Until this week, we've known Ellen DeGeneres as unfailingly cheery, a boogie-happy sprite in khakis and Converse. Yet when Ellen opened her talk show Tuesday uncharacteristically red-eyed and weepy, we — after first double-checking that no one had died or anything — began to appreciate the bizarre display, because it represented something so rare in television: actual honesty. Fascinating!
Being a pair of jaded, dark-hearted crones, we don’t ever expect genuinely truthful moments on TV anymore. Awards-show speeches, even ones people claim they didn't prepare, generally come off as painstakingly rehearsed. Oprah Winfrey is adept at moistening the eyes of any celebrity with an important-issue movie, but the ensuing sniffles seem more like the actors' contractual obligation than honest emotion. And if you show up on the set of a Barbara Walters special replete with potted plants and plush furniture, you might as well start crying right away. Nowadays, on-air emotion is little more than a Pavlovian response to soft lighting and Vaseline smeared all over the camera lens.
In the world of celebrity, everything is spit-shined, carefully packaged, and calculatedly released upon the masses. Nothing is really "raw" or "as you've never seen them before." There's no way Brad Pitt's people were surprised when Barbara Walters asked about his ticking biological clock just weeks before he ran off with Angelina; indeed, cynics might suspect that Pitt's heartwarming, wet-eyed response was simply the groundwork for the Team Aniston/Team Jolie PR battle during his divorce. It's not like it hasn't been done before.
And thus Ellen's sobfest was captivating because it was so very unguarded — like a "Stars: They're Just Like Us! They Cry at Work" spread writ large (except that most of us bawl on a co-worker's shoulder in the bathroom, whereas she broke down onstage, when people were tuning in to watch her dance). And though her throat-choking flow of tears seemed a bit disproportionate to the matter at hand, at least it was human — unplanned, out of control, and unscripted. And therefore considerably more interesting than whatever was on Oprah that day.
Not that all daytime TV should become one giant "real" weep-a-thon over, like, the tragedy of Joy Behar’s bunions or some such. But occasionally, as a relief from tedious project-shilling and conveniently timed declarations of agent-brokered romances, we'll gladly take something genuine. Just don’t overdo it, or we’ll get cynical about sincerity too. —The Fug Girls