Huge ratings weren't enough to save the rebooted Roseanne, which was formally cancelled by ABC on Tuesday after star Roseanne Barr described former Obama administration aide Valerie Jarrett as if "the Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby" on Twitter.
It was a vile thing to say, though no one has any right to be surprised that Barr said it. The notoriously pro-Trump comedian—who is otherwise something of an ardent leftist—has a long history of offensive, nonsensical utterances. She once said Wall Street bankers should be executed via guillotine, has flirted with 9/11 trutherism, and claimed the Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag operation. She doxed George Zimmerman's parents, and suggested people should go to their homes unless Zimmerman was arrested for killing Trayvon Martin. In March 2018, she falsely accused Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg of making a Nazi salute; it was Roseanne herself, of course, who posed as Adolf Hitler for a satirical magazine in 2009, holding a tray of overbaked gingerbread men labelled "burnt Jew cookies."
Roseanne is crazy, and her disgusting remark about Jarrett is perfectly in character. No one is allowed to pretend that Roseanne finally went too far, or some such nonsense: the Jarrett comment—for which she swiftly apologized, to no avail—is hardly more offensive than any number of things she has said over the years. If people who say very bad things do not deserve to work in television, then Roseanne should never have been rebooted in the first place.
The only thing that's different this time is this: social media turns up the volume on offensive statements, and provides a perfect platform to pillory the perpetrator into submission. The network executives at ABC had to watch the Twitter villagers reaching for their pitchforks in real time, and feel the pressure to respond.
There's nothing technically wrong with this: ABC can end any of its shows, prematurely or not, for any reason. Roseanne doesn't have a First Amendment right to a platform on television, and if outraged liberals can persuade her bosses to jettison her, more power to them.
And yet I think we ought to be a little worried about what will come of this. Roseanne was by some accounts an interesting show that offered insights into the kind of Trump-voting working class American family that doesn't often grace our TV screens. "Like most of us, they live, and live through, their differences, an accomplishment the show's more ideological critics don't seem to give people much credit for," wrote Reason's Scott Shackford in a review of the show for the July issue of Reason.
Can a person find Roseanne interesting without endorsing Roseanne the person? If so, why was that possible yesterday, but not today—given that nothing about Roseanne's nature has fundamentally changed?
Many conservatives are already criticizing what they will undoubtedly view as ABC's capitulation to political-correctness-run-amok, and it's easy to see how this could play directly into the right's narrative that the left is determined to silence everybody who says the wrong thing. In response to left-of-center pundit Toure calling on ABC to address the fact that "millions are hurt, offended, and traumatized by Roseanne's racist comments," conservative commentator Jesse Kelly tweeted the following:
Liberals will come for your career for wrong-think. People on the Right have had about enough of it and will start returning the favor. https://t.co/TkqoxtTrXO
— Jesse Kelly® (@JesseKellyDC) May 29, 2018
But conservatives are already coming for people's livelihoods. Not even a week has passed since the NFL caved to pressure from conservative viewers—as well as the president himself—and banned players from kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police violence.
And that's the problem. Conservatives won't watch football unless all the players comport themselves perfectly, rigidly adhering to the right's version of patriotic correctness. How dare you disrespect the flag, they say. Liberals don't think a television show should continue to exist if somebody central to its production does or says something super bad. How dare you traumatize our marginalized communities, they say.
This race to find more things to be offended about and more reasons to start lynch mobs doesn't seem particularly healthy for the fabric of American society, especially if right and left are determined to one-up each other on the outrage front. Many media companies will attempt to appease viewers on both sides of the ideological spectrum, and their output will be that much less interesting. I won't particularly miss Roseanne, but I do miss being able to appreciate a television show, book, or work of art, even if I thought the artist was a lunatic.