A Passage About Ellen DeGeneres and Being a Nice Person

CARS 97: A Passage About Ellen DeGeneres and Being a Nice Person

Session 97

In the CARS Practice Passage, we unfold this passage about Ellen DeGeneres and always having to be a “nice person.”

As always, I’m joined by Jack Westin from JackWestin.com. Check out all their amazing free resources including a free trial session of Jack’s full course to see how it’s like learning from Jack Westin himself.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Link to the article:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ellen-degeneress-relatability-crisis

“I’m a good person,” Ellen DeGeneres says in her standup special “Relatable,” which came out on Netflix at the end of 2018. “I know I am. But I’m a human being, and I have bad days.” This wasn’t an apology for some perceived offense but a mild pushback against her genial public persona, epitomized by DeGeneres’s sign-off on her daytime talk show: “Be kind to one another.” In “Relatable,” she says of the catchphrase, “It’s a wonderful thing, it is. But here’s the downside: I can never do anything unkind ever now. Ever. I’m the ‘be kind’ girl.”

In the year and a half since, DeGeneres’s be-kind brand has taken one hit after another, culminating, this past month, in an all-out revolt by the present and former staff of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” A cash cow that has been on the air for seventeen seasons, the show has a spirit of altruistic fun: pranks, games, giveaways, and, above all, the sunny disposition of its host. But it doesn’t appear to be a happy place to work. In April, members of the show’s union crew expressed outrage that there had been no communication about hours or pay during quarantine, while DeGeneres hired non-union technicians to set up a remote broadcast from her home. In mid-July, Krystie Lee Yandoli reported, at Buzzfeed, that DeGeneres stood atop an office culture of “racism, fear, and intimidation.” Former employees claimed that they were fired for going on medical leave or for taking bereavement days to attend a funeral. A Black woman said that a producer had told her and a Black co-worker, “Oh, wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.” WarnerMedia, the parent company of the show’s production company, launched an internal investigation.

Days later, DeGeneres wrote a letter to her staff taking responsibility and promising changes, saying that she had vowed from the start to make the show a “place of happiness.” But any damage control was upstaged by another piece by Yandoli, containing allegations of sexual misconduct against the show’s brain trust. Ex-employees accused the head writer and executive producer, Kevin Leman, of groping staff members and of soliciting sexual favors at an office party. (Leman denied the claims.) Another executive producer, Ed Glavin, was said to be “handsy with women” in the control room and to use intimidation tactics, such as closing his door remotely by using a desk button—a gadget that should have disappeared with Matt Lauer. (Glavin did not return a request for comment.) The dozens of employees who spoke to Yandoli were split on whether DeGeneres had been insulated from the problems or had purposely turned a blind eye. At best, she comes off as a distant boss who set a chilly backstage tone.

Since then, rumors have flown: that Glavin is being ousted, that DeGeneres might call it quits, that her time slot might go to James Corden. Maybe DeGeneres will right the ship, or maybe she’ll bail. Either way, the reports amount to a crisis of authenticity for her public image, which was already complicated and compromised. DeGeneres has made niceness her defining value, and yet, like Senator Amy Klobuchar, who based her political brand on Midwestern folksiness but has faced allegations of bad-boss behavior, she’s been dogged by tales of not-niceness. (Niceness, of course, is something we expect more of from female bosses.) In late March, the comedian Kevin T. Porter put a call out on Twitter for “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean.” Nearly three thousand replies came in, from supposedly brushed-off fans and un-thanked production assistants. The thread was a little mean itself, and the responses have varying credibility. But the exercise was reminiscent of a line in “Mean Girls”: “How many of you have ever felt personally victimized by Regina George?” More than most anything, a television personality such as DeGeneres needs to come across as genuine to a broad viewership; a two-faced Ellen won’t play. Her audiences, celebrity guests, and sponsors want to reflect her nonthreatening warmth. They want to be part of her goofy dance.

[02:52] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

“I’m a good person,” Ellen DeGeneres says in her standup special “Relatable,” which came out on Netflix at the end of 2018.

Jack says:

For people who don’t know, Ellen is a comedian and talk show host. And it’s obviously talking about this stand up special that came out on Netflix in 2018, where she’s saying she’s a good person. It’s pretty straightforward. Everyone knows her. This will probably come off as an easy passage. And it probably is.

But this passage describes this situation that she’s going through in a way that gives you a very good sense of the atmosphere. And that’s kind of what’s going to help you get better at reading. When you sense what’s going on the direction the author’s going in a tone, this allows you to read a lot faster. This allows you to reinforce what you’ve already read, and continue on with confidence.

