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Thursday Watercooler


Whoops. This watercooler got improperly posted yesterday. So we’re trying it again today.

Sign: "We don't need a permit to speak in our own house"

Watercooler solidarity with Wisconsin!

Tonight’s musical selection is “In Custody” — the Wisconsin Solidarity Singers singing to each other while in handcuffs. From the YouTube description:

This is a movie taken by a Wisconsin DNR warden in charge of monitoring women arrested for exercising free speech rights in the Capitol rotunda, which was designed for public oration to encourage citizens to participate in our government. (The men in custody were also present, on the other side of the room.)

The Solidarity Sing-Along is a tradition that started 3/11/2011 and has continued every weekday from 12:001:00 ever since. It is the longest-running singing protest in history. The DOA has attempted at various times to quell the protest. Singers protest the Scott Walker administration and Tea Party legislature that came into power in 2010, which have been converting our traditionally progressive Wisconsin into a fascist state.


I often enjoy the content on AVClub but I thought this roundtable discussion of the “coming out” episode of Ellen and its impact on TV and the show’s viewers was especially worth a read.

‘The Puppy Episode’ was right in the middle of a raging conflict over open homosexuality, and as far as mainstream and middle America were concerned, it went much farther than the uneasy contemporary consensus, which might be best expressed as, ‘Don’t make us think about your bedroom business.’ Sixteen years later, as the bulwarks against the gay agenda erected by conservative lawmakers fall like dominoes (including ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and DOMA), and as heartland states like Minnesota legalize same-sex marriage, sympathetic gay characters and storylines on network television probably deserve much of the credit for changing America’s mind. The flip, winking way the characters allude to the controversy (‘Ellen, are you coming out or not?’ one of her friends complains in the cold open) are nods to the progressive community that this is long overdue, and were in fact the culmination of a season-long series of inside jokes about the impending revelation. (Ellen emerges from a closet, wonders if ‘the rumors are true’ about that comedian Ellen DeGeneres, fantasizes about becoming a rock star like the Indigo Girls.) But the episode also acknowledges the very real barriers that kept homosexuality hidden. Before coming to accept her feelings, Ellen astutely parodies homophobic convictions, like accusations that gay people are recruiting straights to join their ranks. (‘I’ll have to call national headquarters and tell them I lost you,’ Laura Dern’s character laments facetiously; ‘Damn! Just one more and I would have gotten that toaster oven.’) ‘There’s a lot of people out there that think people like me are sick,’ Ellen tells her therapist, before lamenting that it’s entertainment’s fault: ‘Why did I have to watch Personal Best?’ (“You can’t blame this on the media,” Oprah remonstrates.)

‘The Puppy Episode’ drew 42 million viewers and won a Peabody Award, but it also, in the short run, caused more turmoil than it solved. Ellen lost its identity as its storylines became dominated by gay issues, and was canceled the following year. Dern claimed her portrayal of Ellen’s love interest cost her work. My husband and I were fans of DeGeneres’ comedy and had watched Ellen from the beginning; it was painful to watch her simultaneously stand up for herself and lose her way. But looking back, I can’t help but feel that the premature death of an amusing sitcom was a minuscule price to pay for the leap forward that Ellen DeGeneres made and helped others make. Now that she and her syndicated talk show are appointment television for millions of women from the deep South to the progressive coasts, the remaining (but dwindling) disagreement in our culture over whether gay people are our enemies or our neighbors seems far less threatening. That’s my view from traffic-light-red Arkansas, anyway, a place that’s as officially and unofficially anti-gay as anywhere in the country, and yet seems perfectly happy to put out the welcome mat for Ellen and the many, many gay characters and celebrities for whom she paved the way.

What’s on your mind tonight? It’s an open conversation in the comments.

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Photo by Emily Mills released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and