The cover of yesterday’s Parade showed Ellen DeGeneres holding a giant lit-up pumpkin. The headline read “Happy Halloween from Ellen DeGeneres.”
Inside was an article that essentially was an interview of the terminally nice Ellen. The secondary headline was: “Our Halloween treat for you—a sit-down with Ellen Degeneres, the new queen of daytime talk.” This piece of text, by the way, was arranged to be the carved-out nose of a pumpkin. The main headline, a quote from Ellen in red, served as carved-out mouth: “Making people FEEL GOOD is all I ever wanted to do.”
The inside back cover displayed a full-page ad for a Cover Girl line of makeup called “Simply Ageless.” The ad focused on the spokesperson for this line of cosmetics, who happens to be…you guessed it!…Ellen DeGeneres.
A hat trick consists of three goals in one hockey game scored by one player, and Parade certainly scored an ideological hat trick with this issue.
Here are the three big ideological scores Parade made:
- Advanced celebrity culture, which offers conspicuous consumption and anti-intellectualism as the aspirations for the public. The celebrity as behavior model typically involves buying something, which Ellen suggests almost first thing in the article. We see two foci on celebrity culture in Parade: 1) We celebrate a holiday through the celebrity; 2) We navigate a controversial social issue—gay marriage—through a celebrity.
- Promoted cultural homogenization: Cultural homogenization is changing parts of an authentic experience, e.g. the spices in Indian food or a novel with a tragic ending—to make the experience more like a standard issue one that will be milder, less controversial, more inclusive and/or easier to understand. Think of the Mexican-themed restaurant at which you can’t get corn tortillas. Parade homogenizes Halloween by forgetting about the scary trick and the family tradition parts, and focusing only on the treat—those little pieces of candy that seem to go down so easily, one after the other after the other. The treat isn’t candy, though, but a chat with that nice gay lady, Ellen whom you get to see on TV almost every day. Talking to Ellen for Halloween is akin to thinking that picking up trash in a city park commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King because it’s service to others.
- Made the commercial transaction the center of all concerns: All Ellen does in the article is sell something as the answer for emotional needs. She sells her show, she sells her new book, she sells her cosmetics. Of course, the entire article was bought and sold by the Simply Ageless line of cosmetics. In the ad biz, we call buying an ad and getting an article for free a “pay-for-play.”
Lots of my younger readers may be scratching their heads and saying to themselves, “That old codger OpEdge, to think that anyone reads Parade anymore!”
Whether people read this long-time mélange of celebrity news, bad food advice, well-worn health tips, patriotism and middle American values I can’t say. But I do know that virtually every local Sunday newspaper in America has a copy slipped into the coupon section. Add up the circulation of all those thousands of newspapers and it’s hard not to conclude that more people read or have the opportunity to read Parade than read or have the opportunity to read virtually any other media outlet in print, on line or over the airwaves (even with the decline of newspapers). Parade is one of the most important taste-re-enforcers in American society and one of the most effective propaganda vehicles for the ideology of consumerism.
I do commend Parade for accepting Ellen’s homosexuality matter-of-factly and for promoting a gay as America’s replacement for our “big sister” Oprah Winfrey. But remember, Parade is never a frontrunner on important issues, only an indicator that the American people have made up their mind and believe whatever it is that Parade is promoting, be it recycling, the widespread impact of post-trauma stress disorder or gay marriage. Representing consensus thinking enables Parade to do it what it does best: sell the idea that buying stuff—for example stuff that celebrities buy and recommend—is the be-all and end-all of the good life.