“Leave Ellen alone! I don’t even want to know this shit anymore,” I yelled at my phone.
My reaction to the news that Ellen may, in opposition to all appearances, be a behind the scenes asshole fostering an emotionally abusive workplace was immediate and visceral. My response surprised me. I am not a huge Ellen fan; I actually find her upbeat silly approach kind of annoying. My words were not cerebral or thought-out. It was an instinctive response from my brainstem rooted inner mama-bear. Ellen makes my daughter happy. The possibility of the downfall of yet another in a long list of supposed role-models for my kids’ generation immediately flooded me with dread and exhaustion.
My 13-year-old deep thinking, kind, not-so-little-anymore girl finds uplifting humor in the Youtube clips of Ellens’s antics, sweet interviews, and generally wholesome approach to entertainment. I sometimes look up from my computer to find my girl laughing out loud, i-pad & earbuds in place, glancing over at me as if I was sharing the humor. Jokes that can be openly shared between teenagers and parents are hard to find these days. There is a lot of humor that is not quite funny because it still needs explanation, (“Mom, what does FOMO mean?”) There is a lot of sexual or sarcastic humor that is a bit too uncomfortable, or ostensibly mean, to be funny. And, 80’s movies, that we Gen-X’ers enjoyed during our teen years, have been deemed “kind of offensive and rapey, Mom” by my 17-year-old. So, Ellen fits my younger sensitive girl’s PG, bordering on PG-13, comfort level. Of course, Ellen also embodies the out-and-proud-and-don’t-fuck-with-me vibe that is inspiring to Gen-Z’s inclusionary mindset. I love this.
The words that escaped my mouth upon reading the Ellen news felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me observing my own reaction. At heart, I am a liberal, tzedakah-driven believer in “reap what you sow,” of “be kind but take no shit,” and always taking down the oppressor. I know that we need to hear the horror stories in order to acknowledge their reality and to take steps to initiate positive change. But this time, my natural response was 100% ostrich and “LA-LA-LA!” not hear the news. Next, I said some bullshit about there being too much pressure on someone in her position and that she can’t be responsible for all her employees’ behavior or an occasional over-the-top bad mood. But of course thats all bullshit. Of course, she is responsible for all of it when it’s her show. The benefits come with responsibility. Even for a woman. Especially for a woman. And I knew all this even while I spewed the false narratives. And yet, my feelings overpowered my brain. Even as I observed the incongruity.
This event left me feeling edgy over the next few days. Why, with the crap-ton of unbelievably horrendous local, national and international news currently flooding our lives was this the thing I couldn’t shake from my mind?
My favorite part of being an educational therapist is the aspect of consistent learning. The dynamic of educator/pupil is hierarchical and linear in concept. But the truth is, there is a lot of give & take; a lot of learning available to us both. Dystopian novels have increasingly been assigned reading for my students over the last few years. In nearly all grades, teachers see the need to warn kids of what is ironically(?) taking place in front of their eyes. Somedays I am sure that we have given up the possibility of fixing our damaged world and placing the baggage of our failures onto their shoulders, albeit metaphorically.
One of my 11th-grade student’s assigned summer reading is George Orwell’s 1984. A classic; and by no means, the most alarming of the dystopian literature on students’ summer reading lists. Another student and I have been diving into Macbeth. Inside the same week, I absorbed some of the great literary analyses on the impact of abuse of power.
“Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it,” Lady Macbeth tells her husband. Basically saying, “You want to be powerful, and you don’t lack ambition—but you don’t have the nastiness required to truly go for it.” In other words, “Get some balls and destroy anything in your way, you wimp of a man.”
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” (Which I embarrassingly(?) associated with Rage Against the Machine instead of George Orwell.)
And then, inside my own mind, I heard “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. (Which I could not attribute to anyone. But as it turns out it was the 19th-century British politician Lord Acton who borrowed the idea from several other writers who had previously expressed the same thought in different words. All of which tells me that this problem has been going on far too long to call our own.)
Eventually, my mind returned to Ellen. And I began to piece together our society’s current collective emotive state of “Enough!” with institutionalized emotional (and every other form of) abuse. And how, despite the fight against it, Big Brother continues to reinvent itself over and over in small, medium, and extra-large configurations. My response to the news about Ellen was a plea for a personal defense mechanism to shield myself, and my daughter, against the pain of it all. The feeling of powerlessness, fear of hired guns turned oppressors, and an overwhelming desire, simply, for a hero. – Or at least someone with the basic skill of human decency that we try to instill in our children despite the dearth of public role models.
And yet, after all the heaviness, my strongest takeaway from this recent Ellen-centered, thought-consuming, and seemingly pointless perseveration is optimism. I can find hope in my immediate and lingering need to observe my own response that simultaneously felt right and yet felt wrong. And I can explain my process to my daughters with the hope that they too, can emotionally survive in the thick murkiness of the personal, and yet, politically fused world we share.
~with love, jrb