Once again celebs are proving that they are, in fact, not just like us regular people—mainly because they’re so out of touch with reality. Case in point: On August 4, several celebrities began speaking out in support of TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, after numerous accounts from staffers emerged about their time working on the show and the toxic work environment they were subjected to. Detailed in a July 16 BuzzFeed article, current and former staffers described being subjected to racist comments behind the scenes at the Ellen DeGeneres Show, being left in the dark when it came to compensation and job security at the beginning of the pandemic, and having unpleasant and downright cold interactions with the host.
“That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” one former employee told BuzzFeed about the work environment. These allegations from employees came on the heels of a March 20 tweet by Kevin T. Porter, who encouraged people to share the most insane stories they’d heard or experienced firsthand when it came to the host—and the responses were telling. Essentially, DeGeneres, despite her über kind public persona, is a mean girl to the extreme; and her show—which is viewed by many on the outside as a safe and happy place to be—is actually super toxic and exploitative.
In a recent leaked letter to staff, DeGeneres apologized to anyone who had been negatively affected, stating: “We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow.”
Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about! 😊❤️
She’s also notoriously one of the meanest people alive
Respond to this with the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean & I’ll match every one w/ $2 to @LAFoodBank
— Kevin T. Porter (@KevinTPorter) March 20, 2020
For many, the letter seemed insincere and lacked any real accountability on her part. But don’t tell that to any celebrity who’s been a guest on her show or is friends with her! After rumours began swirling in late July and early August that DeGeneres was set to be replaced or her show would be cancelled, the host’s wife, Portia De Rossi, took to Instagram to show support for Ellen, sharing an image stating “I Stand By Ellen,” and thanking fans for their support.
And shortly after her post, celebrities started to chime in, with stars like Katy Perry, Diane Keaton and Ashton Kutcher sharing their positive experiences with Ellen and the joy she’s brought to the world through her TV show.
1/2 I know I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience besides my own but I want to acknowledge that I have only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen & on the @theellenshow. I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought
— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) August 4, 2020
In particular, comedian Kevin Hart vocally supported DeGeneres, calling the internet “a crazy world of negativity” and saying that his longtime friend is “one of the dopest people on the fucking planet.”
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It’s crazy to see my friend go thru what she’s going thru publicly. I have known Ellen for years and I can honestly say that she’s one of the dopest people on the fucking planet. She has treated my family and my team with love and respect from day 1. The internet has become a crazy world of negativity….we are falling in love with peoples down fall. It’s honestly sad…When did we get here? I stand by the ones that I know and that I love. Looking forward to the future where we get back to loving one another….this hate shit has to stop. Hopefully it goes out of style soon….This post is not meant to disregard the feelings of others and their experiences….It’s simply to show what my experiences have been with my friend. Love you for life Ellen…
And while it’s nice that celebrities like Hart, Kutcher and Perry have had positive interactions with DeGeneres, so what? These endorsements from celebs are not only out of touch, but also not very helpful at all. Here’s why.
First of all, they completely miss the point
Probably the most egregious thing about these celebrity endorsements of DeGeneres is the fact that they completely disregard the aforementioned complaints from those who’ve worked either under or around the talk show host. The issue at hand isn’t that DeGeneres mistreats or is hostile towards her peers and fellow celebrities (aside from a select few people, like beauty blogger NikkieTutorials, who said she had a negative experience as a guest on the show, calling the staff overworked and DeGeneres “cold”); the issue is how she—and the company she created—treats her employees and the people that ensure the show runs.
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As nice as I’m sure Ashton Kutcher felt his comments about DeGeneres’s work ethic were, how does “never pander[ing] to celebrity” and “fix[ing]” things in your dressing room make up for creating and contributing to a work environment filled with microaggressions and racism? These two experiences are completely independent of each other. They can be, and very likely are, both true.
I haven’t spoken with @TheEllenShow and can only speak from my own experience. She & her team have only treated me & my team w/ respect & kindness. She never pandered to celebrity which I always saw as a refreshing honesty. When things aren’t right she handles it and fixes.
