Somebody said something bad on Twitter and got punished for it.
I’m still letting that sink in. Roseanne Barr cracked a truly awful joke and hours later her show was canceled, wiping out the jobs of her entire cast, writers, and crew in the process. TV’s #1 comedy in the 18-49 demographic is now just TV’s most recent cancellation. I’m not stunned Roseanne took to Twitter to say that Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett looked like “the muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.” That’s exactly the kind of hate mongering, conspiracy theory-courting thing Roseanne has been saying on Twitter for years now. I’m also not stunned ABC’s boss Channing Dungy responded the way she did. I just can’t quite believe how fast this all went down. As Buck Savitch broke down:
Ever since Trump was elected, we’ve been stuck in this endless cycle where our President says something cruel, misleading, or just blatantly untrue on Twitter, and then the media, Congress, and the members of his Administration spend weeks if not months debating and sometimes bending over backwards to validate what he said (e.g., all that wasted time because Trump went ballistic after losing the popular vote to Clinton and latched onto a baseless conspiracy theory about voter fraud). As such, I’d sort of forgotten there are actual consequences for Trumpian behavior on Twitter.
Yet, here we are. Roseanne is canceled because, as Dungy put it, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
In a way, this is actually familiar. The internet’s perpetual outrage cycle demands near instantaneous contrition from any celebrity or public figure who misspeaks (like Jason Bateman seemingly defending Jeffrey Tambor in a New York Times interview and then backtracking later) or even likes questionable social media poss (like Bachelorette’s Garrett Yrigoyen liking Twitter posts mocking undocumented immigrants, feminists, and Parkland students). Wrong or right, that’s just where the internet is these days.
However, the offend-and-apologize act has grown so familiar the Twittersphere no longer trusts it and demands more action. Jason Bateman apologized, sure, but that wasn’t enough. So, Netflix stepped in and canceled Arrested Development’s entire European press tour to spare the cast from any further controversy. Multiple Fox News personalities have been put on unannounced vacations after spouting something controversial. HBO took Bill Maher off the air for a week. Roseanne, like Bateman, apologized, but no one believed her. So, ABC killed her show, at likely great financial cost and in defiance of the likely considerable conservative backlash to follow, and now Paramount Network, TVLand, CMT, and Hulu have pulled all of their Roseanne reruns, explaining:
“While we believe viewers have always distinguished the personal behavior of the actress Roseanne Barr from the television character Roseanne Connor, we are disgusted by Barr’s comments this week. Therefore, we are removing the original Roseanne series from the Laff schedule for the time being, effective immediately.”
Should Roseanne the show really be canceled because of a bad joke Roseanne the person made on Twitter? That’s ABC’s decision. Should the reruns be scrubbed from the face of the internet ala The Cosby Show? That’s up to the syndicators who want to get out in front of the controversy. Same goes for the NFL banning players from kneeling during the National Anthem, although their legal standing on that decision is about to be contested.
I personally hate not being able to watch the old episodes of one of the best sitcoms of all time that was often the background noise of my youth, but I also hate that Roseanne, a once trailblazing voice for the underclass, has become an ultra alt-right conspiracy theorist. She’s free to say whatever she wants, be they her legitimate beliefs or perhaps a side effect of her admitted mental illness and drug dependency, but she’s not free to say whatever she wants without consequence. After all this is over, she’ll probably continue on saying whatever she wants, which is her right.
ABC had an embarrassingly large supply of evidence suggesting this exact situation was inevitable. As THR pointed out:
Roseanne Barr’s Twitter feed has been abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with what should have been ABC and Disney’s values since long before the show was picked up, and also subsequently. Barr’s Twitter feed has trafficked in vile and disproved conspiracy theories and ample content that walked lines many considered racist or xenophobic or prejudiced or judgement-clouded in a number of ways. She’s engaged in hostile and insulting fights with Twitter followers high and low. She’s shown no interest in controlling herself. This is not new and nobody at ABC can pretend they didn’t know.
When Dungy was asked back in August if ABC was concerned about Roseanne’s Twitter feed, she simply replied, “I try to just worry about the things that I can control.”
Well, now she’s exercised her power over the one thing she does control: her network’s programming. Roseanne is gone. An entire cast and crew is newly unemployed. And someone on Twitter learned there still are consequences for the things you say. ABC should have seen this coming, but, hey, I sure didn’t. I’ve never seen a social media controversy lead to such a decisive real world action in less than a 12 hour period before. Hollywood’s tenous courtship of Trump’s American just hit a pretty big speedbump, and while I ultimately feel this was ABC’s decision to make I still don’t know how to feel about everyone else following suit by taking every episode of Roseanne ever off the air and Hulu.
How about you? Where do you fall on the Roseanne controversy?