Coming Out Stories as Cultural Capital

Gawker reports that Anderson Cooper may be planning a coming-out episode to boost the ratings of his talk show, which have been mixed, during the February sweeps period.

There’s something fascinating to me about the fact that we’ve reached a point where coming out of the closet can—for a very small set of very privileged people, and under very specific circumstances—be extraordinarily valuable cultural capital. Cooper is all but formally out: he’s regularly photographed with men he’s dating. I think it’s probably a fair bet (if not a certainty) that he is out to friends and family. But it’s that statement that’s valuable. It’s what gets you the tune-in as people await final confirmation that the Silver Fox is in fact a Friend of Dorothy, it’s what gets you the magazine covers, and the speaking circuit, and the invitation to chair a charity or host a big fundraising dinner. It’s not coming out as we traditionally understand it, a revealing of previously unknown and often unsuspected information to friends and family that carries a risk of rejection.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with celebrities who come out getting a benefit of community support and affiliation from it. And I do think it helps kids to have role models. But it is worth noting that we’re at a point where that experience is a commodity, and that need for role models and heroes is something that can be turned into a profit-generating enterprise.