Megyn Kelly is the latest example of using outrage for promotion
Based on multiple reports, Megyn Kelly Today is set to be cancelled by NBC following Megyn Kelly's comments about blackface recently made on her show. Per the New York Times, reports are that Kelly has already hired Bryan Freedman, a Los Angeles litigator to help negotiate her exit.
During her stint, the show struggled with maintaining a significant amount of viewership. Her ratings have been described as pedestrian, and given all that NBC invested in her adding a blackface controversy on top of it did not seem to be worth the gambel. Turns out outrage promotion is not the move when you struggled to attract viewers to start.
Halloween has always been one of those holidays where people allow themselves to shed their inhibition. If you intend to dress up, you may surely be wearing a costume or outfit that you know you’d never wear any other time. Year by year, costumes have gotten more controversial and visibly offensive. From Nazi wear to blackface, people seem to be less inclined to care about decency when going out. Leave it to Megyn Kelly to feel like she needed to be the voice of the “normal” people on her NBC daily talk show, “Megyn Kelly Today.”
In a clip that has gone viral and is incurring the wrath of many on Twitter, Kelly chose to defend those who wear black face in instances when they’re portraying a character.
If you’re not familiar with Megyn Kelly, you may be thinking, “why should I really give a shit about this.” For starters, Megyn Kelly is a very successful journalist, broadcaster, and political commentator. She is mostly known for her time on Fox News Channel from 2004 until 2017 as a news anchor and political commentator. She hosted her own show, “The Kelly Files” where she routinely took on the “liberal media” and parroted the general Fox News talking points. This is very important to note because in 2017 when NBC came knocking to possibly hire Kelly for a daily talk show, the rebrand was in full effect.
When Ellen DeGeneres interviewed Kelly she spoke about how toxic Fox News had become for her and how Trump's sexism has opened her eyes to where she doesn’t want to be. She claimed that she did not grow up in a political household and complained about the direction that Fox News took her show, making it too “political.” This thought process is interesting being that Kelly was the fiercest, most fiery voice for women on Fox.
Fast forward to early Tuesday, Oct. 23 when she explained how she doesn’t understand the offense in blackface costumes. Keep in mind that in 2013, she went out of her way to remind kids and viewers alike that Santa and Jesus were white referencing an article that was written by Aisha Harris about how Santa Claus can be more inclusive to other races. You’d think that someone who made it a point to state that Santa and Jesus are white and the importance of getting that right as they are “historical figures” would be sensitive to the damaging history of black face and what that means to black people.
As much words that have been devoted to Kelly thus far, this is less about her and more about this trend of companies, institutions, and personalities, using outrage for cheap and quick promotion. Whether it's intentional or the result of pure incompetence is never clear in these examples, but the lack of awareness makes me wonder what benefits are to be gained in those moments. The events always follow the same course of action: make decisions that are obviously offensive, claim ignorance when the backlash is apparent, then apologize. Usually the apology comes with a statement about missing the mark or how the subject was a victim of a simple oversight. In the meantime, mentions on social media, visibility, and publicity doubles from the time the controversy starts. What’s the value in this data and the increase in visibility? Is bad publicity truly bad? Its difficult to quantify, but it's clear, the complete lack of awareness often seems intentional.
Let’s consider some examples. In October 2017, Dove faced intense backlash for featuring an ad where a black woman removes her shirt to reveal a white woman. Per Dove, this three second clip was supposed to highlight how their products encourage diversity and relate to people of all walks of life. How the hell was that message going to be conveyed in three seconds? Who knows. Regardless of the intention, the backlash was swift. Social media lit up with users chastising Dove for the use of the ad. Several users pointed out how many of Dove’s ads in the past followed this pattern of insensitivity. Whether good or bad, if you logged into social media that day, Dove was now in your head when it may have been absent before. They apologized and pulled the ad, weathered intense criticism and eventually everyone moved on to the next thing.
A couple of months before, Pepsi faced backlash for the most dumbfounding ad you could imagine. On Tuesday, April 4 2017, Pepsi posted an ad featuring Kendall Jenner in which she walks into a crowd of protesters and offers a police officer a Pepsi during the protest. A longer view of the ad, you can see what the attempt was. The ad features other minorities that walked into the crowd after being inspired to join the protest. However, the lasting image became Kendall Jenner handing a Pepsi to an officer. Anyone who has been a part of a protest or seen the effects of state-sanctioned violence in the black community should have little difficulty with understanding why this ad was problematic. It simplified the intensity and the stakes involved in a protest to a feel-good moment. It minimized people who were out there risking their lives to voice their anger about people of their community being gunned down to seemingly a trend. The pattern continued. Pepsi was forced to apologize and express that offense was not their intention. Social media lit up with the mention of Pepsi and their new ad. The outrage eventually simmered down, and Pepsi continued business as usual.
The more blatant displays of this trend are from media personalities themselves. A perfect example is Kanye West’s yearlong assault on our senses with MAGA hats and meetings with Trump. He literally promoted everything around these ideas which West knows will anger his most ardent fans. This includes all the album releases from his music label and the releases of his signature sneakers. To him there’s value in the outrage. Keeping your name afloat as not only a lightning rod but attempting to spin that as a visionary who goes against the grain. After spending most of the summer fanning these flames, he went to 107.5 WCGI radio station in his hometown of Chicago and gave a half ass apology full of vulnerable moments including this one below.
The video endeared West for some and made them believe maybe there was something deeper that’s causing him to lash out. Maybe he didn’t completely grieve about his mother Dona West’s passing in 2007. Maybe it’s his bouts with mental illness that’s causing these reactions. Although that can be true, but it's difficult to ignore Kanye West mentioning he is a troll in the same exact interview. In addition, it took less than a month for the antics to continue and for him to continue to promote products around it.
Point is, Kelly did not get to this place in her career by being a fool who lacks awareness. We won’t even touch on the overwhelming amount of history that shows how detrimental the history of blackface has been in shaping the image of black people in mainstream media. Let’s point out the fact that Kelly is a graduate of Syracuse University and Albany Law School after moving to Rye, New York when she was 9 years old. If she did not understand why blackface was offensive it's because she did not care to. She’s already apologized for the remarks which comes after her show had become relevant to national discourse for the first time in a while. Kelly comes from a long line of current to former Fox News personalities who use controversy as their currency. Was there a more apparent example of that other than Lauren Ingraham telling LeBron James to shut up and dribble for voicing his displeasure with the Trump administration only to get on twitter to challenge him to come on her show shortly after. The attempts are clear.