NOTE:  Karen Hoofnagle has used OPW to try to get a handle on what she thinks.  I'm going to take a page from her book here.  I'd also be pleased if you have any considered opinions that might help me to clarify my thinking.

Sorry it's so long.

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Were the ABC network executives genuinely offended by Roseanne Barr's tweet about Valerie Jarrett?  Certainly, plenty of viewers were.  Viewers vote with their pocketbooks, and ABC heard the reactions loud and clear.  Barr's comments have been widely condemned as "apalling", "horrific", "disgusting", "bigoted" and "racist".  But are these characterizations valid?  I am not a Rosanne Barr fan and I didn't like the tweet, but I detest knee-jerk reactions, especially my own.  So I'm trying to plow through this, and I'd be delighted if you came along as a navigator. 

Here's the tweet: 

“muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Barr's tweet is not at all funny to me, but it's not the lack of humor that has caused this firestorm.  If a knee-jerk reaction isn't a good enough reason to be outraged, then how do you contextualize this tweet?  I think I'd say this to Roseanne Barr:

1.  Your tweet is based on your suggestion that Jarrett looks like an ape. 
2.  Jarrett is Black. 
3.  Black people as a group have often been insultingly compared to apes in the past.  (That past includes Blacks being considered as subhuman.)
4.  Your ape tweet about Jarrett isn't about her as Valerie Jarrett.  At least in part, it's saying she is loathesome and inferior simply because she is Black.
5.  That is racist and offensive.

I think you have to have all of #1 - #4 to justifiably get to #5.  #1 to #3 aren't steps in an argument, they're simply statements of facts--but relevant facts.   We wouldn't be embroiled in this story if Jarrett was White, or if Barr had suggested that Jarrett was the result of the mating of an Avon lady and a scorpion.  But is the leap from #3 to #4 justified?  Given the power and pervasiveness of #3, yeah, I think it is.  Especially when coupled with some of Barr's earlier statements.  And once you get to #4, #5 seems to me to be a no-brainer.

So screw you, Roseanne.  I'm sorry about the blameless people who were working on your show and who now are out of work, but I'm happy to say buh-bye to you.  Part of your defense for your tweet (aside from Ambien) was that you were "only joking".  The particular kind of joke obviously falls into the mockery-derision-lampoon category.  And just when I thought I had reached clear sailing, I've find I've got another problem.  Because I have long enjoyed Stephen Colbert, John Stewart and the like.  Let's look at some of their "jokes".

Colbert:  “US Senator and ventriloquist dummy plotting against his master, Orrin Hatch...”

                 “Attorney General and racist Dobby, Jeff Sessions..."

                 "Majority Leader and doll carved from an apple, Mitch McConnell..."

Stewart:  “I believe, and I am being completely serious right now, Senate           Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is a turtle.”

Stephen Colbert often uses the template above, usually with a picture that fits perfectly with his jibe.  The best of these are often my favorite parts of a segment.  As for Stewart, in the segment above he went on to try to entice McConnell with a leaf of lettuce.

Like Barr's tweet, these quips are rooted in something unkind.  You don't say things like that about people you like.  You don't say things like that *to* the person in question unless you're upset or angry with them.  Even being catty behind the person's back springs from some negative and shared feelings about the target. 

Virtuous souls may judge that such mean-spirited comments are always unkind, and therefore never funny and so shouldn't be made.  I don't think most of us buy that.  Satire, for example, is actually a very useful way to expose problems and deflate the pompous in the public sphere, and satire is going to include the kind of mockery we're talking about here.  So what's okay, and what's not?

Maybe it's wrong to lampoon someone about something that they can't change.  I hear this a lot when the topic is sex or race.  But that's not the issue.  Mitch McConnell can't help looking like a turtle--so what?  No, in my search for some kind of guidelines, the best I have been able to do is this:

*  Don't deride someone who is down, especially if they are down permanently.  Don't deride someone that you have a lot of power over.

