Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Roseanne Cancelled

Roseanne Barr.

The issue of free speech raised by the Kelly Pocha incident in Lethbridge has now been magnified by the Roseanne Barr incident. Barr’s personal culpability is greater—she was not just videoed by someone else in a moment of anger; she sent out the tweet herself. But the consequences, and the consequences to many innocent parties, have been disproportionate.

To recap, Roseanne is the title character in a runaway hit TV show. She tweeted, one night at 2 AM, that Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor to President Obama, looked like the child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. She tweeted: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” For this, ABC immediately cancelled her show.

Those punished for these ten short words include all her co-stars, who just lost their livelihood and the professional opportunity of several dozen actor lifetimes; everyone else involved in the show; ABC’s stockholders; and the millions of viewers who were obviously greatly enjoying the series. All for ten words sent by one soul in the middle of one night. Obviously, an injustice has been done here to all of them.

And it seems quite likely that an injustice has also been done to Roseanne Barr. No doubt you should never call anyone a child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes; but mere insults actually injure no one. Roseanne was only guilty of being coarse. We knew Roseanne was coarse; it is her persona. It is what we pay her for. How did Don Rickles ever have a career, then?

Roseanne’s tweet has been accused of racism. If it were so, it would not justify the cancellation. People have the right to be racist, off the job, famous or not, or we have no freedom of thought or freedom of speech. But it is not even clear she was being racist. She claims that she had no idea Valerie Jarrett was of a different race than herself. If you look at a photo of Jarrett, this is plausible. She self-identifies as black, or “African American,” but she was born in Iran, and does not look African American. And if there is some spontaneous connection in the reader’s mind between apes and African Americans, then the reader is the racist, not Barr. 

Valerie Jarrett.

Is the problem, then, the reference to the Muslim Brotherhood? Does not work. Being Muslim is not a race, and the Muslim Brotherhood does not represent Islam. It is a political party, not a religion. Criticism of it is as fair game as criticism of the Christian Democrats or the IRA. Nor is Jarrett a Muslim.

This seems to me another argument for the law I propose, prohibiting the firing of anyone for what they say off the job, unless it is intentionally and publicly slagging their own employer or their industry. Were this law in place, ABC would not have felt obliged to fire Barr, which I expect they did not want to do. They would still have their hit series, as would the actors and the viewers, and no harm would have been done.

If, of course, people stopped watching the series because of this comment, or advertisers stopped advertising, fine. Then the series could and would be cancelled; on the objective grounds that it was not making money.

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