Thursday, January 29 2015
This is no doubt true of other small, evangelical groups, but vegans tend to immediately assume the best of other people upon learning that they are also vegans. Often when I'm socializing with other vegans (particularly the hardest-core, most fervently evangelical), the conversation will turn to celebrities who are vegans. It doesn't matter how washed-up or obscure they are, if they're vegan, the thing that won them their fame seems to shimmer more brightly. If, for example, Kim Kardashian should ever become vegan, her entire career (whatever that actually has been) would be cast in whole new positive light, at least from the perspective of her new family of vegans. Pamela Anderson is big in vegan circles, but if she were to go back to eating meat, she'd just be Kim Kardashian.
One of the big heroes of the vegan subculture is Ellen DeGeneres. Gretchen has always had a special place in her heart for Ellen not only because she's a vegan, but also for what she's done for LGBTQRSTUV issues, starting with the day her character came out as a lesbian on her sitcom (something Gretchen videotaped on VHS when it happened back in 1997). Gretchen has been so predisposed towards Ellen that she's attended her live comedy performances, bought her comedy CDs, and seemed to enjoy them despite their general blandness. Gretchen has not, however, followed Ellen's career since she started hosting the super-mainstream Ellen Show, which even to Gretchen seemed like a hostile environment (despite the lesbian veganism) for the cultivation of the kind of comedy she would find funny.
The other day Gretchen had DVR'd an episode of the Ellen Show on the strength of an email sent around by PCRM (the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) saying that they would be mentioned on that particular episode. Gretchen is absolutely ape-shit crazy about PCRM, to which she donates substantial charitable gifts and from which she gets the medical basis for her vegan philosophy (personally unimportant for her but great for evangelizing). So she was eager to see how Ellen would pitch it. This evening, after we'd already watched our comedy shows from the night before (since the Colbert Report ended, we've been watching both the Daily Show and the Nightly Show), Gretchen started watching that episode of the Ellen Show. By this point, I'd retreated to the laboratory, but I kept my door open just to see a little of what Ellen was up to. It was her birthday, and her first guest was Justin Bieber making a showing gift of Calvin Klein underwear. I closed my door after that and listened to podcasts while fixing my heavy-duty electronic weighing scale. A couple wires in its cable had broken due to a failed strain relief.
Later though, the scale was fixed, and I opened my door to find Gretchen still watching the show. By this point, two of the show's employees had gone to some specific Las Vegas casino and were pimping a special Ellen-branded slot machine. No, I am not making this up. I closed my door again.
Later Gretchen and I discussed the spectacle she'd just seen. She was decidedly alarmed and disappointed by her vegan heroine; Ellen's entire show had been nothing but a series of celebrities tramping through pimping mainstream American brands. At the very end, after pimping Adidas extensively, Kanye West presented a $50,000 check to be given to PCRM. And all Ellen did in response was to say what PCRM stood for. That was it. End of show.
Apparently that is the state of daytime television these days. And yet, with all the other options in this golden age of teevee, people still tune in. I suspect one of the main reasons Ellen's show is so rotten with product placements is that people are time-shifting it and skipping through the ads the way Gretchen and I do. Until very recently, as-skipping was a fringe activity (and probably still is for the bulk of television viewers, who tend to skew older and will never understand how to "program" a DVR), but evidently it's enough of a problem with some viewerships that it has turned the actual programming between the ads into dreck. I have to imagine that the people who do watch such shows are numb to the way they're being manipulated. Celebrities are nothing but branded humans, and when mostly what they do is shill other brands, it's tapping into something very sad and very American in the human brain. As for Ellen, she has a big task ahead of her to claw her way back into Gretchen's affections. For now, according to Gretchen, Ellen has been ruined by "celebrity-brand culture." Or, as I later put it, she's DeGenerated.
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