*  If you deride someone you know to their face, especially in public, you are intending to hurt them.  The *why* you want to hurt them is another matter.  This goes double if you care about one another.

*Being catty (i.e., deriding someone in your social sphere behind his or her back) might be theraputic for spleen-venting, but it is not Nice.  If you do it a lot, you are not Nice.

What *is* okay might be the opposite of what isn't.  Dodging all of the asterisks above leaves you with an acceptable target for your derision.  Someone you don't like (at least right now) but that you really don't know, and who doesn't know you.   Someone who probably wouldn't hear what you said about them, and wouldn't really be much moved if they did.  These requirements might be the permission slip...but the *desire* to deride in this way (or to enjoy the barbs of others) comes almost always, I think, from the feeling that this person has power over you--that there is some vexation in your life that they are responsible for, and that you can't make go away.  And they just don't care.

So I guess I end up with an acceptable target list of celebrities, public officials, administrators, bosses, and the like.  By this reasoning, I may a valid target for my students' jabs, so bring it on.  Just make sure that the mockery is rooted in perception of the individual, not some hackneyed stereotype of a group.

I'm talking to you, Roseanne.




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5/31 '18 6 Comments
My suspicion is that there's more context involved in why they fired Roseanne Barr and canceled the show. The ratings have dropped by 50% since the premiere and it's produced by an outside company which means it costs more for ABC to acquire. If it had maintained its ratings and been produced by ABC, would they not have canceled it? It's an interesting question.
Nikki Gustas 5/31 '18
I'm not terribly quick to give ABC the moral high ground for this one either. My gut says (ok, I'm prejudiced against Trump supporters) that she's probably actively terrible to work with. Couple being a repulsive bigot with only so-so ratings AND being terrible to work with? Done. If she'd been a savvy and awesome partner for them, they'd have given her a "talking to" and asked her to self manage. I need to give some thought to the offensiveness of Colbert. Sometimes he does make "your ugly and your mama dresses you funny" sorts of jokes. It's true. But more often he's apt to make sure what you're laughing about is hypocrisy or greed. You're generally safe from being told you're a giant cheeto if you're not already measurably doing a 1000 other terrible things.
Karen Hoofnagle 5/31 '18edited
Thanks to both you and Nikki, and yeah, I have the same general impression about Colbert as you. I am less a fan of his network monologues than I was of his more incisive Comedy Central bits, but I still feel he doesn't automatically settle for the cheap shot.

I force myself to watch things like Fox News and to listen to creatures like Mark Levin, partially to know what the world looks like to these people I don't understand, and partially to remind myself of the traps of starting with your own cherished assumptions. I do not want to be part of that herd, but I don't want to be part of any herd.

It is an enormous comfort to me that I am not given the dilemma of either flashing my progressive credentials or to being dismissed; progressive minds should be better than that. So I thank the people here that will consider my thoughts and share their own. You rock.
Scott Stevens 5/31 '18edited
When you're so generous with the positive reinforcement, of course we're there for you! :)
Also, I did a quick google on Roseanne and you know how I was just GUESSING she's hard to work with? OMG. She's an unstable public gift to tabloids everywhere!! I had no idea. My hot take is definitely: ABC got in bed with crazy and then thought better of working with Impossible Assholes who are not also actively printing money when given moderately decent public cover for dumping her early instead of late.
I am sure that some people would read my hand-wringing in this post and find it ridiculous. "Does he really have to 'figure out' that the tweet was racist?"

Well, I'm glad that I did, but because here we are with Samantha Bee and her comment about Ivanka Trump, and by the same guidelines, I say that the comment is sexist against women, which is odd coming from someone as feminist as Bee. "Feckless c*nt" added nothing to her critique, unless it was to try to push the impression that she's hard hitting and not afraid to "tell it like it is". Ivaka Trump's shortcomings, whatever they are, don't stem from the fact that she has a vagina.