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Ellen DeGeneres' toxic workplace apology was monumental, yet it was bullsh*t

  • "Contrition is bad TV. Maybe that's why it almost never happens," says Kevin Fallon of Ellen's monologue Monday on the Season 18 premiere of her daytime talk show addressing reports of a toxic workplace culture. Fallon points out that the trend in celebrity crisis management is "denial, deflection, and finger-pointing, to that point that even getting that 'I am so sorry' in this video didn’t seem as inevitable as it should have been. Certainly, an acknowledgment of privilege wasn’t either. That alone is something." He adds: "In an industry where apologies don’t exist, DeGeneres’ on Monday was monumental. But that doesn’t change that large chunks of it were bullsh*t. DeGeneres pledged that 'today, we are starting a new chapter,' which is one of those benign promises that we can’t superficially judge from the outside. You have to hope that the environment at Ellen will improve, but you also have to hope that an LGBT trailblazer who faced such cruelty and injustice at a turning point in her career wouldn’t aid and abet—or, arguably, cause—an environment so heinous in the first place. These moments, then, drip with skepticism. And they should. Fully aware how much attention was on her first public comments on the matter—she had previously addressed staff in an emotional leaked statement this summer—and that most people were tuning in specifically to see her crumble under the controversy, she said, 'If you’re watching because you love me, thank you. If you’re watching because you don’t love me, welcome.' That’s the thing about apology television. At its core, it’s a bloodsport."


    • Absent from Ellen's speech about kindness was an acknowledgment of the remarkably unkind things that allegedly happened on her show: "I don’t particularly think that DeGeneres sought to fool anyone with this monologue or to use tricky language to escape blame," says Joan Summers. "But the gulf in her apology—between acknowledging her responsibility, and distancing herself from any direct blame—is indicative of the false facade of 'niceness' The Ellen Show presents. DeGeneres’s apology followed a tried-and-true script for when a famous person is confronted with accusations of misconduct or abuse: Silence, then an apology, then claims that one will take steps to 'make things right'—usually without spending a meaningful amount of time actually confronting the 'thing' itself. It also reveals, quite plainly, the contours of what a powerful person’s apology is designed to do. For the people it matters to most, like advertisers and her most avid viewers, DeGeneres taking 'responsibility' will probably be enough. That she wasn’t ousted is proof of this comeback strategy’s effectiveness. The more insidious view of this apology, though, is how it fails to address the promise that fueled the last 20 years of Ellen’s success: the niceness of The Ellen Show, and the promise of goodness and morality baked into that facade. Her first monologue back didn’t just fail to take personal accountability, it also failed to explain the chasm between the brand she enriched herself with and the realities faced by the people toiling away to make that possible.... Left unsaid is the immense power that DeGeneres has accumulated since assuming her role as a daytime television host. She has won 32 Emmy Awards, as well as been the producer of a dozen television shows. Her net worth to date is supposedly $300 million. The bubble this inconceivable power generates, if DeGeneres really didn’t know what was going on in the workplace she runs, has insulated her from the reality of her effect on the world around her."
    • Current and former Ellen staffers said her apology Monday missed the mark: Buzzfeed News' Krystie Lee Yandoli, who wrote two stories on The Ellen DeGeneres Show's toxic workplace culture, spoke to some of the ex-employees she previously interviewed to get their reaction to Ellen's apology Monday. “Not only did Ellen turn my trauma, turn our traumas, into a joke, she somehow managed to make this about her,” one former employee said. “When she said, ‘Oh my summer was great’ and that was supposed to be funny I thought, ‘It’s funny that you had a rough summer because everyone was calling out all of the allegations of your toxic work environment and now you’re the one suffering?’” another former employee said. Yandoli also spoke to a current Ellen employee, who said they’ve been frustrated with minimal communication from their superiors about the direction and vision for the new season, and that all of their duties were “put on hold” until DeGeneres delivered her monologue. The employee said they’re relieved to be able to move forward with work now that the premiere aired, but that “it’s all tactical.”
    • Ellen's monologue had a feeling of obligation, and of being over it all: "It’s hard not to feel as though an opportunity was missed here," says Daniel D'Addario. "DeGeneres admitted, in the vaguest terms, to often feeling angry, anxious, and impatient — emotions that are close to universally relatable at this moment. Who hasn’t said something, or many things, they regret against the backdrop of these past challenging months? DeGeneres didn’t need to open a vein on television in order to grant viewers a real sense of fellow feeling, but going a bit deeper — being something other than blithely kind to an audience that craves real connection, using her having been momentarily been brought low as the occasion for real insight from a figure who’s endured decades in the public eye — might have been welcome. It might have sparked something infrequently seen on Ellen: Not just 'kindness,' which is easy to approximate with a gritted-teeth smile, but the challenging and worthwhile work of honesty."
    • Ellen has a "very Hollywood predicament": "Of all the qualities it takes to make it in Hollywood (good genes, talent, drive, narcissism), niceness doesn’t rank so high," says JD Heyman. "We accept that successes in other professions can be prickly. There’s no great shock in discovering that a Picasso or a Zuckerberg doesn’t play well with others. We admire Michael Jordan and know he’s not buddy material. Not so with show people — particularly those who radiate the warmth that plays well on a daytime couch. Yet when Twitter yanks the scales off our eyes and we learn (again) that a Girl Next Door may, in moments, be a bit of an a—hole, we join in a chest-beating ritual of accusation, retribution, and holy vengeance. So let us talk Ellen DeGeneres. I come not to bury Ellen, nor to praise her. I come to explore her very-Hollywood predicament, which concerns the hair shirt, glue trap, and cudgel that is nice. We prize likability in megastars. Doris Day, Jimmy Stewart, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Chris Pratt, Tiffany Haddish — all possess a luminous everydayness that dissembles them as dears we’d grab a latte with. Ellen projects said magical realness from every radiant pore. But do grasp this: A genius for performing kindness for an audience is not the same as being unfailingly kind to everybody. The stars, in most meaningful ways, are not like us."
    • Ellen also spent Monday's show joking about allegation staffers couldn't look her in the eye: "Please don't look me in the eye," she quipped. "Oh, I'm kidding. But I will be passing out gum for everyone," DeGeneres said with a laugh. "Kidding again."
    • Celebrities including Chris Pratt, Joey King, Scooter Braun, Ellie Kemper and Demi Lovato expressed support for Ellen after her monologue

    TOPICS: Ellen DeGeneres, NBC, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Daytime TV