On The Ellen DeGeneres Show today, millions watched Ellen DeGeneres‘s much-touted interview with Portia de Rossi, star of the new ABC comedy Better Off Ted and the woman who "also happens to be my wife," as Ellen introduced her.
Ellen made Portia take off her shoes to show they were the same height ("That’s the main reason I had you on the show, actually"), then announced it was their seven-month wedding anniversary and quizzed Portia on what it was like being married to her. Portia told stories about how no one knows who she is when they travel, because Ellen is so famous.
Then they talked about Better Off Ted, with Ellen making a funny point about Portia being drawn to play icy, insensitive characters, and Portia explaining she enjoys those roles because in real life she cares too much about what people think.
The whole interview was charming, a little awkward, and very subversive because of the ways in which it normalized a lesbian relationship.
Watch the interview here:
After the interview, they challenged a straight couple from the audience in a round of the classic Newlywed Game, which compares Ellen and Portia’s answers on questions like "If Ellen was reincarnated as a dog, what kind of dog would it be?" and "How old was Portia when she had her first kiss?"
See how well they fared here:
Having the heterosexuals-only dating site eHarmony.com sponsor the Newlywed Game was a little odd, given how publicly homophobic their founder is. I can’t seem to find any evidence of them having sponsored segments on the show before (regular Ellen watchers, let me know if I missed one), so maybe this is their way of trying to make amends with the LGBT community? Or they just don’t care that the game included a same-sex couple, because at the end of the day, business is business and Ellen’s audience is exactly the kind of demographic eHarmony wants to get in front of.
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, a queer employee of eHarmony just contacted me to explain that the site is integrating gay and lesbian dating into its new site, compatiblepartners.net, launching on March 31st, and that it’s only technical/logistical issues that are preventing them from including this option in the eHarmony site moving forward. According to the source, the company has received a lot of angry calls and emails from conservatives because of their plans to include LGBT dating in the new site, but the company is defending their decision, and that has made the company’s many gay and lesbian employees both relieved and hopeful about the direction of the company.
The politics of advertising aside, I personally found the game segment to be more entertaining than the interview, and even more subversive because it put Ellen and Portia on equal footing with a heterosexual couple — literally and figuratively.
Singing "I’ve Got You, Babe" together in the faux-bathroom at the end of the episode was cute, too.
The whole episode was another one of those quietly revolutionary moments. You just have to read all the gushing tweets about the interview from people across America to see how many people, gay and straight, were charmed by their appearance on the show together today. For many straight people, Ellen and Portia are the only same-sex couple they know, and that’s why this episode, and Friday’s "rehearsal" episode, will arguably do more for improving the visibility of same-sex marriage than all the Prop. 8 PSAs put together.
Not that PSAs, marches, and gay rights campaigns aren’t important, but people absorb messages differently (and arguably more easily) when they’re packaged as entertainment vs. education — and that’s why lesbian/bi visibility in entertainment matters.