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Things Continue to Be Bad for Ellen, but Why Just Her?

We know why.

Producer Ellen DeGeneres attends Netflix's season 1 premiere of "Green Eggs and Ham" at Hollywood Post 43 on November 3, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Ellen DeGeneres is having an extremely bad summer in terms of her reputation with the public. The host whose reputation was built on fun and kindness, and a trailblazing icon for LGBT representation, has been unmasked as a monster who leads where harassment and horribleness are commonplace … but lots of Hollywood bosses have been revealed as monsters in recent years, so why is Ellen getting such intense scrutiny?

Part of it is the unique position Ellen is in as a daytime talk show host. Unlike, say, the abusive showrunner of Magnum P.I. who was also a well-known horrible Hollywood boss, Ellen is a public, celebrity figure with a particular sunny brand whose work fills a particular need. Talk show hosts often find success because they can embody the everyday person, but with a bit more attention and production value. They serve as a voice for the mildly curious, and their brands are all about being an accessible and fun representation of the Average American who wants something vaguely interesting to watch before the five o’clock news.

But the Average American right now is facing a reckoning, from dealing with a pandemic to racism to a crumbling economy, the evils of capitalism, rampant misogyny, and so much more. And so it’s fitting that the ultimate talk show host continues to face her own reckoning in the media. As Ellen DeGeneres’s carefully maintained image falls apart so does our image of America and ourselves. And Ellen certainly seems to deserve all the criticism she’s getting.

Ellen’s image has been faltering for a while, in some circles, but the open Hollywood secret of her unpleasantness and her friendship with George W. Bush weren’t enough to really crack the facade. It took a pandemic and Ellen not talking to or paying her crew to begin the avalanche of bad press and revelations that have left Ellen with rumors swirling that she wants to quit her show and the tag #ReplaceEllen, which trended on Twitter, brainstorming ideas for her replacement.

How did it get this bad? Only last week, Warner Brother launched an investigation into the allegations of a toxic workplace culture at The Ellen Show, to which Ellen responded in a letter that mainly shifted the blame for the horribleness at her show on to others. “As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done,” DeGeneres wrote, according to EW. “Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”

One of the producers who was the target of allegations in the July 16 Buzzfeed article that started this scandal was fired, and Ellen seemed like she might weather the storm until another article from BuzzFeed that alleged the producers on the show engaged in “Rampant Sexual Misconduct And Harassment.” Many of these allegations were focused on producer Kevin Leman, whose alleged abuse focused on younger men on the crew, which he denied.

But the floodgates of people finally talking about Ellen had been opened. Bred Garrett called out the show and the host, noting rightly that this sort of culture comes from the top.

Ellen had her defenders of course, like, uh Scooter Braun. Yeah, the guy that was part of essentially stealing away Taylor Swift’s rights to her own music. Great endorsement right there.  There seems little doubt that Ellen is a terrible employer but … she’s certainly not the only talk show host who is terrible to work for or whose set is reputed to be a terrible place. And that’s where this whole thing gets icky because, yes, it sounds like Ellen is bad … but why is everyone jumping to attack and lobby for an out lesbian woman to be fired when men have been doing the same things for decades, often with total impunity?

And make no mistake, many of our favorite talk show hosts, from daytime to late-night, have behaved awfully to their staff. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show cursed out Wyatt Cenac when he was called out for a racist impression of a Black man. A rumored replacement for Ellen this weekend was James Corden, who is just as well-known as a jerk to staff and fans as Ellen is, but he’s a guy so I guess that’s not surprising?

So yes, Ellen is terrible. But it seems, sadly, like a lot of Hollywood and especially talk shows are also terrible and, while the ironic contrast between Ellen’s public persona of niceness and her private truth of meanness is a big factor in us all rooting for her downfall, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that sexism and misogyny are at play as a huge part of this particular reckoning.

The point here is not that Ellen’s behavior and hypocrisy should be excused because she is a queer woman—instead it’s that the men who do the same things and worse need to get the same scrutiny and comeuppance.

(via: Forbes, image: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.