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The One Celebrity Who Will Never Suffer Backlash: Betty White

As she prepares for her upcoming Saturday Night Live hosting gig — the culmination of a buzz-fueled campaign to get her the gig that comes on the heels of her awesome Super Bowl Snickers commercial — the press is in a tizzy coming up with ways to commemorate Betty White. And sneak her into their coverage. There’s the New York Daily News on Betty going after Sandra Bullock’s d-bag ex; the Los Angeles Times chronicling the career that led her to this point, where “this point” includes a new TV Land sitcom; and even Oregon’s The Portland Mercury, an entertainment magazine, turning White into bikini cover girl. These are all fun and games, but for some celebrities, this sort of build up could place them in peril. Because what goes up, must come down. We’ve witnessed it before with hundreds of celebs — except with Betty White, we see no evidence that all the hype could eventually land her in backlash brigade.

Why won’t Betty suffer backlash after all this positive press? For a few reasons, and all of them acting in concert. No single move can keep a celeb from facing a downhill turn so quickly after America (and America’s gays) falls in love with you, but Betty has a cornucopia of defenses in play.

She’s old. It’s easy to love old people. It’s very hard, however, to hate them, unless they’re a gross Catholic priest. Age helps explain why somebody like John Mayer can be a media darling one month and the target or a Twitter attack the next. Because he’ll have another chance, and vilifying him now will only ensure his grand return is that much greater. Betty, on the other hand, is mounting one last spotlight shining, and her adoring public won’t dare to put her on the outs so late in life. Even Elizabeth Taylor still enjoys herself some gay favor just for being.

She’s put in her gay icon time. From Mary Tyler and Match Game to Golden Girls and her eponymous sitcom, Betty has been sitting well with the gays for decades. With so much vested interest, it’s hard to imagine we could turn on her any time soon. Contrast this with, say, President Barack Obama, who quickly went from champion of the homos by courting us during his campaign to the popular girl now too busy with his straight friends to make eye contact in the hall. Everything Betty does, meanwhile, is an homage to her clientele. It’s the snowball effect, St. Olaf-style.

She’s in on the joke. Nothing spoils a celebrity more than taking herself too seriously. Not only does Betty laugh at herself and her resurgence, but the foul-mouthed comic is well aware that it’s all an inside joke — that everybody knows about. It was just a couple years ago everybody loved themselves some Megan Fox. Now we know Megan Fox is far too serious about Hollywood for our liking, and she’s earned the reputation of being a bitch. In the comedy arena, Kathy Griffin is very, very close to heading down this same path. But Betty will continue her raunchy one-liners, and they will continue fueling adoration.

She knows her mark. Betty has always seemed to pop up at just the right time. In recent memory: That Snickers commercial may have padded her pocket, but it also led to a groundswell of grassroots support (see: that Facebook campaign). And it turned what was supposed to be a short-lived role on TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland in to a series regular because even producers could see all the buzz behind Betty. And now comes her SNL hosting gig, which will undoubtedly cement her third (fifth?) coming as a TV great. And then there are jerks like Kanye West, who infest the public eye always at the wrong time. We don’t even need to mention Taylor Swift’s name to clue you in to what we’re referring, but Mr. West went from celebrated rapper and outlandish style icon to asshole overnight. Betty would never steal the spotlight from a young ingenue, or anyone else.

Even she makes fun of Sarah Palin. It’s hard to go wrong here.

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  • fredo777

    is that the late John Ritter as the centaur she’s riding?

  • Scott

    This article is spot on, Ms. White can do no wrong in my eyes right now and she deserves every bit of televised glory she’s getting these days.

  • dvlaries

    In the first year of Golden Girls, White told TV Guide that she had originally been tapped for the role of Blanche, but no matter how the writers tweaked things, or how White tried to play it, too much Sue Ann Nivens kept popping out, so she instead took the part of the dim-bulb from Minnesota.

    Now, of course, no one could argue against the wisdom that was; it gave White two indelible, but very different, television characters that are as thoroughly entertaining now as the first evenings they played.

    She should be in the next group of Kennedy Center Honors if she hasn’t been already. The unrestrained love that flows White’s way now reminds me of Pearl Bailey in her own valedictorian years. It’s simply impossible to resist.

  • LarryPDX

    Yup, that’s John Ritter. It was a contest to design a cover.

  • mikeandrewsdantescove

    I loved Betty White on Mommy’s Family. She was evil and always trying to back stab Vicki Lawrence.


  • Phoenix The Phab

    @ Fredo777:

    What? You’ve never seen a Golden Girl wielding a flaming chainsaw on the back of a boy-taur? Sheesh, we get ’em by the dozen out at the Doug Fir.

  • OrchidIslander

    Ah, the vanity – and shortsightedness – of youth:

    “Age helps explain why somebody like John Mayer can be a media darling one month and the target or a Twitter attack the next. Because he’ll have another chance, and vilifying him now will only ensure his grand return is that much greater.”

    Dear sweet young, dumb and full of you-know-what writer.

    What age explains is that usually someone who possesses it does not set themselves up to be the target or a Twitter attackee in the first place. Generally, their experience and life lessons steers their actions and utterances in such a fashion that they avoid the open-mouth-insert-foot-in-it scenario more commonly associated with younger folk.

    Even Mayer acknowledged his potential as a one day future grownup.

    And another thing, “grand returns” much less “greater grand returns” are guaranteed to no one. Our culture is rife with previous flavors of the month, where are they now celebrities and has beens. The spotlight dims. We old folk realize that.

    Ok, I’m stepping down from my soapbox. Now, where did I put my #[email protected]%$ cane???

  • Jason

    I can’t wait to get old.

  • AxelDC

    I saw her on the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner. She was sharp and witty, at the top of her comedic genius. Her barbs put the much younger comedians to shame.

    The reason to love Betty White is because she has endured, and she has endured because she is a truly talented woman. Gimmicks and one-trick ponies are the stuff of “I love the 80s”, but talented people are always revered, especially after decades of triumphs.

  • t.iloverain

    this paper is from the same group that had obama shirtless riding a unicorn on the beach during the election…

    god I miss the NW

  • Scott Wallace

    While I love Betty White as much as everyone else does, it would be nice if she actually admitted what a lot of people in Hollywood have known for a long time- that she likes the ladies.

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