[04:09] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

“I know I am. But I’m a human being, and I have bad days.”

Jack says:

It just continues her quote there and just a little bit more from that special. Now, she’s actually accepting the fact that maybe she’s not always a great person. “I’m human. I have bad days.” So it hints at the fact that she’s trying to be authentic, honest about how she is not always a good person.

[04:45] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

This wasn’t an apology for some perceived offense but a mild pushback against her genial public persona, epitomized by DeGeneres’s sign-off on her daytime talk show: “Be kind to one another.”

Jack says:

We don’t really know what context this is in. But it does say it’s some sort of stand up special. Try to perceive where she’s saying this, and what context. You’ve seen stand up comedians do such such things. You’ll say something and they’ll talk about themselves in a certain way to eventually open up a situation that was maybe bad or good or funny.

[05:57] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

In “Relatable,” she says of the catchphrase, “It’s a wonderful thing, it is.

Jack says:

Relatable being this stand up special, saying that she thinks that catchphrase is a wonderful thing, and then it’s going to continue on.

[06:16] Paragraph 1, Sentence 5

But here’s the downside: I can never do anything unkind ever now.

Jack says:

Ellen, here, this is still her quote saying I can never do anything unkind ever. She’s saying, be kind to one another. Since she has said this all my life. And so if she’s, all of a sudden, not kind to someone that she can’t be seen like that.

[06:42] Paragraph 1, Sentence 6

Ever.

Jack says:

Just emphasizing that.

[06:47] Paragraph 1, Sentence 7

I’m the ‘be kind’ girl.”

Jack says:

She’s relating to the fact that she’s painted herself as this “be kind girl.” And that’s the persona she’s created for herself. And it hints to her dilemma. Maybe she doesn’t want to be kind. Maybe she isn’t kind. Why is the author bringing this up?

And that’s the whole point of this. It’s introducing to you the topic of kindness, at least from Ellen’s point of view. So we’ll see where this is going.

[07:38] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

In the year and a half since, DeGeneres’s be-kind brand has taken one hit after another, culminating, this past month, in an all-out revolt by the present and former staff of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

Jack says:

The Netflix special was in 2018 and it’s been a year and a half since that and the author here is leading into this potential that something has happened.

[08:12] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

A cash cow that has been on the air for seventeen seasons, the show has a spirit of altruistic fun: pranks, games, giveaways, and, above all, the sunny disposition of its host.

Jack says:

The author is giving an overview of what the Ellen DeGeneres Show is. It says cash cow. It’s not necessarily something you have to know. But it’s obviously just basically saying they made a lot of money.

[08:47] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

But it doesn’t appear to be a happy place to work.

Jack says:

There’s the big twist. So we have this show with a spirit of altruistic fun in the previous sentence, and it doesn’t appear to be a happy place to work. It goes back to the first sentence of this paragraph, which says that the brand has taken one hit after another. So it’s consistent with where this is going.

[09:15] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

In April, members of the show’s union crew expressed outrage that there had been no communication about hours or pay during quarantine, while DeGeneres hired non-union technicians to set up a remote broadcast from her home.

Jack says:

It’s an example of potentially what’s going on. April was during the pandemic and union workers were mad that Ellen was hiring nonunion techs to work and set stuff up.

The non union stuff is a little harder to understand unless you are aware of media culture and how everything works with media. But the more important part of this is no communication about hours or pay. You quickly identified this as evidence.

And as an example, and the MCAT loves to ask you questions about evidence. So the way they do it is they’ll say, well, it was this point that Ellen is not nice. Or her brand has been taking a hit supported by evidence or by an example. And the answer is yes.

Or what they could do is they’ll provide this example. They’ll say, certain people on Ellen’s show were not paid or were not discussed in terms of their pay. And what does that show? And then you’re supposed to find that it shows that her brand was actually taking a hit. That she wasn’t necessarily nice.

That’s how the test works. They’ll ask you about different points by either getting to them directly, or by getting to them indirectly through this evidence.

[11:00]] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

In mid-July, Krystie Lee Yandoli reported, at Buzzfeed, that DeGeneres stood atop an office culture of “racism, fear, and intimidation.”

Jack says:

Now, we have BuzzFeed, a reporter here reporting some not good stuff about Ellen.

[11:22] Paragraph 2, Sentence 5

Former employees claimed that they were fired for going on medical leave or for taking bereavement days to attend a funeral.

Jack says:

Some examples of the not-so-good stuff going.

