisand records, it's about a desire to commit sex acts with the same sex. And, for heterosexuals, some of those acts are far less commonplace than lesbian sex acts.
It's absurdly naive of DeGeneres to think that you can become the trouble-maker-in-chief of American network television without actually causing trouble.
The most groundbreaking piece of TV journalism in the last two decades remains David Ehrenstein's brilliant piece in Los Angeles Magazine contending that the TV network sitcom is "the new gay art form" and has become that through the huge number of openly gay writers on their staffs.
It is, then, even more ridiculous when ABC billboards "Ellen" with a parental warning when gay themes and a gay sensibility are pandemic in TV sitcoms. They are, quite literally, everywhere. On Monday evening, for instance, Bill Cosby, was slated to discover suddenly that his men's group is gay. Bill Cosby, for heaven's sake, American's No. 1 pudding pop peddler.
All current sitcoms are about either nascent sexuality or confused sexuality or sexuality in crisis. They are, then, adolescent down to their deepest fiber. Those who are no longer adolescent, then -- like me and most people I know -- tend to avoid most TV sitcoms like the plague they seem to us, not because of gayness but because of the tortuous immaturity of all those ungainly lives in which to be settled (or mature) is indistinguishable from death.
But then that's how TV's 18 to 49 demographics can be enforced.
And that's why DeGeneres is wrong, too. It seems to me most of the biggest sitcoms on TV -- "Friends," "Seinfeld," "Frasier," "Veronica's Closet," "Murphy Brown," "The Nanny" -- ought to come with "parental discretion is advised" labels at the very least and probably content-decoding devices, too.
The secret message of TV's sitcoms isn't the selling of that dreaded thing, sexual tolerance. It's the reinforcement of the American myth that all of life is a protracted adolescence, where high school malice and stupidity are the best it ever gets and everyone's basic identity is always up in the air and there's no hope of peace when you grow up.
Uh-uh. Becoming a grown-up was, all in all, the best thing that ever happened to me and many other people I know. We wouldn't trade it for the world. But then, nobody would ever watch our lives on TV, either.