Shoes, produced by Linda Semans of the Semans Co. for the Human Rights Campaign.
Ellen DeGeneres just came out as a lesbian on the cover of Time, and she's doing it on the April 30 episode of her hit network sitcom, Ellen. Her exit from the Hollywood closet is a milestone: No other star has stepped out of it at the height of his or her career. While there are currently about two dozen gay or lesbian regulars in prime-time shows, according to the gay and lesbian magazine the Advocate, none plays the lead. And no series has commanded such advance attention for a nonfarewell episode since Dallas' revelation of who shot JR.
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian political organization in the nation, plans 1,400 Ellen house parties, complete with party kits, to celebrate the lead character's acknowledgment that she is gay. It has also chosen the April 30 show to air Shoes, a spot that attacks job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Produced by Linda Semans of the Semans Co., which specializes in public-service and progressive-issue campaigns, Shoes was rejected by ABC, Ellen's parent network. Citing a "no controversial-issue advertising" policy, ABC turned down HRC's request that it make a single nationwide purchase of air time. Sixty-five affiliates have agreed to air the spot, however, and it will be placed in 33 markets around the country.
Shoes chooses a single focus--discrimination in the workplace--and casts it in mainstream terms. Never explicitly seeking approval of a lifestyle, it follows a tested civil-rights-protest strategy: Show the injustice, then appeal to the public's sense of fairness.
Opening with a female silhouette walking away from a punitive "personnel" sign, it follows her unsteady progress down a flight of stairs and uses a staccato colloquy between her colleagues to dramatize the injustice:
"They fired her? ... That isn't fair."
"No, it isn't."
"It isn't legal."
"Yes, it is."
Our first assumption is that this woman is a victim of gender-based discrimination--but we're stopped short by the announcement that "it" is legal. Job discrimination against women? Surely not. Building on an already secure national consensus on women's rights, the dialogue draws on basic, inarguable values while the visuals emphasize the sheer normalcy of it all: the ubiquitous setting, the ubiquitous employee, the ubiquitous iniquity. Nothing weird here--instead, a shot of a plaque that once acknowledged this employee's "sustained superior performance" and must now be packed away.