I’m not sure exactly when the dam broke. One could argue social media played a role in the end of our collective disillusionment with celeb culture, consumerism, the whole thing. We’re a little jaded now. That’s an essay for another time.
People are louder about injustice, more aware of the state of the world. There is a growing movement for change (both in right and left-wing circles). A celebrity choosing class solidarity with a war criminal is a sign that above all, their allegiance is to the status quo and we cannot rely on them. Celebrities are not good, they are not our friends.
Class Consciousness Means No Celeb is Safe
Even as some idiots online whitewash GWB’s history in comparison to the current administration, there is no getting around the fact that the man is a war criminal responsible for countless deaths and immeasurable suffering.
Most of us have the ability to recognize that the Texas Ranger owning, would love to have a beer with ya former President is part of a wealthy, elite class that ultimately suffers no consequences for any of their actions.
Ellen isn’t one of those people, because she’s part of that class too. Above all, Ellen is a rich cisgender white woman. Today, she has more privilege than ever in her life. And she constantly chooses to stand up for the “rich” part. Wealth makes it easy to forget about the steps her football buddy took to restrict the rights of LGBTQIA Americans and the war crimes committed in his name. Go ahead and show off that iPhone with a smile, cuz neither of you can feel a thing!
Ellen’s apology was bad. Any response that essentially boiled down to “we’re rich so we can be friends” is fundamentally bad. It ignores the reality for millions of people who refuse to “just be nice” to those that actively work to opress them. Her allegiance is to the status quo. Plenty of other celebs naturally had her back, like Good Place resident Kristen Bell, Caribbean Pirate Chaser Orlando Bloom, Jennifer Garner, Lenny Kravitz and others.
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” — James Baldwin
These celebrities live in a world where phrases like war crimes are a complete abstract. Their money means no consequences for them no matter what the government does. They cannot feel the shame we should feel about the Highway of Death, Abru Grhaib, the massacre in Haditha, CIA drone strikes, etc forever. Celebs like Ellen only parade themselves for a cause when its convenient for them, not out of any moral sense.
Jennifer Garner is not out there chaining herself to a tree in protest of a new pipeline. Her family isn’t displaced because of the climate crisis. Lenny Kravitz is not putting his Let Love Reign ass on the line marching in the streets in solidarity with Rojava. As long as their way of life doesn’t have to change, nothing is really wrong.
Beyond the Streisand Effect
Then Rafael Shimunov made some art, and things got way worse for Ellen. Maybe if it had just ended with the apology, we could’ve read some thinkpieces about losing integrity, class inequality, and made Ellen donate a novelty check to some immigrants or something.
A recurring thesis here on Open Tabs is response to criticism often ends up bering worse than the transgression. Ellen may have thought her apology and ultimate “Isn’t being nice to each other what we all want? Let’s just be nice!” attitude would reset everything and we could laugh at one of her mild jokes and move on to the latest horrible thing Trump did.
But Rafael uploaded Ellen’s apology with GWB’s war crimes in the background. This unexpectedly horrific and poignant mashup immediately flooded twitter feeds. Ellen’s team responded by firing even more takedown notices. No one had printed out a Remember the Streisand Effect memo in the office that day, so the next part is pretty predictable.
In addition to Rafael, multiple accounts across platforms re-uploaded the edit. It stands clearly within Fair Use, despite Twitter constantly taking it down based on copyright claims. The magic of the internet meant Ellen faced a losing battle against a tech-savvy (and pissed) society. She can reduce us to an “angry Twitter mob” if she likes, but the reality is we’re desperate people trying to change an unjust system.
The still above, where Ellen’s pose mimics that of the Abu Ghraib hooded man, should appear in future history books (assuming human society makes it far enough for that). It is a perfect encapsulation of where we are as a society in 2019. If she hadn’t made the apology, that image wouldn’t exist. But because of Ellen’s need to look like everyone’s friend, to be a Good Gay™️, a celeb is now echoing war crimes. Reminding us all of the horror GWB caused, while we currently cause even more needless suffering and death in Syria. I hope that in America we may be turning a corner on accepting the status quo.
Stupid Optimism in the Face of Shitty Solidarity
Ellen’s attempt to scrub this video from the internet resulted in it getting way more views. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this essay if it wasn’t for the backlash. I’m glad it’s here, and I want us to keep holding upper classes as accountable as our limited power allows.
There is a lot of media to pay attention to, but if we amplify the right things and educate our neighbors, maybe it’ll be enough to fight back. There were folks protesting the Iraq war, and there are people protesting now. But there are also millions of young Millennials online who are only now learning about our past because of the war crimes edit. The power of young, angry people can get us to finally reject the elite’s tyranny.
This is absurdly optimistic, I know. But things keep getting worse. People see that ever-worsening divide between the elite class and those of us living paycheck to paycheck. More each day decide to do something about it. As our lived experiences gets demonstrably worse there’s no choice. The future of our democracy depends on it.
The elite class are going to build more mansions as the ocean tides ride. They will stick together, and we must remember that. The Ellen War Crimes Edit (as I’m calling it and you should too) went viral because of pitch-perfect juxtaposition, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. We have to confront these injustices in order to move forward. America has done horrible things. We can be better, but it means the elite class will be held accountable.
Here is Rafael’s video in full, because the more people posting it the better.