Absolutely everything today is public – every post, every text, every email, every tweet. In our internet-obsessed world, humanity is permanently connected through each individual’s digital footprint. It is no longer uncommon to wake up to a seemingly endless string of tweets made by anyone from world leaders to the primary faces of pop culture. However, at what point can we draw the line between free speech and ignorant oversharing? On May 29th, this sensitive issue was brought to light on a global scale and under unfortunate circumstances.
Roseanne Barr, star of the ABC sitcom Roseanne, made herself a controversial spectacle this week following a grossly insensitive twitter rant that was submersed in racist sentiment. After a twenty-year hiatus, her show prepared to make its monumental return to television in March of 2018. Fans had long-awaited its reappearance, and their wholehearted support was evident; Roseanne’s ratings skyrocketed, a feat that came as a shock to some. Even the show’s network executives worried that President Trump’s outward praise of Roseanne Barr would hurt its ratings and isolate a fraction of its potential viewers. Yet, when Trump himself made a personal congratulatory phone call to Barr on her sitcom’s successful revival, the country appeared to welcome Roseanne with even wider open arms. The widespread popularity of this television show swept across the nation, showing no signs of slowing; it seemed as though nothing could get in the way of its spell of success, that is until its star took to Twitter.
This past Tuesday, Barr claims she made a mistake – a mistake that was destructive, uncalled for, and publicized on a social media site that receives an average of 336 million active users per month. Barr “posted a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman who was a senior adviser to Barack Obama throughout his presidency and considered one of his most influential aides. Ms. Barr wrote if the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby” all the while knowing it would reach her nearly 775,000 Twitter followers. People were quick to shut down Barr’s ill-conceived words, and her social media feed was soon drowning in backlash, rightfully so.
Yes, she apologized. But, at some point society needs to demand that enough truly is enough.
It did not take long before Channing Dungey, the entertainment president of ABC, made a statement declaring that the short-lived reboot of Roseanne would be cancelled indefinitely on the basis that Barr’s tweet was not at all representative of ABC’s values. Only a few short hours after this revelation, Roseanne tweeted an additional 100+ times, frantically hoping to piece together some kind of logical excuse for her actions. Yet, she ultimately failed to do so and lost any remaining sense of self-respect in the process; at one point, she even blamed Ambien, the sleeping medication, for influencing her to tweet senselessly in a drug-induced haze. She went back and forth with her stance on the matter, unknowingly revealing her internal struggle with truly accepting responsibility for her initial tweet. She blubbered apologies, revoked these apologies, comprised excuses, sought sympathy, pleaded for more followers, thanked her supporters and then finally completed her torrent of tweets with a final: “I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter.”
The cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom reveals an important step in human advancement. Her tweet was not a sudden emergence of racism that the world had never seen before; the reality is that racism has never truly been absent from our society, but the active fight to stop it has faltered, or altogether ceased to exist in the first place. With ABC’s decision to cancel Roseanne, America – and the millions watching from behind their twitter usernames – have gained a glimpse into a world where racism and prejudice are not tolerated under any circumstances. While the president may feel no inclination to condemn such mentalities, the people do. Roseanne can blame comedic trial and error, insomnia medication, or even misinterpretation, but now the people are taking control of this narrative that has held a grip on society for far too long. We are placing the blame on the perpetrator, something that we have failed to do throughout history.
Still, this is merely a precursor to an even stronger stance that needs to be taken in the future. Roseanne has not yet come to terms with her wrongdoings, but how much longer can we entertain her fabricated theories and stretched controversies? Even in the coverage of this occurrence, major media outlets are flooded with stories where Barr is the face of this issue. I have yet to read a prominent story that includes the feelings of the victim, Valerie Jerrett. On Tuesday she made her response with grace, saying, “I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I’m fine. I’m worried about all the people out there who don’t have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense.” Jerrett demanded a call to action for all of the daily examples of racism that occur on a smaller scale.
Perhaps with the reevaluation of Roseanne’s show must also come the reevaluation of our own values. Today, we must say that the line needs to be drawn here, with you, Ms. Barr.