What is about Ellen? Stars can't get enough
From her contribution to the gay community, to her knack for getting hips shaking, Aussie stars on her Melbourne party red carpet had no shortage of reasons for loving Ellen DeGeneres.PT2M33S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2gt2o 620 349 March 27, 2013
She's cultivated a wide fan base simply by being herself.
When American talk show host Ellen DeGeneres appeared in Sydney and Melbourne this week, she was greeted with scenes of mass hysteria.
Ellen DeGeneres, right, with wife Portia de Rossi greet the large crowd at Birrarung Marr in Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens
Hundreds of fans camped overnight to get a good position. Thousands more queued for hours, undeterred by the baking heat. When DeGeneres stepped on stage, the crowd roared and waved and conveyed their adoration with enormous banners.
This would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Back then, public pandemonium was the preserve of teenage ABBA fans. Australians, as a general rule, did not lose their minds over daytime TV hosts. Only in America was such unabashed public fandom acceptable.
That notion was put to rest when Oprah Winfrey stood on set in 2010 and declared – in her shouty, vowel-heavy manner – "We're! Going! To! AUSTRALI-YAAAAAAAAAH!"
Ellen's live Melbourne and Sydney show
Fans at the recording of Ellen DeGeneres' The Ellen Show at Birrarung Marr, Melbourne. Photo: Penny Stephens
Her studio audience practically wet themselves with excitement. That was nothing, however, compared to the reaction on our shores. Grown-ups chucked sickies to scream at her in public. Local celebrities fell over themselves to be seen with her. Hugh Jackman even risked his life to make a memorable entrance.
But why? What is it about Ellen, Oprah and their peers that makes otherwise rational people behave like the front three rows at a One Direction concert?
The popularity of their TV programs doesn't fully explain it. Daytime TV, after all, has relatively small audiences. Local (evening) talk show host Rove McManus had more viewers than Winfrey and DeGeneres combined in his heyday, but would never have matched their huge public turnouts.
The fact these hosts are American plays a greater role. The Logie Awards, for instance, just wouldn't be the same without a bewildered US celebrity being couriered in to validate its existence. The Voice wouldn't be as popular without its international coaches. Indeed, we only bestow the honourable title "Our" on movie stars such as Nicole Kidman, who are successful enough to live somewhere else.
As celebrity culture becomes more pervasive, influencing even our political discourse, fame becomes an increasingly valuable currency. Simply having a high profile is something to strive for and applaud, regardless of how it's achieved.
At least, that's the view of older generations: those who look askance at the crowds Winfrey and DeGeneres attract, dismissing their noisy affection as brash, unseemly and vacuous in the extreme. It's also the view of self-consciously alternative types who reward their favourite artists with understated "respect". (Because displaying actual enthusiasm is lame.)
Except there's something off about both points of view. Older generations might not have screamed and waved at TV stars – but they were prone to over-the-top reactions to visiting royals and popes.
Personally, I'd rather salute a down-to-earth comedian who promotes social equality.
And it's refreshing to see DeGeneres win mainstream appeal. Twenty years ago, her popularity would have hinged on her physical appearance. Fifty years ago, it would have depended on her being stereotypically feminine and uncontroversial, giggling at men's jokes instead of cracking her own.
Instead, she's cultivated a wide fan base simply by being herself: a middle-aged, married gay woman who gets about in jeans and sneakers and makes people laugh. She does not obsess over her appearance or put herself down publicly. She treats her guests with irreverence and good humour. Sometimes, she's serious, such as when she fights for marriage equality. Sometimes, she's not, such as when she does her funny dance on TV. Her motto is "be kind to one another", a creed by which she seems to live.
People of all backgrounds – young and old, male and female, gay and straight – seem to like her. There's much to celebrate about this fact, without it being viewed as a harbinger of cultural decline.
Not everyone who turned out to see DeGeneres in Australia is a celebrity-worshipping daytime TV addict. For many, it was nothing more than a few hours of fun. Perhaps there's nothing more complicated to it than that.