Culture Notes


Issue: "Gagged by Tolerance," March 22, 1997

Slumping towards Gomorrah

It's official: Ellen is going to be a lesbian. After an earlier on-again, off-again hypefest--and with the show slumping towards hiatus after the producers backed away from the issue--the main character on the ABC sitcom Ellen, comic Ellen DeGeneres, will come out of the closet after all. Plans are for a one-hour special on April 30, to kick off the May sweeps, in which networks vie for high ratings for the purpose of setting prices for commercials in the months that follow. The plot has her falling for a woman played by Laura Dern. Confused about her sexuality, Ellen will go to a therapist played--in another ratings booster--by Oprah Winfrey, who will doubtless give her the same sort of permissive advice she gives on her talk show. The script was approved by both ABC and by a special meeting of Walt Disney executives, including president Michael Eisner. The once-family-friendly Disney produces the show, and their overt approval of the storyline shows, if there were ever any doubt, where the company stands on gay issues. Although Ellen will become TV's first openly homosexual character to have her own show, there have actually been dozens of positively portrayed homosexual characters. They've shown up in supporting roles on nearly all of the major sitcoms, from Friends to the soon-to-be-axed Roseanne. What is significant is the public's ratings-boosting acceptance of prime-time homosexuality, a major victory for those determined to make the gay lifestyle culturally acceptable.

Trusting their basic instincts

The Jesus Seminar is a group of liberal Bible scholars who deny the supernatural and who are engaged in popularizing the conclusions of the historical-critical approach to the Bible. The 200 members gather to vote on which statements of Scripture Jesus really said and what events of the gospels really happened. The answer, given their rationalistic, pseudo-scientific criteria, is always not very many. The conclusions of the Jesus Seminar have become commonplace in liberal seminaries for decades, so the Seminar assumes the mantle of scholarly authority. So why is one of their members a Hollywood director of sleazy movies? Paul Verhoeven--director of the notorious Showgirls and Basic Instinct--is the only member of the seminar without a degree in biblical or classical studies. The Dutch filmmaker joined the group in 1986, planning to make a movie about Jesus based on the Seminar's findings. He says that he is not planning to include sex in this particular film, scheduled for 2000, nor will he show the Resurrection, which he, along with the seminar, believes never occurred.

Starving artists

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A presidential commission is recommending that federal support for the arts be more than doubled. Currently, 88 cents per American goes to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The 32-member President's Commission on the Arts and the Humanities is calling for that number to increase to $2 per taxpayer by the year 2000, a total of $520 million. The commission also called for a return to grants to individual artists, a practice stopped because of controversies over the funding of pornography, blasphemy, and perverse "performance art." Grammy winner Hillary Clinton, the honorary chairman, held a press conference lauding the arts, at which she said that without both private and governmental funding, "the arts and humanities could never thrive, much less survive, on support from just one of these sources." She did not indicate how the arts survived and thrived before federal funding of the arts was initiated as one of the Great Society programs in 1965.

Rap sheet

Death Row Records, the major label for hard-core gangster rap, is now going to be run from behind bars. The head of the company, Marion "Suge" Knight, was sentenced to nine years in prison, for committing assault while on probation for an earlier assault conviction. His lawyer says he will continue to run the company from prison. Mr. Knight's sentencing follows hard on the heels of the murder of their biggest star, Tupac Shakur. Two weekends ago, the rapper known as Notorious B.I.G., a Shakur rival, was murdered as he left a music awards party in Los Angeles. The FBI is investigating Death Row's ties to the Bloods, one of the nation's largest street gangs.


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