Celebrity status


JC Penney’s Ellen DeGeneres scandal offers a useful model for other celebrities with a cause

Can't Think Straight
Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

If you go looking for the One Million Moms Facebook page, you’ll be hard pressed to find it.

On Feb. 9, Reddit launched an attack against the organization, which recently launched its own attack against JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as their new spokesperson. According to OneMillionMoms.com, because DeGeneres and her partner, Portia del Rossi, are in openly queer and in a long-term relationship, she “is not a true representation of the type of families who shop at the retailer.” which, in case you didn’t know, are mostly “traditional families,” whatever that means.

Reddit launched a successful attack, resulting in the expedient removal of One Million Moms from Facebook on the basis that they violated Facebook’s terms of service, specifically Sections 3.6 and 3.7, which outline the terms of interacting on Facebook.

“You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user,” reads section 3.6, while section 3.7 reads, “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

And most of Reddit seems to agree that One Million Moms was propagating “hateful” content and harassing a user of Facebook.

And according to at least some of Reddit, this type of speech is hate speech, and thus is against the freedom of speech amendment of the US constitution, and thus they were perfectly within their moral rights to uphold this standard.

Others, however, disagree, arguing that censoring one group because their ideology doesn’t agree with yours is just the pot calling the kettle black, a horribly hypocritical response that only undermines the intent of their action.

Legally, morally, and ethically, freedom of speech is a tricky and complex issue subject to a complex web of social systems. And though the debate on freedom of speech isn’t exactly a new debate, looking at the debate within the context of the visibility of queer individuals in the media is important and necessary to understanding the implications of the actions of both pro-gay and anti-gay rights groups.

This isn’t a debate I want to get into. Asking the question, “Who has the right to speak,” is a complex question itself that has no easy answer.

What I do want to talk about, however, is how DeGeneres managed to empower a group of people to do something through her status as a celebrity symbol.

We’re at an interesting point where the television and the Internet are becoming blurred, blurred to the point where you can’t distinguish where one begins and the other ends.

The amount of people who watched DeGeneres’ response to One Million Moms on television is probably nowhere near the amount who have watched it online, and those who have watched it online are probably nowhere near the amount who have simply acted based on word of mouth.

In this kind of a world, queer celebrities can take notes from DeGeneres in their own political and artistic practices.

DeGeneres let One Million Moms continue to speak, but confronted them head on, and exposed the flaws in their movement. DeGeneres found her own supporters on the One Million Moms Facebook page, poking holes in its 40,000 person fan base, exposing it not as a unified mass, but as a disjointed group of individuals each with their own motives.

If celebrities want a place in the queer rights movement, they should empower their audiences to take action for themselves. DeGeneres didn’t expose the debate, but by confronting it, inspired a critical mass of people to take action, even if it’s an action that was questionable.

Imagine if queer celebrities spent less time promoting their own television shows and awards – I’m looking at you, Chris Colfer and Neil Patrick Harris – and instead made it their prerogative to point out the injustices in their culture, their industry, and their society, instead of just basking in the glories of stardom.

It’s one thing to support a queer group. It’s another thing to advocate for their goals. If we ever want to get to the point where celebrity culture can become something beneficial instead of vapid, it’s time to take our celebrities to account and make their positions worth something.

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