ABC made the right decision to cancel Roseanne after its star Roseanne Barr’s most recent bout of bigoted Twitter comments.
ABC’s reboot of Roseanne has been a commercial and critical hit. Its season premiere was watched by 18.44m viewers and became the network's highest-rated comedy show on any night in over three years (although ratings did fall over the remaining weeks). Outside of The Big Bang Theory, it became the biggest comedy on ABC. Even critics who vehemently disagreed with Roseanne Barr's Trump sympathetic politics found themselves warming to the Roseanne of season 10, a socially conscious comedy that tackled life in the white working-class America of the post-Obama age. Yet that success has come to an end with one tweet too far.
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- This Page: Roseanne Barr's Twitter Controversies are Nothing New
- Page 2: ABC's Cancelling of Roseanne Was a Long Time Coming
Roseanne Barr's Twitter Controversies are Nothing New
The success of the show waged on despite the numerous public and social media based controversies created by its star. Barr, an avowed Trump supporter, is no stranger to Twitter drama. In 2014, she tweeted the address of George Zimmerman, the man who was controversially found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin in 2012, which led to Zimmerman's family filing a lawsuit against her. In March of this year, she tweeted a suggestion that David Hogg, one of the student survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, had given a Nazi salute at a protest rally for gun control (she later deleted that tweet). She retweeted a photo comparing Chelsea Clinton to the donkey from Shrek, then called her “Chelsea Soros Clinton”, a reference to George Soros, a businessman and donor to Democratic politicians who is a popular target among right-wing conspiracies. When Clinton responded with remarkable politeness, she accused Soros of being a Nazi collaborator who "turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps."
The tweet that seems to have been the step too far was one in which she said Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to Barack Obama who is also African-American, was a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and a creature from Planet of the Apes. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show". The actress has also been dropped from her talent agent, ICM Partners, who noted in their own statement, "What she wrote is antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an agency... Effective immediately, Roseanne Barr is no longer a client."
For most critics and industry figures, the cancellation of Roseanne was a genuine surprise. The show seemed like too big a juggernaut to face any tangible form of consequence for the consistently abhorrent actions of its star. It seemed easy enough to dismiss her increasingly conspiratorial tweets as merely being her political opinions. Even when they blatantly veered into smear territory, as they did with claiming that David Hogg gave a Nazi salute, it was easy for ABC and others involved with the show to claim that the art could be separated from the artist.
Roseanne Barr is Roseanne Connor. There are obvious differences, but for all intents and purposes, she is the face and driving force behind that show. It was built around her comedic persona and its cultural influence was strengthened by her nervy, no-holds-barred approach to difficult material that no other sitcom of the era was covering. Through Roseanne, the white working-class families of America had a unique comedic voice that still managed to tackle tough topics like poverty, domestic abuse, workplace misogyny and much more. For a while, it seemed like the 10th season, a reboot of sorts for the show, could capture that old magic. Many critics and industry officials argued that there was room on the slate for that brand of fearless comedy that dug deep into just how tough things are for many working-class families in America. It had already been renewed for an extra season. The problem was that making such a show from the foundations of Roseanne meant dealing with Roseanne Barr and her smothering level of baggage.
Separating art from the artist is a crucial tool in media consumption and pop culture studies. It’s something we all do at some point in our lives, but it’s not easy to embrace for many. But with her pop-culture prominence outside the confines of her show, it becomes far more difficult to watch Roseanne of any era, but particularly the newest season, and not think of her public life as a right-wing celebrity whose opinions go beyond those of basic common decency. There is a huge difference between being a Trump supporter and comparing a prominent black woman to an ape.