On Friday afternoon comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted out a message of charity or of petty nastiness—depending who you ask.
Loosely framing the thread as a fundraiser and awareness campaign for the LA Food Bank and for food banks in general, he claimed that Ellen is "notoriously one of the meanest people alive." Porter then promised to donate two dollars for every legitimate story about Ellen DeGeneres being mean. While the charity is obviously a good thing, the pretense that it was somehow connected to the amount of response that his tweet received seems a bit self-serving. By Sunday the thread had blown up so much that Porter was forced to concede that he had no way of verifying the stories, so he "rounded up to 300, and donated $600!
In no way did the completely unrelated stories do anything to help people in need, and Porter could easily have made the donation with a simple tweet encouraging others to do the same. Of course something so innocuous would have been unlikely to get the kind of attention that gossip and scandal can attract, either serving to spread the word that food banks need more support than ever right now or to get Kevin T. Porter the attention that he craves for his social media presence, his podcasts, and his comedy.
Calling out a major celebrity for some supposed wrong-doing is a tried and true method for stealing some of their reflected glow, and in the current climate (consider the backlash against Gal Gadot's "Imagine" video) this tactic seems only to be increasing in popularity. It was pretty predictable, then, that Porter's prompt invited a more or less equal proportion of responses defending Ellen and responses that were just fabricating insane lies about Ellen's cruelty.
On the other hand, mixed in with the calls for civility and the attempts at satire, there were a significant number of stories that seemed to paint a consistent picture of a petty and insensitive narcissist. Taken individually, a lot of these stories could be written off as reflective of one bad day in Ellen's life when she allowed stress to get the best of her. We've all been there. But taken as a whole—and particularly with respect to stories from former employees—it becomes harder to ignore the person who seems to emerge behind Ellen's cheerful and goofy public persona.
Does she snap at strangers who try to be friendly with her? You might too if you were as famous as Ellen. Does she try to get servers fired from their jobs when she notices their chipped nail polish? That seems harsh. Did she really convince a new mother—who left to get better health benefits elsewhere—to come back to work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, only to then fire her a week later? Ouch…
There is little chance that any of these particulars can be verified, but one theme in particular recurs through the thread over and over: If you work for Ellen, she does not want you to look at her or talk to her. Many in the thread suggest that Ellen seems to have disdain for ordinary people and only seems to care about members of the elite social club of the rich and famous. Others pointed out that, even in the context of what she chooses to broadcast, Ellen's humor often relies on laughing at guests and employees in uncomfortable, frightening, or embarrassing contexts. Was it cruel to use champagne to coerce Mariah Carey into admitting her pregnancy on live TV—a few weeks before she miscarried?
Maybe these stories about Ellen's cruelty don't betray a secret cruelty so much as they cast her familiar behavior in a new light. Are the guests and employees who endure Ellen's pranks and prying and taunting on her talk show and Game of Games putting up with that kind of treatment because it's all in good fun, or because Ellen's power and her platform leave them little choice but to play along? If someone "surprised" you by tapping into your worst fears for the pleasure of millions of strangers, would that seem like fun teasing or an elaborate form of bullying?
Of course Ellen is against bullying. She helps raise money to fight it and spreads awareness of the kinds of bullying many kids face in schools. She was also on the receiving end of a lot of public abuse when she came out as a gay woman years before America was willing to accept open homosexuality. And after she received criticism for socializing with former president George W. Bush—who, along with being a war criminal, famously tried to pass an amendment banning gay marriage in the US—Ellen said, "When I say 'Be kind to one another,' I don't mean only the people that think the same way you do. I mean be kind to everyone." Is that all an act? Is she really that much of a hypocrite?
As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. As Porter's original tweet suggests, rumors of Ellen's nastiness have been swirling in Hollywood for years. But someone who spent so long on the receiving end of the world's hostility just for being who she is might not have the easiest time dealing with everyday interactions. Couple that with the stress of running multiple major network TV shows and the dual weight of parasitism and scrutiny that her kind of fame attracts, and it's not really surprising that Ellen might close herself off in ways that other people could find cold and cruel.
On the other hand, some of the stories people related had Ellen going out of her way to hurt others and seeming to only think of ordinary people inasmuch as they can serve her interests. It could be that Ellen—a person who collects watches worth more than most homes—has so much wealth and so much professional power within her industry that she has lost the reflex to think of others and is able to focus singularly on her own needs and desires. She may generally believe that the world needs more kindness while having lost much of her capacity to practice what she preaches—outside of public displays of charity on her show.
One thing that Kevin T. Porter may not have considered before his thread blew up is that he is potentially putting Ellen's cruelty to the test. Multiple news organizations have reached out to Ellen's representatives for comment since the story broke. Whether she responds or not, Ellen—or at least the people close to her—must now be aware of the unflattering stories Porter is helping to spread. If she is the heartless, vindictive person that Porter claims, he has now invited her vengeance. So if this was all just a canny, attention-seeking career move for him… he'd better hope that he's wrong about Ellen DeGeneres.