“Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen.”
Since that fateful exchange, countless accusations surrounding the talk show host have gained momentum. The most notable example from Kevin T Porter, a writer and comedian, whose March Twitter thread called for people to share their stories of DeGeneres’s allegedly abhorrent behaviour, directly contradicting the show’s central “be kind” message.
The thread received over 3,000 responses with people eagerly sharing their experiences of working, often very briefly, for the star’s popular talk show.
This was later followed up by a BuzzFeed piece which exposed the show for more insidious allegations than the Devil Wears Prada-esque drama suggested on Twitter.
BuzzFeed News spoke to 10 former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, who claimed that the set was a cesspit for toxic work culture riddled with bullying, racism and sexual misconduct.
This, among many things, has led to an internal investigation being launched by Warner Bros. into the goings-on behind the scenes at Ellen HQ.
In a letter addressed to her staff in response to the allegations, DeGeneres wrote: ”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”, adding, “that will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
A statement from the show’s executive producers, Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, addressed to BuzzFeed News said: “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 realise, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”
The talk show, due to start its 18th season later this year, is already swarming with rumours of DeGeneres’s replacement, or being scrapped entirely. And one of the names put forward to replace DeGeneres? The Late Late Show host, James Corden.
Considering the success of his Emmy award-winning sing-along interview segment “Carpool Karaoke”, this makes business sense.
But replacing one of the most recognisable lesbian celebrities on television with another white man is a step in the wrong direction for equality.
Despite the controversy surrounding DeGeneres, her work as a queer trailblazer cannot be ignored.
It’s been more than 20 years since an estimated 44 million people watched DeGeneres come out in a groundbreaking scene on “The Puppy Episode” of the Nineties sitcom Ellen.
Less than a year later, the show was axed and DeGeneres was unemployed.
Now, The Ellen Degeneres Show reaches millions of people every day and is the third most famous daytime show in America.
That means it allows for millions of opportunities a day for a lesbian to be in the home of someone who might not know a lesbian in real life. It would be a mistake to take that opportunity away.
Still, it’s complicated. Although DeGeneres was a trailblazer in 1997, in 2020, she doesn’t represent me or many other queer people.
At the end of last year, DeGeneres faced a backlash after being pictured sitting next to former Republican president George Bush at an NFL game.
Coincidentally, the same weekend she was invited to attend Dakota Johnson’s birthday party.
DeGeneres publicly addressed people’s concerns about the video of her and her wife Portia de Rossi laughing and joking with the former president by defending her friendship with Bush.
A lot of the backlash came from queer people who couldn’t understand why an openly gay woman would be friends with a president who spent his presidency defending the ban on gay marriage.
“I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have,” explained DeGeneres in a segment on her show where she responded to the tweets.
“We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK, that we’re all different.”
Which perhaps sums up how DeGeneres has managed to infiltrate the homes of so many conservatives in America: by being someone who just happens to be a lesbian, who just happens to be different.
Her “be kind” message overshadows her queerness and waters it down into something that doesn’t alienate right-leaning audiences; taking that away may be a blow to the show’s ratings. DeGeneres’s success has been based on her perceived likability and her replacement has to live up to that.
However, I think we have moved past the need for unthreatening queerness. Being a notable, likeable queer does not translate to advances in LGBT+ rights.
Many of those who watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show will laugh along at her jokes and then switch off their televisions and vote for politicians who are actively working to restrict her rights.
If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that we aren’t as far along in the fight for equality as we thought we were. Being visible is no longer enough, her replacement needs to be a visible, vocal advocator.
DeGeneres’s position as a high profile lesbian and how the landscape of LGBT+ rights has shifted since she came out is something that will never be forgotten.
But perhaps it’s time we make space for other queer voices and more diverse queer stories to enter people’s homes through daytime television.
Because although DeGeneres’s decision to live her life openly has opened doors for many, perhaps her palpable queerness has left many others behind.
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