Growing up in the early 2000s meant spending Saturday mornings in different check-out aisles around town. What I remember most about these check-out aisles is the tiers of gossip magazines guiding our way toward the exit. While my parents paid for groceries and whatnot, I would read the salacious headlines and stare at the flash photography illuminating disgruntled celebrities in the backseats of their SUVs. Today, these magazines look very different, and finally, one of the last remaining pillars from this era is being knocked down: The Ellen DeGeneres Show will air its last season in 2022 after a 19-season run.
You might be wondering how we jumped from gossip magazines to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. On paper, the two sound unconnected because of their obvious differences. The former tends to be highly criticized for its sexist, racist, and generally off-color coverage of celebrities, while the latter is a beloved household name that has survived the competitive television circuit since 2003 thanks to its “be kind” brand. However, like most brands, Ellen DeGeneres’ has long been all talk and no action.
While plenty of headlines have covered the show’s internal problems, namely its toxic workplace environment, I’d like to turn our attention to what was presented to the public. I’m talking about the interviews that were deemed acceptable to be filmed and broadcasted for audiences to watch every day at 3 pm.
Quite a few of these interviews reveal how Ellen DeGeneres has long been the tolerated, and even esteemed, equivalent of the nosy, disrespectful paparazzo loitering outside of celebrities’ houses trying to capture them at their worst moments. Many of the celebrities who were caught by DeGeneres’s camera lens and then poked fun at on live television were women.
In 2008, Mariah Carey went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and was grilled by DeGeneres on whether she was pregnant. In the interview, Carey immediately replies to the inquiry with, “Don’t discuss that.” DeGeneres then pressures Carey into drinking Champagne—knowing full well that someone who is pregnant will most likely decline any alcohol.
In 2020, Carey spoke out about this interview with Vulture, stating: “I was extremely uncomfortable with that moment is all I can say. And I really have had a hard time grappling with the aftermath. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone because I had had a miscarriage. I don’t want to throw anyone that’s already being thrown under any proverbial bus, but I didn’t enjoy that moment.”
DeGeneres’s need to get the scoop on Carey’s pregnancy is a disgusting ploy similar to those of story-hungry paparazzi. It’s no longer fashionable to hide in people’s bushes to catch them in the act, and yet DeGeneres made a career out of doing exactly that. Her audience has found this funny for almost two decades, but it’s not funny to disrespect people’s boundaries and privacy, especially in regard to sensitive topics like pregnancies.
Sofia Vergara is another celebrity who was treated cruelly by DeGeneres. In 2017, DeGeneres thought it would be funny to “teach” Vergara English words, even though Vergara clearly speaks English. Over the years, DeGeneres continued to make comments about Vergara’s English in various interviews, which only upholds racist misconceptions white America believes about people who have learned English as their second language. To echo what the internet has already said, white Americans like DeGeneres only speak one language—English—and yet are fully comfortable making fun of people who have learned multiple languages simply because they speak English with an accent.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) November 21, 2017
Years later, Vergara said she was always in on the joke, but that doesn’t mean DeGeneres’ comments weren’t still hurtful to many communities. The fact is these jokes should not have ever been made, especially if DeGeneres believes in “being kind.” It’s not kind to belittle your guests, nor is it kind to condescend to them for achieving something you haven’t even achieved. These jokes also take away time and energy that could have been spent acknowledging Vergara’s accomplishments as an actress. DeGeneres’s treatment of Vergara foreshadowed her treatment of Hasan Minhaj—whose name she should have known how to pronounce before inviting him onto the show.
Other celebrities like Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift have been put on the spot about their dating lives—which is never any of our business, let alone Ellen DeGeneres’. I’d even argue that DeGeneres is one of the reasons why Swift was ridiculed so heavily for her love life back in the day. Dakota Johnson and Katy Perry have had to call DeGeneres out on-air. And Celine Dion had to sit and defend her son’s hair to a woman who should know better than anyone why gender stereotypes are archaic.
Now, DeGeneres might be calling the allegations against her misogynistic—”I have to say if nobody else is saying it, it was really interesting because I’m a woman, and it did feel very misogynistic,” she said—and yet she fails to acknowledge her own misogynistic behavior.
This could be because misogyny has become more of a mainstream term, which can dilute the severity of the issues the word was coined to address. Simply put, misogyny is any hatred, mistrust, or prejudice against women. What misogyny looks like today is often more pedestrian than we’d care to admit. Misogyny is ingrained in societies around the world, and thus ingrained in us. Women can be just as misogynistic as anyone else and can even speak out against misogyny while still upholding it in their words, actions, and comedy.
How Ellen DeGeneres treated many of the guests on her show is misogynistic. Instead of supporting women celebrities, she’s often made sure to use them as the butt of her jokes. While this does complicate her legacy, it’s not without reason. She was a trailblazer for the LGBTQIA+ community, and yet she didn’t always represent the inclusive values of this community and that’s something she’s going to have to account for.
Ellen DeGeneres is out of touch—and has been for almost the entirety of her show’s run. Her approach to her guests turned the worst aspects of paparazzi culture into something acceptable despite its misogynist implications. Women and their experiences should never be ridiculed in front of mass audiences. That’s bullying, and if her brand is really about “being kind,” then this should have been obvious to Ellen DeGeneres years ago.
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