Systems of oppression are breeding grounds for abuse and exploitation. The alleged abuses on DeGeneres’ show are not separate from those structures.
In recent months, allegations of a toxic and exploitative work culture pervading The Ellen DeGeneres Show surfaced after dozens of former employees interviewed by Buzzfeed News came forward. Initially just whispers, a general anti-worker sentiment was evident when the show’s staff was left unsupported at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the years, rumors of the talk show host’s attitude towards guests, staff, and acquaintances appeared every so often online, poking holes in the carefully crafted persona of benevolence created by DeGeneres and maintained by years of superficial kindness in the form of capitalist-approved philanthropy.
The more recent allegations detailed in the Buzzfeed News investigations revealed consistent workplace and sexual harassment, anti-Black racism, and a general culture of fear seemingly condoned by the talk show host herself and perpetrated by producers, managers, and others in leadership positions. An internal investigation by Warner Media is being conducted.
Last week, DeGeneres released a statement imbued with what can only be described as a non-apology with little steps toward accountability and a somewhat subtle glaze of threats aimed toward production team workers who participated in maintaining a culture of fear on-set. The daytime talk show host states, “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. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.” Rather than take responsibility, DeGeneres places the blame on those under her leadership.
Some celebrities have responded to the investigations with their own perspectives on DeGeneres, confirming that the experiences of her workers were also a reflection of their own interactions as guests on her show or in other social and work settings. However, earlier this week (in what seems like a PR push of the rich to defend their own), several celebrities like Katy Perry, Scooter Braun, and Samantha Ronson, have come forward to insulate Ellen from criticism claiming that their experiences as white millionaires differ greatly from the approximately 40 former and current employees exploited and harassed on the job.
Stating that they never witnessed harm at the hands of the alleged abuser or harm-doer is a common response to allegations of abuse and harm. It dismisses the very real lived experiences of victims and misinterprets the very nature of harm and abuse itself: not every person involved with the harm-doer or abuser will experience harm or abuse at their hands. In other words, just because you did not witness it, does not mean that the victim did not experience it. Systems of oppression like capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy create breeding grounds for harm, abuse, and exploitation. The alleged abuses at The Ellen DeGeneres Show are not separate from those structures. They seep into our workplaces, our homes, and our lives.
After decades of corporations and the federal government chipping away at workers’ rights and union-busting, the pandemic and the lack of substantial response by politicians have highlighted how capitalism, white supremacy, and other forms of oppression work in tandem and harm those who are marginalized. It comes as little surprise that the “cash cow” show led by DeGeneres (who once compared being at home in her mansion during the pandemic with incarceration) would be rife with exploitation, the entire entertainment industry is reliant on the consistent abuse of the worker in favor of the exceptionally wealthy. DeGeneres’ queerness is often weaponized to silence critics who point out that her marginalized identity as a white lesbian cisgender woman is no excuse for her behavior. Ellen has accumulated mass amounts of wealth and benefits greatly from the structures of this settler-colonialist nation.
It is important, just like in cases of sexual assault and abuse, that we believe the victims who come forward with their experiences because the reality is that there is very little to gain from coming forward either publicly or anonymously. It takes great courage to confront the harm committed by someone as powerful as DeGeneres and her producers.
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