Let me tell you a story right quick. In high school, a senior, let's call him Steven, although that's not his real name, sat behind me in theater arts my freshman year. He was mostly quiet. When I had to give a monologue one day, a couple football players in class coughed and called me the f-word. It happened three times before Steven stood up and told them that if they didn't stop, he'd "fucking kill them." Steven and I became friends and ate lunch together sometimes. Remember Steven. We'll come back to him.
Cut to 2020. A slow avalanche of anecdotes from the set of The Ellen Show has recently begun to emerge, starting with a report from BuzzFeed. Staff have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Degeneres says she wasn’t aware of the situation, but a number of staff found that hard to believe. And now, as anecdotes about Degeneres' less than stellar attitude toward staff emerge, celebrities are coming to the defense of Degeneres. Suddenly, the impossible task of speaking out against someone the world admires has become doubly daunting with her celebrity friends in tow.
Last Friday, Scooter Braun tweeted a chiding message for the masses for their attempt to "take shots" at Ellen Degeneres. He noted how others love to see people fall. In a second tweet, he calls upon his own first hand experience with Degeneres and how much good she has done. Katy Perry launched a tweet out to her 108.4 million followers on Tuesday morning. In it, she said, "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 [and] on the [Ellen Show]. I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought..." She finished her thought in a second tweet, sending love and a hug.
Suzanne Somers followed with an anecdote about how Ellen called when her house burned down. That, while nice, is really beside the point. While well-intentioned, it suggests that someone who did something good in your immediate life couldn't be guilty of doing something bad to someone else.
In an era when people are brave enough to speak out against injustice and unsafe work situations, potentially risking their reputations and sources of income, those voices are being met by a series of "well, but" statements. And the biggest issue with it is that those "well, buts" are strikingly without context. Perry (a regular Ellen guest) and Braun (a record executive with a bench of clients who frequent Degeneres' show) and Somers (a wealthy celebrity herself) are almost certainly going to have a different experience with Degeneres than a production assistant might. Not to mention, it's not about "being mean." These refrains from celebrities ignore the culture and the circumstances in which these anecdotes allegedly took place, and use the massive platforms of Perry and Braun and Somers to suggest to their audiences that Degeneres should be absolved based on their firsthand experiences.
Coming to the defense of the people we love is a natural reaction, but it's also one that comes with consequences. Our reputations and influences have a butterfly effect that we forget a lot of the time, even in our small, plebeian circles. To volunteer your own unprompted, warm sentiments about Degeneres and her show, especially in the cases where celebrities are leveraging millions of followers, is to passively say that the people brave enough to come forward and fight for the job that surely pays them less than the big names on the marquee (especially amid a pandemic) should shut up.
Ellen Degeneres has blazed trails for LGBTQ people, donated to countless charities, and made you feel good in your sad spot for the past 17 years. We can be grateful for that while also holding onto our knee-jerk reactions about her. Her trailblazing, in other words, has absolutely nothing to do with what's alleged to have happened behind the scenes of her show.
Oh, and Steven? He was always someone I remembered fondly from high school. He was someone who chose to stand up for his fellow man when mean people used homophobic slurs against a younger student. Steven and I lost touch after he graduated. But I did find out that a few years back, Steven brutally murdered a woman with a brick and a shovel outside of a pizza restaurant. He is currently serving a life sentence.
I want to be very clear: the allegations against Ellen are, of course, not on par with murder. But I also want to be very clear that in my own experience, I have only had positive takeaways from my time with Steven.
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