You may have missed it, but Ellen DeGeneris, the queen of daytime talk shows whose brand has always been her niceness, has had her once impeccable reputation sullied lately as employees of her show have complained about a “toxic environment” that the star did nothing to address. There’s an investigation now, and Ellen is rumored to be considering leaving “Ellen,” meaning that instead of toxic employment, her staff and production crew will have no employment at all.
In the midst of this crisis for DeGeneris, sensing a cheap opportunity to grab some publicity, kick her when she’s down, and apparently seek vengeance for a slight that he has obsessed about for more than 40 years, a man named Ben Gravolet has come forward to tell the world that…..what, that DiGeneres sexually molested him? That she was secretly working for Fidel Castro? No, Ben accused Ellen of being mean to him when he was 11 years old.
We should have seen this coming, for it is the dangerous slippery slope Christine Blasey-Ford’s dubious accusation against Bret Kavanaugh greased.
Gravolet says DeGeneres, when she was in her early 20s, worked for his mother’s recruitment agency. He was a fat kind, and he says Ellen teased him about it.
“She would criticize my weight,” he said. “I would try to do homework in the office, she’d call me stupid, she’d call me fat. She would criticize my clothes. I was just a boy and this was a grown woman who took pleasure in seeing me become visibly upset. I don’t think there’s any excuse for it. I was a defenseless kid. What could I have told her back? It has an effect if somebody in a superior position to you, who’s much older, goes ‘You’re fat. You might want to lose some of that weight chunky boy.’ I was always self-conscious about my weight and it made things worse.”
I’m sure it did. That’ was mean. And he had more than forty years to contact De Generes about it if it was that traumatic, and seek an apology, or an expression of regret, or free tickets to one of her concerts or something. If teasing from an employee of his mother’s is the worst thing that’s happened to him, Ben’s led a pretty charmed life. On the other hand, if his life has been so empty that he’s still fuming over being teased when he was 11, the guy’s got big problems.
The truth is that the Ellen DeGeneres he knew may have very little in common with 2020’s 62-year-old Ellen, and most mature, fair people understand that. Ben, however, saw that his old nemesis was weakened, and suffering. He saw the opportunity to really hurt her, so he did. What made it ideal is that Ellen’s professional crisis just happened to be occurring at a sick time in our culture when pro athletes are being forced to apologize for tweets they sent when they were teens, and colleges are withdrawing acceptances because students wrote something stupid or mean on social media that they barely thought about at the time.
The impulse to do what Gravolet did has to be banished in an ethical individual by remembering the Golden Rule. Who hasn’t behaved badly toward someone in the distant past, when one was in his or her teens or early twenties, when everyone is impulsive and callow? Who wouldn’t feel ambushed and abused if one of the victims of an ancient slight chose our moment of greatest vulnerability to reveal the ugly incident to the world?
Forty years later is too late to levy accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is an inexcusable length of time to wait before hurling a relatively trivial accusation like Gravolet’s. If people can be “cancelled” for being insensitive and rude 40 years ago, we’re all doomed. I don’t even want to think about what forgotten bit players from my distant past are lurking, waiting for the perfect moment when their grudge, real or imagined, can be weaponized against me.