Damn, that was quick. After Roseanne Barr tweeted her racist, witless “joke” about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett early Tuesday morning, demands for ABC to axe her hit series flew thick and fast on social media. But that just seemed like par for the course to us: the standard, predictable geyser of liberal outrage that, just as predictably, would end up dissipating in steam and vapors as the S.S. Roseanne grandly sailed on. Sure, she’s a vicious nut case and all that, but you can’t argue with ratings. Right?
Like Jarrett, Dungey is African American. So is comedian Wanda Sykes, who’d been a consulting producer on the Roseanne reboot but promptly quit the show after the Jarrett tweet. But the execs at ABC’s parent company, Disney, aren’t, at least by and large, and Dungey had their full backing. “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing,” Disney CEO Bob Iger added when he retweeted Dungey’s cancellation notice. Barr’s management agency, ICM Partners, promptly cut ties with her, too.
In the #MeToo era, we’ve gotten used to seeing celebrities brusquely disgraced for heinous behavior. (Back before she went loco, “heinous” was one of Roseanne’s favorite words, incidentally.) From Bill O’Reilly to Laura Ingraham, we’ve also seen the power of advertiser boycotts, which the network was undoubtedly anticipating this fall. But even so, Barr’s instant toboggan ride off TV is remarkable.
A celebrity like Roseanne can’t vent swill this vile without wrecking her career. Only the U.S. president has that privilege.
If you ask us, she was more like the sitcom half of the two and only. Barr and Trump are such an ideal match in sensibility and temperament, not to mention “heartland” appeal, that OK Cupid’s algorithms would pair them up in an eye blink. On the show, Roseanne-the-character’s pro-Trump politics were actually pretty lame, timorous stuff. She defended her vote for him by telling sister Jackie in the premiere, “He talked about jobs,” not “He speaks up for white supremacists, and it’s about time somebody did.” But it didn’t matter, because Roseanne-the-performer’s support for Trump is so well-known that her mere presence on prime-time TV in 2018 turned her into a walking, squawking MAGA cap.
Let’s not forget that, in the Trump era, moral stands are often also sound commercial decisions.
Meanwhile, ABC is getting congratulated for taking a moral stand, and probably should be. Still, let’s not forget that, in the Trump era, moral stands are often also sound commercial decisions. Roseanne may have been the network’s highest-rated sitcom in years, but even that wasn’t worth alienating the millions of nonwhite, non-right-wing viewers who tune into ABC’s other shows, or prompting an advertiser boycott, or facing an embarrassing exodus of disgusted cast members and behind-the-camera staffers in Wanda Sykes’ wake. Once Barr’s tweet turned the show into such spectacularly tainted goods, its ratings would almost certainly have plummeted come fall, anyway.
All the same, we’re bracing for the imminent blowback from MAGA-land. As of this writing, Trump himself has yet to weigh in on Twitter about his sitcom doppelganger getting the axe. But the cannot be said for Ted Nugent (yuggh) or Alex Jones (double yuggh), the latter having already invited Barr onto his show “to strike back against the THOUGHT POLICE.” Lots more in that vein are sure to come, although not—perhaps surprisingly—from Bill O’Reilly. Instead, O’Reilly tweeted this: “Roseanne Barr’s vicious, personal attack on former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett came out of nowhere and cost Ms. Barr and the entire staff of her program their jobs. @ABC/@Disney could not continue with the show without insulting millions of Americans.”
That could be a hint that O’Reilly is looking for a bus ticket to Rehabilitation Road, but he’s usually pretty good about sniffing a change in the wind. (He’s also right about the lost jobs; while John Goodman's and Laurie Metcalf’s accountants probably won’t lose any sleep, that isn’t true of dozens and dozens of small-print names on Roseanne’s payroll. Many of them undoubtedly don’t even have an accountant.) Anyone who thinks the show’s cancellation is just “political correctness” gone wild—or expresses incredulity, as Nugent did, that a Planet of the Apes reference can be mistaken for racism—just hasn’t realized yet that, even in our toxic world, a celebrity like Barr can’t vent swill this vile without wrecking her career. Only the president of the United States has that privilege.