by Jamie Peck
Cover image from YouTube. Faith in America restored!
Last week, left Twitter sent a flurry of criticism at comedian Ellen Degeneres for running afoul of some self-evident ethical boundaries. At issue were images of the talkshow host and LGBT icon laughing it up with noted imperialist George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game this past Sunday. Apparently, some people do not take kindly to an ostensible progressive letting her hair down with the primary enabler of America’s torture program. Can’t a wealthy liberal hang out with her war criminal friend in peace?
The hate flowed until Ellen was forced to respond. “Yes, that was me at the Cowboys game with George W. Bush over the weekend,” she said in a tweet. On her show, she elaborated: “During the game, they showed a shot of George and me laughing together, and so people were upset. They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” Um, why wouldn’t she be? All rich and famous people know each other.
“Here’s the thing,” she continued. “I’m friends with George Bush, in fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have, we’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay.” As if to hammer home her own blinding privilege, she brought up the example that she’s against fur, and yet, she’s friends with many people who wear it. (You don’t say). “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone…even the people that are already playing Christmas music.” As if the unacknowledged deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-hypothetical human beings in Iraq, New Orleans, et al. were a party foul akin to playing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in October.
As Noam Chomsky once said in an interview with The New Statesman, which also touched upon the war crimes of the Obama administration: “In the US, there is basically one party—the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.”
While Ellen has carried out admirable work normalizing the acceptance of LGBT people, hers is a brand of identity politics that ends where her class interests begin. In addition to being gay, Ellen is a capitalist in the traditional sense: A boss with a vested interest in the preservation of an exploitative and hierarchical system, one which often requires the displacement or wholesale extermination of surplus populations to further its interests—to say nothing of the day-to-day violence of austerity, incarceration and border enforcement carried out by both major parties. The allegiances that led her to side against workers (some of them no doubt LGBT) when she crossed a picket line during the 2007 writers’ strike are the same ones that allow her to be friends with some of the system’s worst perpetrators… provided, of course, they practice “civility.”
She’s also a member of the media and Hollywood elite, which means it’s her job to convince an audience of millions to accept all of this as simply the order of things, a function Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent.” Her friendship with Bush is a prime example of how these functionaries soothe us into a kind of historical amnesia with humanizing stories about the powerful that omit any legitimate issues people may have with them. President Obama served similar ends when he invited us to “turn the page” on the Bush administration’s unspeakable crimes; former first lady Michelle does it each time she’s photographed accepting candy from that lovable rapscallion.
Luckily, we live in an age when the flow of information is no longer monopolized by such propagandists. The Ellen show is currently trying to use copyright claims to suppress a viral video juxtaposing Ellen’s pleas for civility with images of human misery at Abu Ghraib and wider Iraq. We’ve got our work cut out for us if we’re ever going to give Bush and friends even a fraction of the punishment they deserve, let alone stop these atrocities from reoccurring. But for now, let’s claim it as a win that we can talk back to these ghouls in ways that make it harder for them to sleep at night while reassuring people everywhere that they’re not insane to question what they see on TV. ◊
Jamie Peck is co-host of The Antifada podcast and producer/contributor at The Majority Report with Sam Seder. She is also an organizer with New York City DSA.