Some celebrities transcend the status of being an ordinary person and instead take on a whole persona. This is the story of Ellen DeGeneres. Over the course of 17 years on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she has become a household name in the United States. From her dance segments to giving away fancy prizes like a rich Santa Claus, she is perceived to be an LGBTQ+ woman not only making it in show business, but thriving and being a good human too. But if America took off its rose-colored glasses, it would see DeGeneres is not the woman she is championed to be.
Before we delve into the inner mechanisms of DeGeneres and who she is, we must look at what is on the surface. The public sees this LGBTQ+ pioneer and vegan, who reunites military families and gives child geniuses, like Brielle the science whiz, their own shows. DeGeneres plucks people out of obscurity, hears their stories and gives them huge checks or prizes. The audience roars with applause and the recipient of the gift usually begins to cry and thank her. Her role in charity can’t go unappreciated, but it is the side of her that is served on a platter for the public to eat up. DeGeneres’ image is picture-postcard perfect, but much like the Gilded Age, there is more dirt underneath the surface.
In fact, in April, comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted he would donate $2 to the Los Angeles Food Bank in exchange for every mean story involving DeGeneres. There were over 2,000 replies, which already says a lot. Chris Farah submitted one particularly jarring story.
“I worked @RealFoodDaily, served her & Porsha at brunch,” Farah wrote. “She wrote a letter to the owner & complained about my chipped nail polish (not that it was on her plate but just that it was on my hand). I had worked till closing the night before & this was next morn, almost got me fired.” The fact DeGeneres took the time to write a letter to critique the appearance of an employee indicates that she is not of the kind nature she preaches on television.
There are countless YouTube videos, Buzzfeed pieces and even New York Times articles from over the years that present moments that prove she is not the angelic woman America sees. For instance, Buzzfeed recently published an article in which former employees of her eponymous daytime show spoke out about their negative treatment. Some of these staffers were fired because they took a leave of absence due to sickness or for personal matters, like attending funerals of loved ones. Though that is already cruel of an employer, it is even worse considering she built her brand on the phrase “Be kind to one another.”
No matter how many times DeGeneres partners with the cereal brand Cheerios to perform “One million acts of good,” it does not overwrite the indignities, and even racism, some of her employees have endured. For example, one former Black employee said she was told by a staffer: “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.” When this woman came forward and told managers of this and other racist treatment she was receiving, she was reprimanded. Now, during the Black Lives Matter movement, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” apologized to this woman. This apology, however, appears to be performative, simply meant to save face and protect the DeGeneres show brand.
Now, you’d think that the star of the show would take responsibility for the cruelty her workers have endured. DeGeneres did not. Instead, the show released a statement saying, “For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously, and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.” Maybe they will do better, but that is not the point.
Though DeGeneres’ staff may change their ways, she has remained silent and time and time again showed that she genuinely does not embody her “Be kind to one another” mantra. For instance, take her penchant for scaring celebrities. Taylor Swift is one of the many victimized for the benefit of DeGeneres’ own joy — the singer even fell and got hurt in a bathroom after DeGeneres popped out and scared her. Instead of apologizing, DeGeneres simply laughed it off.
Though some may think that DeGeneres’ pranks are harmless fun, they often seek to embarrass participants. When DeGeneres went to Costco with former first lady Michelle Obama, she used a megaphone to announce for all to hear that Obama needed special rash cream. This may be funny to those who love secondhand embarrassment, but for the rest of us, it is not. It shows that she is taking her role as an entertainer and putting it before showing respect.
In fact, I am reminded of when Hasan Minaj made an appearance on her show. Best known for “The Daily Show” and “The Patriot Act,” he is an Indian Muslim who spoke out in the past about the need to have ethnic names properly pronounced. That is why when DeGeneres referred to him as “Hassam” Minhaj, it showed that she did not take the time to learn the proper way to pronounce her guest’s name, even though it is all over the internet. On top of that, when he initially corrects her, she firmly says “No.” Though it is her show, she cannot use her authority to try and teach someone the correct pronunciation of their own name. This incident portrays a lack of care in both preparation and learning.
If these incidents were just once in a blue moon, then she wouldn’t be considered mean. Other hosts and comedians often blur the line between being a comedian and being a good person, so this is not meant to single out DeGeneres. Still, she differs from the likes of Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien in that she takes this comedy gimmick one step further, turning it into incessant cruelty. By that point, the joke isn’t funny anymore.
Mind you, these mean incidents have occurred over the past several years, and have not stopped. Nikkie Tutorials, a transgender Dutch beauty blogger on YouTube, reported that her time on the show was not welcoming at all. “Every guest at Ellen had a private toilet, but I didn’t. I couldn’t even use the closest toilet to me because it was reserved for the Jonas brothers,” the blogger said according to Business Insider. Imagine wanting to share a significant part of your identity, that was hidden for years, on a network helmed by an LGBTQ+ advocate, only to be treated as insignificant. Indeed, DeGeneres did not do right as a host or ally to Nikkie Tutorials.
Besides berating celebrities, DeGeneres does not treat her audience right either. Of course, she is known for segments like Know or Go, where audience members participate in games to try to win prizes. It is clear, however, that DeGeneres gets a kick out of essentially torturing her players. From suspending them in the air, dunking members in pools of pudding and dropping contestants from great heights, she can do whatever she wants all under the pretense that someone can win a big prize.
Now with her show “Ellen’s Game of Games,” she escalates her abuse with no one stopping her. This brief synopsis explains that the show is less like the “Price is Right” or “Wipeout,” and more like a form of punishment: “…dunking chairs that turn upside-down before slamming into a tank of smelly water, or strapped onto giant foam targets that are then violently propelled by a giant boot into a tub of bubbles and foam blocks, or blasted in the face with water.”
On top of already being beaten up and sore by the end of the night, there are cameras right in the competitors’ faces recording them as they wince in pain. Even the winners must endure the same pain as the losers, as in Know or Go. If you get every question right, the only way to come down from a 30-foot height is by being dropped. Again, the real winner is Ellen DeGeneres because she gets to watch everyone’s pain and embarrassment.
DeGeneres engages in sadistic behavior. From mistreating guests to embarrassing her audience all for ratings and her own enjoyment, she is also taking on a god complex. How? Well, she knows she can get away with doing anything she wants because she is the star. Without her, there would be no daytime show, so she has built an image of herself that is untouchable.
Hence, there are two sides to Ellen DeGeneres. To some, she is the funniest and most charitable host in U.S. television. On the other hand, she also abuses her authority and shows signs of a god complex. There is no shortage of staggering evidence; DeGeneres says, “I’m a godmother, that’s a great thing to be, a godmother. She calls me god for short, that’s cute, I taught her that.” Only this time, when she tells that joke, there are no laughs.