The Whoopi Goldberg Effect

Why do we pretend Whoopi saying something shocking is shocking?
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22:  Actress and director Whoopi Goldberg speaks during  'I Got Somethin' To Tell You' screening and Q+A
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: Actress and director Whoopi Goldberg speaks during 'I Got Somethin' To Tell You' screening and Q+A with Director Whoopi Goldberg exclusively for American Express cardmembers at SVA Theatre 1 on April 22, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express)

Whoopi Goldberg, once unquestionably beloved and most closely associated with "Sister Act," has devolved into a human factory of the absurd. Sitting on her daytime throne at "The View," she churns out illogical and offensive comments with the force and regularity of one of those ball machines for people who don't have a friend to play tennis with. 

Goldberg's latest act consisted of proclaiming Bill Cosby's innocence with the fiercely dedicated denial of Mel Gibson and his dad running a book club centered around Night by Elie Wiesel. Her previous claims to Cosby's innocence -- only revoked after Cosby's unearthed confession and likely pressure from ABC -- have filled several news cycles. It's strange that we've spent almost as much energy discussing a woman who doesn't think an alleged rapist might actually be guilty as the accused himself. Why do we care so much about what Whoopi has to say?


This is not some largely innocuous person saying an offhand insane thing (e.g., Jesse Eisenberg comparing Comic-Con to genocide). This is a household name saying insane things over and over and over again on a TV show and continuing to generate attention. Somehow, each soundbite still manages to enter the echo chamber -- reverberating throughout social media as we pretend, once again, that Whoopi Goldberg saying something shocking is shocking.

In terms of being anti-fat and pro-Mel Gibson, Goldberg has her own very unique mantel of nonsense. She's nothing if not original. Still, she fits into this bizarre, larger trend of aging celebrities raging on about how things "aren't like they used to be!" from a place that is uninformed and/or out of touch. It's kind of like when your grandma says some deranged s--t about Obama bombing abortion clinics so he can blame it on the Christians. Except your grandma doesn't have several million followers on Twitter.

In very recent memory, there's Jerry Seinfeld whining about the politically correct and Sinead O'Connor proclaiming that "music has officially died" because Kim Kardashian was on the cover of Rolling Stone. Certainly these things are not all in the same category, but each (including Whoopi longing to resuscitate Cosby's legacy) fits a certain mode of golden-age thinking. We come across these nuggets from older stars decrying the "current state of things" and bang our chests ranting about how wrong they are across social media. They are, a lot of the time, so wrong. But why bother? 

To what extent are things like Sinead O'Connor calling Kim Kardashian a "c" relevant? Jerry Seinfeld is the most G-rated comedian of all time. Do his insensitive, privileged thoughts on the current state of comedy policing really deserve much more than us wondering if he just really wants to start asking, "What's the [f---ing] deal with that?"

The outrage machine is a powerful beast, mashing through backlash for as long as Twitter can come up with adequately derisive memes. It's outrageous yet logical when that force is applied to an emerging star like Trevor Noah. (Yeah, remember less than two months ago? You guys were all really mad about that!)

Noah's (admittedly bad) jokes created concern over his role as future host of "The Daily Show," and he was participating in the medium on which the conversation occurred. Such aggressive criticism on Twitter was overwrought but at least made sense. With Whoopi and the rest, it's closer to creating a Snapchat dedicated to sending pro-choice arguments to your pro-life grandma, despite the fact that she doesn't have a cell phone.

Zooming out a bit, this phenomenon is a cringeworthy look at the overall blowhard ineffectiveness of shouting about things on the Internet and pretending that will make anything change. At the very least, it's evidence we take aim at things that don't truly impact our world, participating in a deranged catharsis far more often than starting anything even remotely resembling a dialogue. In any case, we certainly talk about "The View" a lot, especially for people who don't even watch "The View." (Unless you do, in which case, "Why?" And also, "Hi! I had no idea this was my demographic.") 

Middlebrow is a recap of the week in entertainment, celebrity and television news that provides a comprehensive look at the state of pop culture. From the rock bottom to highfalutin, Middlebrow is your accessible guidebook to the world of entertainment. Sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca


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