[11:36] Paragraph 2, Sentence 6

A Black woman said that a producer had told her and a Black co-worker, “Oh, wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.”

Jack says:

It’s a potential example of racism.

[11:53] Paragraph 2, Sentence 7

WarnerMedia, the parent company of the show’s production company, launched an internal investigation.

Jack says:

It’s showing what happened after the reporting.

[13:30] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

Days later, DeGeneres wrote a letter to her staff taking responsibility and promising changes, saying that she had vowed from the start to make the show a “place of happiness.”

Jack says:

This last sentence is difficult for students to understand because they don’t see the connection all the time, especially on MCAT passages, which are way more mundane. So if you notice that the next sentence seems disconnected, it’s probably not disconnected. It’s just the style of the author. And so ask yourself, what did you just read? And how does this relate to what you just read? 

So you quickly noticed that they discussed an instance of racism. And then you connected this last sentence and this investigation to that. That’s a skill. That’s reading comprehension and following along. And it’s easier to do when you notice the direction the author’s headed in. It’s obvious the direction is that Ellen’s show is doing that stuff. So, if you can generalize that, it’s much easier to read this last sentence. And if you realize how this last sentence plays a role or impacts the rest of what we discussed, you won’t make it a big deal. You realize it’s just going along with what we’ve discussed.

“It's very important to always ask yourself what's going on? And how does this relate to what I'm just reading?” Click To Tweet

[13:51] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

But any damage control was upstaged by another piece by Yandoli, containing allegations of sexual misconduct against the show’s brain trust.

Jack says:

They’re talking about more bad reporting. But what does brain trust mean? Brain trusts are like the executives, the people making the decisions, the think tank.

[14:22] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

Ex-employees accused the head writer and executive producer, Kevin Leman, of groping staff members and of soliciting sexual favors at an office party.

Jack says:

Now, the author is giving an example of that sexual misconduct.

For CARS, the author wants to convey these opinions to you. And the best way to convince you is by showing you evidence and showing you support. 

“That's really all CARS is about. It's listening to someone. And then they'll ask you questions about what that person said.” Click To Tweet

[15:43] Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

(Leman denied the claims.)

Jack says:

So it’s just a follow-on sentence.

[15:50] Paragraph 3, Sentence 5

Another executive producer, Ed Glavin, was said to be “handsy with women” in the control room and to use intimidation tactics, such as closing his door remotely by using a desk button—a gadget that should have disappeared with Matt Lauer.

Jack says:

So just another example of the sexual misconduct. And you don’t need to know who Matt Lauer is, but it probably is a person who also did bad stuff just like this person.

[16:19] Paragraph 3, Sentence 6

(Glavin did not return a request for comment.)

Jack says:

It typically means guilty.

[16:27] Paragraph 3, Sentence 7

The dozens of employees who spoke to Yandoli were split on whether DeGeneres had been insulated from the problems or had purposely turned a blind eye.

Jack says:

This is now switching gears to maybe making Ellen a culprit. This is a really sneaky way of bringing Ellen into this. This is all about the writers and how they’re doing bad stuff. But now we’re trying to decide, does Ellen fall under the same category?

[17:24] Paragraph 3, Sentence 8

At best, she comes off as a distant boss who set a chilly backstage tone.

Jack says:

So that’s a little author tone in there author. The author is basically saying that even if she wasn’t involved in these allegations, “at best ” means like her best situation out of this. And it has hurt her image. It hurt her and it hurt her brand. No one wants to be seen as a distant boss. No one wants to be in a chilly backstage kind of environment. You can just imagine how that one might feel right.

[18:08] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

Since then, rumors have flown: that Glavin is being ousted, that DeGeneres might call it quits, that her time slot might go to James Corden.

Jack says:

There are lots of potential fallout from this.

[18:26] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

Maybe DeGeneres will right the ship, or maybe she’ll bail.

Jack says:

So it’s the author’s point of view there.

[18:34] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

Either way, the reports amount to a crisis of authenticity for her public image, which was already complicated and compromised.

Jack says:

The author here is saying that this is an issue for her image. But what else is going on here? The author has made it very explicit that all of these things have hurt her image. The author is not beating around the bush. They’re very clear now. 

This is what happens for MCAT passages. They’ll tell you a bunch of jargon to clue you into context. And then they’ll spit out what they really care about. So if you’re stuck on the jargon and you’re worried about every single line and every single word in those kinds of passages, you’re going to miss it when they actually tell you what they care about in a direct way. 

