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What Celebrities Defending Ellen Degeneres Don't Understand About Toxic Workplaces

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Recently, Warner Media announced they are launching an investigation into allegations that “The Ellen Show” harbors a toxic work environment, including claims that Ellen Degeneres herself allowed this unhealthy work environment to flourish during her talk show’s 17-year run.

Celebrities including Kevin Hart and Diane Keaton have come to Degeneres’ defense. On Tuesday, pop star Katy Perry spoke up on Twitter:

I know I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience besides my own but I want to acknowledge that I have only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen & on the @theellenshow. I think we all have witnessed the light & continual fight for equality that she has brought to the world through her platform for decades. Sending you love & a hug, friend @TheEllenShow.

And here lies a common misconception about people who abuse or allow toxic environments to flourish. Why do people assume that when they “know” someone or spend some time with them, they couldn’t possibly be abusive?

A while back, I shared Amber Tamblyn’s op-ed on social media calling out James Woods, who had a history of untoward behavior and had sexually harassed her when she was underage. Right away, a friend of mine came to the defense of the accused, claiming she worked with him on a project. Her argument was that Woods was nice to her, so therefore he can’t be a creep. Tamblyn’s probably lying.

After a long facepalm, I took a breath, and responded to my friend, “I encourage you to reconsider that the person you worked with could be as Amber describes. I don’t know him at all and I’ve never met him, but I do know a lot about the nature of abuse. When someone speaks up about sexual abuse, odds are they are telling the truth. Abusers don’t usually sit around twirling their mustaches. They are often charming people much of the time. I know someone who was babysat in the 60s by the Manson family. They were good babysitters and she wasn’t harmed, but her experience of them doesn’t negate that the Mansons went on to murder a bunch of people. Unless you were underage when you worked with him, I would respectfully like to point out that her experience is not the same as yours.”

And then came more comments. While most agreed that Woods was “probably” at fault, some could not get behind Tamblyn. “Sure there’s a long, well-documented history of abuse on this person. Sure, she has eyewitness testimony. Sure, she has absolutely no reason to lie. But…” and then they would point out some unrelated minutia to discredit her. Why, in cases of sexual harassment and abuse, are people so quick to blame the victim?

Katy Perry’s and other comments about Ellen in light of the allegations are problematic because the public narrative is shaped based on what’s familiar. Remember the McDonald’s coffee incident where the woman sued McDonald’s over spilling coffee in her lap? Often considered the ultimate frivolous lawsuit, it seemed the entire world was in on the job of shaming and mocking the old woman who was silly enough to not know that coffee is hot. But there’s more to that story. A lot more.

What I find interesting about the McDonald’s case is that public perception of the incident overwhelmingly thought the woman was in the wrong, even though the jury awarded the judgment in her favor. McDonalds is a well-known brand, and the public was much more willing to defend something they know than to look at the facts objectively. Similarly, it’s easy to defend Degeneres’ “brand” of kindness without really knowing her. As “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” creator Rachel Bloom pointed out, how people treat their employees and how people treat celebrities and friends can be two very different stories.

Someone can be a “good guy” for their entire life, until the day they decide to walk into a crowd and start shooting people. Someone can be “a nice person” most of the time, and still be guilty of sexual assault. A beloved talk show host can be “kind” on camera, and cruel in real life.

It’s time to change public perception by paying attention to the people who speak up about abuse or a toxic work environment. It’s time to believe victims. It’s time to think critically. It’s time to hold toxic people accountable for their actions, even if we know or like them.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

To see more from Vicki, visit her site

Images via Wikicommons

Originally published: August 5, 2020
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