Ellen DeGeneris Meets The Cognitive Dissonance Scale

Ellen DeGeneres’s brand and reputation have always been built on the illusion that she was nice. She was called the “Be Kind” Lady. Then, last July, BuzzFeed reported that several of her popular daytime talk show’s former and current staff members said they had been subjected to “racism, fear and intimidation” on the set. Other staff members said producers had sexually harassed them. Warner Bros. investigated the complaints and concluded that there were major problems. Three of the show’s producers were fired. When DeGeneres returned from the show’s summer hiatus to open its 18th season, she began with a vague and deeply unsatisfying apology. “I learned that things happen here that never should have happened,” she said in part. “I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected.”

Well wait a minute: whose name is on the title card? Who believes that Ellen DeGeneres had no idea what was going on in the management of the Ellen DeGeneres show? How is that even possible? And if it is possible, it’s still unforgivable. She is accountable.

There were also increasingly frequent accounts suggesting that Ellen herself wasn’t so nice. (I am reminded of my late night conversation with the late Broadway choreographer Thommie Walsh, who said, “You have to remember, Jack, that virtually all star performers are horrible people.”) Among the disturbing allegations was the claim that staff on DeGeneres’ show were instructed not to talk to her. She supposedly tried to get a waitress fired who chipped one of Ellen’s nail. There were leaks that she expressed contempt for her audience behind the scenes.

Sometimes the public surprises me: after all, it voted for Joe Biden to be President, and Joe has a completely phony nice-guy image that has been exposed again and again as a cynical facade. Yet in Ellen’s case, her hypocrisy was rejected. “Ellen,” the ratings companies report, has lost more than a million viewers since September, averaging 1.5 million viewers over the last six months, down from 2.6 million in the same period last year.

Welcome to the cognitive dissonance scale, Ellen! Here it is…

Dr. Festinger’s simple chart tells us that that when the gap between someone or something people like and someone or something they don’t like that is associated with what they like is too large, their minds have to fix the disparity. It may elevate regard for the previously deplored items, it may lower regard for the admired items, or much of the time, do both until the dissonance is eliminated. Being nice is high in positive territory; racism, fear, intimidation and sexual harassment are deep in negative numbers. A mere apology won’t fix the problem, especially an apology as disingenuous as Ellen’s

That’s what happened to a million viewers.

Luckily for Ellen, the horrible people who run show business are understandably forgiving of such flaws as not being nice, as long as someone isn’t a Republican. Ellen may not be nice or kind, and she may duck responsibility, but she’s still a celebrity with a huge following in the LGTBQ community, so nice or not, she has two major new deals: the HBO Max competition series “Ellen’s Next Great Designer” and the Discovery+ documentary film “Endangered.”

The public sometimes surprises me, but Hollywood never does.


8 thoughts on “Ellen DeGeneris Meets The Cognitive Dissonance Scale

  1. I thought for sure this would be about the softball interview I accidentally overheard Ellen had with Gail King about Dereck Chauvin today. On the other hand, that interview was entirely in res ipsa loquitur territory.

  2. I remember a post years ago that mentioned the importance of pioneers in their area of endeavor being impeccable and beyond reproach in every way possible in order to further the cause that had taken on or had been bestowed, or thrust, upon them. Jackie Robinson, for example, did not have the option of ever climbing into the stands (or an opposing dugout or bull pen, for that matter) to confront a nasty fan.

    Like it or not, I think Ellen has the same burden to bear. She was a pioneer in talk show TV as an openly lesbian woman. I remember talking to a lesbian friend of mine who cited Ellen as her personal inspiration for finally coming to terms with her sexuality and coming out. The friend said, “I thought to myself, if someone as smart and funny and attractive as Ellen can be a lesbian, so can I.”

    Ironically and somewhat sadly, at least to me, the friend has turned out to be a fairly unpleasant person, as has her inspiration.

  3. It is true that the horrible people who run show business are understandably forgiving of such flaws as not being nice, as long as someone isn’t a Republican. What they do not forgive is loss of market share (ratings) and advertising dollars. Once those two liens converge, Ellen is toast, LBGTQRSTUVWXYZ be damned. Maybe Miley Cyrus is being groomed to replace her.


  4. The waitress incident was even worse than that. Ellen called and tried to get the waitress fired because the WAITRESS had a chipped nail, and Ellen was offended by having to look at it.

    She is worse than a complete fraud. She is so cartoonishly hateful and nasty that most of us have never known anyone with her type of disposition outside of villains in movies about talking dogs. She lacks the wit and spontaneity of truly great comedians, and couldn’t rise very high on comedic talent, so she decided to make a career out of reading jokes written for her while pretending to be really, really nice as a personal brand, while making zero effort to be even a baseline decent human being when the cameras were off.

    This is a person who would watch and episode of Mr. Rogers and think, “wow, I bet he makes a lot of money doing that ‘nice’ thing. Doesn’t look so hard.”

    And even now, after being completely exposed by various people who just couldn’t stand the shamelessness of her act anymore, she’s still literally selling kindness as if she’s trademarked it. You can sign up, right now, for her scammy “Be Kind” subscription boxes through her website, where you pay $55 a month to have a handful of “socially conscious products” “curated by Ellen” delivered to you. For example, you may receive a cheap plastic ice mold that says, “BE KIND” on it. Or a single bar of soap which also says “BE KIND” on it (listed value $12.99! Please don’t look to see what they actually sell for on eBay.) Or if you’d rather not do the subscription thing, you can buy fine items like unbranded wireless earbuds in a little case that has “BE KIND” printed on it (made in China!) right off of her website’s ample merchandise store.

    Ellen personally assures you that by signing up to automatically route that portion of your monthly income directly to her bank account, you are “changing the world.”

    • What??? WHAT? That’s insane. I assumed that the vague reference that she “tried to get a waitress fired because of a chipped nail” could only mean Ellen’s nail! Your account didn’t even occur to me. That’s monstrous.

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