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) August 5, 2020
And they fail to acknowledge their own privilege
Not only do these comments completely miss the point, but they also inherently fail to acknowledge the privilege that these celebrities have. As much as we may not like to believe it, famous people are usually treated differently and often better than us regulars. By attempting to equate their interactions with DeGeneres—as either talent on her show or very high profile friends of hers—to those of people on her staff, celebs like Kutcher et al are failing to recognize the implicit privilege they have; completely glossing over the fact that, as celebrities, they’re of course going to be treated well.
As actor Rachel Bloom pointed out, being a guest on a show is a very different experience from being an employee on a show.
Just wanna say that I have both worked behind the scenes of tv shows and been the celebrity guest on them and the two experiences are very different. Having a good time being a guest does not necessarily have anything to do with the experiences of the employees.
— Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) August 4, 2020
There’s an obvious power difference at play here. In the dynamic between celebrities and DeGeneres, where they’re either talent she wants appear on her show (and boost her ratings) or her friends, the power is roughly balanced. But in the case of DeGeneres and her employees, she’s the person in control of their careers and livelihood, so there’s a definite imbalance there.
Perhaps, as Twitter user Ashley Nicole Black tweeted, it’s not that celebs are completely oblivious and unaware that people treat them differently, it’s that these toxic workplaces are so widely accepted in this industry, and “higher ups don’t care how folks are treated as long as the work is done on time and on budget.”
I don’t think it’s that celebs “don’t know” people treat them differently. I think it’s that toxic workplaces are widely accepted in this industry, ppl are expected not to complain, and higher ups dont care how folks are treated as long as the work is done on time and on budget
— Ashley Nicole Black (@ashleyn1cole) August 5, 2020
The comments also effectively invalidate what employees are saying
The plain truth is these celebrities are inserting themselves into a conversation that they have no right being a part of, because they have no *actual* knowledge of what it’s like to work in that environment in the way that the employees speaking up do. And acting like they have some sort of authority not only reframes the spotlight on them, but risks discrediting the experiences of the people who have risked their careers in Hollywood by speaking up and against the workplace culture at the Ellen DeGeneres Show. As writer Laura Bradley stated in an August 5 article for The Daily Beast: “It takes a special kind of narcissism to read about a major TV personality allegedly turning a blind eye toward a toxic work environment only to say, ‘Well she’s only ever been nice to me!'” Because, similar to the debates that arose around celebrity support for Michael Jackson or Woody Allen, one person’s experience does not speak for all. It can be true that DeGeneres is a kind person to her celebrity guests and an LGBTQ trailblazer who paved the way for so many people to be seen and heard, *and* it can also be true that she’s cold to employees and has helped foster a toxic work environment. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, and pretending that they are does a disservice to the employees who have spoken out, ultimately painting DeGeneres as merely the victim of slander on the internet.
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This is a narrative that needs to be nipped in the bud; because as Refinery29 Canada writer Kathleen Newman-Bremang articulated in an August 4 tweet-thread, DeGeneres is not the victim in this situation.
What’s missing in these celebrity statements of support for Ellen is the acknowledgment that real people behind the scenes experienced racism, harassment and a toxic work environment. Ellen is not the victim.
— Kathleen Newman-Bremang (@KathleenNB) August 4, 2020
Not only do these celeb accounts of the TV show host’s kindness towards them completely (if inadvertently) invalidate the experience of those who work for DeGeneres or have experienced instances of harassment, racism and a toxic work environment, but they also frame criticisms of her as an unwarranted attack. The stories arising about DeGeneres aren’t an attack against her, they are literally people describing their experiences, her actions and their effects on those around her.
We should pay attention to who’s supporting Ellen
Finally, when reading these celebrity endorsements, it’s important to consider just who’s speaking up in support of DeGeneres and why they may be doing so. For example, don’t forget that DeGeneres stood up for Hart when he was undergoing his own scandal, when past homophobic tweets arose in light of his selection to host the 2019 Oscars. At the time, both Hart and DeGeneres painted the backlash against him as cancel culture gone wild, and DeGeneres was criticized for seemingly accepting Hart’s apology on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community. It’s nice that Hart is defending his friend, but we have to wonder if it’s simply returning the favour.
Sorry, celebs, but this is a battle DeGeneres is going to have to face on her own.