1. It is possible, after all, to revile Roseanne Barr’s gratuitously vicious “joke” about Valerie Jarrett, and to question the extended reaction to it. I feel especially emboldened, perhaps because you couldn’t have forced me to watch that show or anything associated with Barr had you been credibly threatening to blow up Fenway Park unless I tuned in. One of the ways the enemies of free discourse and thought further their agenda is by setting up these dilemmas, where to even suggest that a genuine miscreant’s punishment has exceeded reasonable bounds is to risk shunning and other serious cultural consequences—it’s the Cognitive Dissonance Scale again. “See, then we make them defend someone who would tweet something like that, and we’ve got em! Then they look like racists too! Bwahahahahaha!”
2. No, I don’t think ABC and Disney were looking for an excuse to cancel “Roseanne” 2 because it was perceived as pro-Trump. The show was making money, and corporations place money above politics. However, there is no doubt that a conservative show has less margin for error in today’s biased media environment. It was up to Roseanne to understand that and moderate her conduct accordingly. This recent post is relevant.
3. I was not aware, until ethics alarms reader Sue Denim pointed it out here, that Barr may have physiological reasons for her lifetime addiction to ugly humor:
“At 16, Barr was hit by a car; the incident left her with a traumatic brain injury. Her behavior changed so radically that she was institutionalized for eight months at Utah State Hospital. While institutionalized she had a baby, which she put up for adoption.In 1970, when Barr was 18 years old, she moved out by informing her parents she was going to visit a friend in Colorado for two weeks, but never returned.”-wiki
So she went back to being a good kid for the most part until the day she was hit by a car when she was 16 years of age. Apparently the hood ornament actually imprinted and went through her skull and into her brain. She was in the hospital for six months and when she woke up her personality had changed so radically that it was like the difference between night and day. The brain injury she sustained changed her so much that by the time she was 17 she’d had a child that she quickly put up for adoption, something that seemed entirely unlike her before her accident. Plus, who in the world is able to get up the gumption to get frisky that soon after an injury to the brain? Someone who’s controls just got scrambled a little while before, that’s who”
Or someone whose ability to foresee consequences rather than acting on impulse is damaged. Textbook symptoms.
Having worked with the brain injured – and having suffered a brain injury myself (yes, it shows, right?) the impulsivity resulting from lesions in the frontal lobes can be compensated for in most cases. It’s just harder for those with such injuries to think before acting, and they need practice in doing this to rewire the cortex, or at least compensate using higher brain functions rather than the learned instinct most people have. Takes many years.
Does this mean that Barr deserves some special consideration and compassion? It’s a hard case to make, since the changes wrought by the brain damage evidently make her rich and famous, as well as a habitual asshole. In addition, Barr has had a lifetime to understand her malady, if it really has physiological roots, and take measures to control it. That’s still her responsibility. Alcoholism isn’t an excuse for everything foolish or irresponsible an alcoholic does, either.
4. I was tempted to mock Roseanne’s attempt yesterday to blame her outburst on taking Ambien, the sleep-aid. Then I read this, from Ann Althouse:
“While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of” Ambien.Tweets the manufacturer of Ambien, quoted in “Sanofi, the company that makes Ambien, rebuffed the assertion Wednesday on Twitter.” But “racism” is an abstraction, a label applied to what Roseanne did — which was to tweet “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” in reference to Valerie Jarrett.
We don’t know what motivated those words. Perhaps it was real racism, but it could also have been a wild, reckless urge to outrage or a confused angry silliness. What was Roseanne’s emotional state at the time of the tweet, and does it have any relation to any of the known side effects of Ambien?The American Addiction Centers website discusses the possible cognitive impairment that Ambien users have experienced, and I’ll just excerpt some of the things that could be related to a stupid expression like Roseanne’s:
Disorientation to place or time
Loss of emotional affect…
Confusion and disorientation…
Sanofi’s snark is first rate, but it doesn’t exclude the possibility that Ambien was Roseanne’s problem. That said, blaming Ambien sounds lame — and yet, ironically, making a lame excuse could be caused by Ambien. Lame excuse-making could be the result of confusion or disorientation or impaired judgment….…Roseanne’s offense is chiefly to have violated a particular well-known social norm against any suggestion that a black person looks like an ape. Looking at a human face and seeing likeness to an animal is very common. We often think someone has a “horse face” or looks like a chicken or — in the case of Mitch McConnell — a turtle. Apes have the most resemblance to humans, so this common way of seeing animal faces in humans is most likely to happen with apes. Donald Trump was famously called the son of an orangutan, and George Bush was often pictured as a chimpanzee. I had a colleague at the University of Wisconsin Law School who posted on her office door a set of pictures of George Bush and chimpanzees making various faces. It was stock humor at the time. But everyone is supposed to know that you just do not do that with black people.
Roseanne transgressed that social norm. Had she forgotten about it? I doubt it, but comedy often involves an outrageous transgression. What’s one thing you absolutely should not say? That’s a question you might use to brainstorm a comic routine. Shock the bourgeoisie is the old artist’s credo. But the bourgeoisie shocks back. You get the consequences. Some jokes won’t be taken. “Roseanne” is/was a network sitcom.
But the question here is: Could Ambien have caused it? And I’m saying that the only cause needed was the destructive impulse to violate a strong social norm that has to do with race. I do understand the argument that the racial idea had to be in her head before it could have exerted pressure to leap out, but if she’d kept the idea to herself, like so many other people who are aware of the strong social norm, she wouldn’t be in any trouble at all.
5. Many people have expressed surprise that Valerie Jarrett is black. If Roseanne was one of those individuals who somehow missed that memo, then doesn’t that change everything? As Ann notes above, using ape insults against white figures is apparently no big deal, especially when it is a figure the left detests. Calling a white person an ape or a monkey is, we have decided, not racist. So if Barr thought she was in safe territory (she wasn’t, of course: mustn’t insult the Obamas and their friends!), and didn’t intend to make a racist joke, just an unfunny and mean one, is it really fair that she should lose her show and hundreds of people connected to it lose their livelihood?
Of course, at this point the speculation is purely hypothetical. Roseanne presumably would have played the “I didn’t know she was black!” card immediately if this had been the case.
Unless the Ambien…
6. My ethics alarms began ringing when I read last night that stations were pulling reruns of Roseanne’s old show from circulation. Glenn Reynolds wrote, fairly, “TO THE AIRBRUSHES, COMRADES! ‘They sure do move fast to make someone an unperson now.”
The woman wrote a tweet.
She didn’t rape anyone, like Cosby, whose legitimate artistic achievements have been sentenced to cultural purgatory. She didn’t fight for slavery, like the Confederate military heroes whom the Left wants to erase from all public visibility. She wrote something offensive and stupid. No, I’m not employing Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing”: I have problems with what is being done to Cosby and General Lee, but what is being done to Barr’s work is a different matter entirely. This was mere words, ten of them, quickly withdrawn and apologized for. It isn’t just out of proportion to pull the old sitcom, it chills the speech of others…and I think this is what it is intended to do.
This past week we have seen Morgan Freeman’s career ruined because of unproven allegations that he made sexually provocative comments to women in his last few movies, and now Barr’s whole comedy legacy is being erased because of a tweet. What will be the next escalation of this vindictive, intolerant trend?
Be afraid. Or better yet, fight it, because you could be next.