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The brave ones

| Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

“Ellen is cancelled.”

When I first scrolled over this tweet in 2019, I did not know how to react. Had cancel culture gone so far as to engulf Ellen DeGeneres, the superstar comedian and LGBTQ+ community leader? What could she have possibly done to deserve these attacks? I thought she was liked by everyone!

Nevertheless, when I typed “Ellen” into my Google search bar, the headlines were astounding. “Ellen Seen Laughing in Skybox with George W. Bush” and “Ellen Caught Sitting Next to George W. Bush at Cowboys Game” were just two of the numerous titles about Ellen’s apparent fall from stardom. As I began to read the articles and tweets criticizing the famed comedian for her friendship with the former president, I couldn’t make sense of all this criticism. Sure, maybe the decisions made under the Bush administration were not for everyone, but he still seems like a genuinely kind man. He never hides away from the public, he seems to always be kind to everyone who encounters him and his presidency was not full of personal scandal.

Despite this, Ellen was reamed for even sitting with him. Surely, this was just a one-time overreaction. But then it happened again: same role, different characters. 

During the 2020 College Football Playoff Championship, Vince Vaughn was “caught” shaking hands with Donald Trump. Twitter exploded and articles titled “Uproar After Vince Vaughn Shakes Trump’s Hand” and “Fervor Over Vince Vaughn’s Handshake with Donald Trump” flooded the internet.

Once again, people sitting behind their devices at home on the couch reamed a famous person for being kind to a president. This pattern is becoming more and more prevalent, and part of this scares me. At the heart of this Twitter bashing is a fear that politics will drive people apart to the point that they cannot even extend a hand to the other. These celebrities believe that doing so would give the public the belief that they support this person and condone their behavior. This is fundamentally wrong. No one should be criticized for putting kindness over politics. 

One reason why this criticism of Ellen and Vince is unjust is that celebrities are not necessarily supporting the politician by being friendly and shaking their hand. They are simply displaying their humanity and being strong enough to share the gift of kindness with someone who is opposite in many of their beliefs.

Think about the last time you shook hands with someone you strongly disagreed with. If you have not, then I challenge you to do so, because it is not easy.

Celebrities know this first hand, as they are in the spotlight 24/7. Take Vince Vaughn, for example. He was seated in the same skybox as the president at the College Football Playoffs. Vaughn likely knew that there would be a story criticizing him whether he shook hands or not. If he did not shake hands with the president, people with conservative views would swoop in to attack him as an anti-patriot. If he shook hands with the president, people with liberal views would swoop in to attack him as a misogynist and racist.

Vince did not have the intention of making this a public story, made clear by the fact that he shook hands and talked to the president for about ten seconds. His point was not to show the world that he wants to “Make America Great Again.” Vaughn tried to rise above the two extremes; he was kind enough to shake his hand, but distant enough not to sit down and chat with him. Yet, the criticism poured in anyways.

Before news stories jump on celebrities for being polite to politicians, they need to realize the bind that these human beings are in. They face criticism whichever way they decide, even if they clearly do not share the same views as the politician. 

Criticism against these celebrities is also unfair because it is very hypocritical. The next time you have friends over, think about how different some of their beliefs are from yours. We surround ourselves with people who think differently than we do, and we often still develop friendships with them. Some are even in our own families! Why should we criticize people who put aside political differences and become friends? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do as human beings?

This criticism essentially holds celebrities to a higher standard than everyone else. Yes, celebrities often represent large communities of people. However, they are also humans like us and should be allowed to have friends of different beliefs just like the rest of us. We need to recognize that fact.

As Ellen herself said in defense of her friendship with former president Bush, “I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.” The notion that these celebrities should only be friends with people who share their same beliefs is illogical. The people who believe this notion are being undeniably hypocritical. We learn from other people, and we can learn from Ellen and Vince that being friendly and kind to someone we disagree with is humane and acceptable. 

We encounter people with different views in our everyday lives. We can either choose not to interact with them, or we can choose to reach a hand across the aisle and be friendly to everyone. As Ellen herself says, “When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Ellen, we need to understand that being kind to everyone, even those whose political views are so vastly different than our own, is not wrong or evil. You may disagree with someone and never want to speak to them, but do not hide behind your screen and criticize people for befriending someone with different political views. They are the brave ones.

Tommy Diehl is a freshman from the Chicago area majoring in science business and global affairs. When he’s not writing for the Observer, he can be found playing guitar, running or cheering for the Cardinals and the Packers. Tommy loves feedback and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tommydiehl5

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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