At the time of this writing, primo coffee hours on October 10, it is the third day straight in which a person could tweet something like, “What’s a million or so casualties between friends?” to droves of followers who immediately understand. Such a tweet would be an unmistakable nod to comedian, daytime talk show host, and gay superhero Ellen DeGeneres, who is currently caught in a fraught cultural controversy of her own making—one that just got way worse.
Had she simply left it at being photographed laughing with George W. Bush in a private box at a Cowboys game, the jokes and criticism would have tapered off quickly. Attention spans are even shorter these days than Ellen DeGeneres’s memory of what life was like in 2001-2008, and we would have all moved on to whatever Trump was doing (abandoning our allies) or perhaps a sordid scandal involving footballers’ wives. Instead, DeGeneres of course taped an ill-advised monologue on her show, portraying her friendship with Bush as a schmaltzy example of partisan-transcending kindness. Since then, the controversy has only metastasized and even spawned sub-controversies of its own. While several celebrities have sided with the host in a seeming show of 1%-er solidarity, many other people (including noted celebrity Mark Ruffalo) are pointing out the wide gulf between Ellen’s call to kindness and the abject cruelty of the Iraq war. One person in particular, though, has been incredibly effective in pointing it out.
Self-described “tech creative and former kid refugee” Rafael Shimunov edited the monologue, inserting horrific Iraq war images into the background as Ellen defends her friendship with the man responsible for them. Most striking, perhaps, is a moment in which Ellen’s outstretched arms sync up with an image projected behind her of an Abu Ghraib detainee being tortured. It’s a postmodern masterpiece that seems destined to follow DeGeneres for years to come. In an interview with Popula, Shimunov, who is also the one who proved that the White House doctored a video to claim that Jim Acosta assaulted an aide, explains that this syncing was a happy accident. “I was randomly putting images in,” he says. “And when I put that one in, that was the background while she was doing that pose, and I pushed it a little to the left, to the right, to make it match up, once I was hit with it. But it wasn’t like, a planned thing.”
No sooner did Shimunov’s video hit the internet on Tuesday afternoon than mass takedown notices began to appear, with claims of copyright infringement. And as history has proven time and time again, the more that somebody litigiously tries to prevent some devastating video from being seen, the more interest anyone has in it.
— Luke Bailey (@imbadatlife) October 10, 2019
Incredible video created by @rafaelshimunov of Ellen explaining her friendship with George W. Bush in front of a Bush-era newsreel background.
This clearly falls under Fair Use, but Ellen’s team is trying to scrub it from the Internet.
— NY For Sanders #Bernie2020 (@NYforSanders) October 10, 2019
Rather than make the video go away, DeGeneres and/or her legal team have only fanned the flames of internet-dwellers’ desire to share this video (which, as many have pointed out, falls under fair use.) In fact, Fast Company would likely not have chosen to run a post about the video if it hadn’t become a forbidden curio.
And to think that the host could have come out of this whole Cowboys game incident with a just few days coverage of the image of her laughing with George W. Bush. Now the image of her twinning an Abu Ghraib detainee seems poised to leave a permanent imprint on her legacy.