Anderson Cooper and the TV Moment That Wasn't (Opinion)

The gist of Anderson Cooper finally announcing that he’s gay isn’t that so many people already knew, it’s that so many people certainly did not know. People on the coasts or those who believe their gaydar is infallible can talk about what might be pretty clear to them, but it ignores the fact that so many people have no clue about sexual identity – among actors, writers, news people, sports stars and entertainers of every ilk.

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And often not among their own friends.

So if Cooper, penning a lovely e-mail to friend Andrew Sullivan and saying, “The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud,” seems like a dog-bites-man story to the rest of us, let’s not forget the reason he did it.

Writes Cooper: “I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.”

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He’s right about that. One more high-profile person is one more hand in the air -- and at some point we’ll have to hope that with enough hands in the air, the barriers to acceptance start to fall. It might not yet sway those who believe homosexuality is a freak scene instead of a collection of people who love each other just like you, or gather in a bar in hopes of getting laid just like you, but every hand up is progress. And more important to swaying those who oppose gays is to show those who are gay but haven't told anyone that it’s not something they need to hide or be ashamed of.

Small steps forward, either way.

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What’s otherwise interesting in Cooper’s announcement is that it certainly seemed that when he got his talk show, he’d have to come out. Like Rosie and Ellen. There’s an intimacy to the talk show format that’s not there in the news business, even when Cooper allows more access to his personality at times on CNN.

And so it was that when Anderson was announced at the Television Critics Association press tour and Cooper was there to take questions (on stage and later at a party), the issue of his sexual preference became more relevant in light of the revealing nature of the format -- and the fact that daytime talk show hosts are frequently asking their guests very intimate questions.

So I first asked his producer how open Cooper was going to be. She said open. I said how open. This might be the first time he’ll be expected to be that open, I said. She knew what “that open” might mean, gave me a dead-eye look and said we’d have to see what he was comfortable revealing.

Then I got to ask Cooper, no stranger to revealing elements about his family, how open he was going to be. What would he reveal? This little back and forth went, well, back and forth for a while until I asked if, in the daytime talk show arena of open hearts and heartfelt revelations, there were any limits on what he would reveal. That’s when he gave me that look that said, “I know what you’re asking and I’m not going to answer.” And then he said if elements of his life were germane to the issue, he’d likely bring those up at that time. It was the perfect non-answer without saying no.

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So, I thought, this will be interesting. Not because I wanted him to “admit” he was gay. First, I already knew he was. Second, I didn’t care. And third, because of the first two, I didn’t want to be in the position to even ask – which is why I didn’t do it in a more blunt way. But I did think that Anderson would be interesting in a way that the rest of the pack of pointless yammering would not be. Because I was sure Cooper eventually would come out on his show, without all the lead-up to it that happened with Ellen on her sitcom, and that it would be the most natural moment he could make it. I wanted to see that, because I thought it would be the new coming out. The gay blase thing. 

But I’m not much of a daytime talk show fan, so there was only so long I could try to tune in and wait. I cared only from the perspective that it would be a “TV moment,” and critics like to write about those.

It turns out that Cooper coming out wasn’t a TV moment. It was just a moment. And ultimately, probably better that way. It was even more blase than I had hoped. One day a famous gay person can say, so direct and eloquently as Cooper did, “I love, and I am loved” and there won’t be a fuss, it won’t be a “TV moment,” and it won’t actually be “news.”

Email: Tim.Goodman

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