[19:55] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4

DeGeneres has made niceness her defining value, and yet, like Senator Amy Klobuchar, who based her political brand on Midwestern folksiness but has faced allegations of bad-boss behavior, she’s been dogged by tales of not-niceness.

Jack says:

It’s reiterating the whole issue here that Ellen has put on this persona, but she obviously has lots of issues surrounding her. And the fact that it’s a female and it’s a boss, maybe the author is going towards the sympathetic side, but who knows?

[21:11] Paragraph 4, Sentence 5

(Niceness, of course, is something we expect more of from female bosses.)

Jack says:

It’s something we expect more of from female bosses.

[21:19] Paragraph 4, Sentence 6

In late March, the comedian Kevin T. Porter put a call out on Twitter for “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen being mean.”

Jack says:

A comedian is asking for dirt on Ellen. It shows you how women are perceived as or should be perceived as nice. At least that’s kind of the culture. This kind of double standard in a way. And at the same time, it’s being used to show that look, people don’t like mean people. So this is all just talking about her image again.

[22:04] Paragraph 4, Sentence 7

Nearly three thousand replies came in, from supposedly brushed-off fans and un-thanked production assistants.

Jack says:

Just some examples of who responded to the tweet.

[22:16] Paragraph 4, Sentence 8

The thread was a little mean itself, and the responses have varying credibility.

Jack says:

It’s just questioning who these people are and what they’re saying.

[22:27] Paragraph 4, Sentence 9

But the exercise was reminiscent of a line in “Mean Girls”: “How many of you have ever felt personally victimized by Regina George?”

Jack says:

The author here tying it to this movie Mean Girls and and a potential example of that. You don’t have to have seen the movie. But it’s quoted. So you know, it’s probably some sort of movie or book or whatever. And maybe in this case, Ellen DeGeneres is Regina George. If you feel victimized by someone, they’ve bullied you, they’ve hurt you, and they’re not nice to you.

[23:22] Paragraph 4, Sentence 10

More than most anything, a television personality such as DeGeneres needs to come across as genuine to a broad viewership; a two-faced Ellen won’t play.

Jack says:

Now the author’s opinion is coming in here that it sounds like he’s saying for Ellen to be successful. She needs to be genuine or come across genuine to a broad viewership. This is questioning her authenticity.

[24:12] Paragraph 4, Sentence 11

Her audiences, celebrity guests, and sponsors want to reflect her nonthreatening warmth.

Jack says:

Again, it’s just the question of whether it’s genuine or not.

[24:27] Paragraph 4, Sentence 12

They want to be part of her goofy dance.

Jack says:

The author here is making the stand that everyone wants her to be a genuine, happy, kind Ellen. But is she actually kind? That’s the question. And that’s what people want. Maybe she can’t deliver because that’s not her. Or at least all these things that have happened have hurt her from being that kind of person.

[24:59] Identifying the Author’s Tone

We can go back up to the first paragraph where she admits that she’s a human being and she has bad days. And maybe if she’s actually honest about everything, and people can see that she’s human. Sometimes she has bad days and she’s still human.

The first paragraph is sort of seeping into her actual feelings. At least, that’s what the author is trying to clue into.

Try to predict the author’s town toward Ellen DeGeneres.

(A) Positive

(B) Neutral

(C) Negative

The answer here is Neutral. If you think about what the question is asking, it’s about the author, and how the author perceives Ellen. We do not know how the author perceives Ellen. We have no idea. The author doesn’t say Ellen is a bad person. The author does not say Ellen is a great person. The tone is neutral. 

We could discuss her brand. And we can talk about how her brand is being impacted in a negative way. But the author’s tone towards Ellen is neutral.

Now, if the question was worded a little differently, because the way the question is worded really matters. So if they’re asking for the media’s tone toward Ellen, then it’s definitely negative. Because those people have been calling her out and calling her staff out. And so it just really depends on who are we looking at?

Don’t just assume that we can cast this big blanket over the whole passage. We have to really see the different components. We have to figure out who’s saying what, and what do they specifically think? Because there are a bunch of people in this passage, there’s the author, there’s the audience, there’s the staff members. We have to figure out all of those unique and complicated relationships.

The author is neutral towards Ellen, neutral towards the staff writer, neutral towards the audience. 

Those are all different kinds of relationships we have to think about as you read. And if you visualize this, you won’t necessarily bring in this preconceived notion that if we bring up something bad,then it must be bad.

Links:

Meded Media

Jack Westin

Link to the article:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ellen-degeneress-relatability-crisis

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