Roseanne Barr is many things, but a riddle she is not. Much like the racism of her preferred presidential candidate in the 2016 election, the legendary comedian’s prejudices have been on full display for years.
It’s no secret she’s said decidedly racist things. She loves to peddle conspiracy theories and tends to wish the worst for her ideological detractors. All of this is how she became a darling of the alt-right and, thanks to the massive success of ABC’s Roseanne reboot, a comedic emblem for the purported forgotten Trump voter. And like Donald Trump, Roseanne Barr has remained steadfast in her intolerance and never offered so much as even the slightest indication she was willing to change her behavior. There is also a shared trait of using Twitter to air out grievances and share their biases unfiltered.
So when it comes to the racist tweet Barr sent about Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, what in the hell did everyone expect? This cannot be surprising. Granted, it is amusing that Roseanne managed to be fired not only on her day off (the finale of the Roseanne revival aired May 22), but also on the day Starbucks closed to offer employees anti-bias training. Again, though, shocking it is not. One plus one equals two, the sky is blue and Roseanne Barr is a racist, conspiracy-loving fool.
Even in the show’s promotional buildup back in March, its star indicated she can’t easily shake off her urge to engage in political fights.
In a New York Times Magazine cover story, not only did Barr claim Trump wasn’t homophobic, but she also argued that Trump actually represented the kinds of values her once-progressive character Roseanne Conner held dear. Ultimately, a representative jumped into the conversation to tell Barr, “You don’t have to get into it. We can move on.”
That same month, she also spread a conspiracy theory about Parkland survivor David Hogg. Barr later corrected herself, but by then it was already clear she was going to keep tweeting the way she always has, regardless of the platform and visibility ABC gave her.
Knowing her track record, racist comments were bound to follow, no? “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” Barr said in a tweet that has been deleted but very much follows a pattern.
Despite its monstrous ratings, the Roseanne reboot is dead, season two abandoned, because of that tweet. In a statement, ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey said, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” One wonders if Dungey has revisited her defense of a joke made on Roseanne about Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat that registered as racist to many, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter anymore. Valerie Jarrett, ever gracious, said on MSNBC she hopes this proves to be a “teaching moment.”
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that everyone involved in the Roseanne reboot made a choice to work with a bigot. Understandably, it’s a bit more complicated for some: People need jobs, and those who worked on the show likely had a sincere interest in bringing the magic back both for themselves and fans. Still, profit was placed on a higher plane than politics — politics largely informed by her racism. It was a gamble made by those who chose to ignore the reality of the person they were dealing with.
Therein lies the problem with Barr and the Trump voters she purportedly represents: They are not fueled by economic anxiety, but their shared fear of the decline of white people in Western society. We have seen this in numerous studies that highlight how much their support for a demagogue is fueled by shared prejudices. We have seen this in the continued racism of both Trump and Barr.
The mistake ABC and others have made is assuming Roseanne Barr’s politics and the racism that informs them fueled the reboot’s popularity rather than the affinity fans have long held for the show — a show far more progressive in its heyday than its star is today. Instead of considering the show didn’t exclusively matter to Trump voters, the network opted to pander to them.
I’ve seen select pundits claim Roseanne offered a caricature of Trump voters. That is a crock; if anything, the show, like so many in the media, went out of its way to humanize those who voted for a man who seeks to dehumanize so many. And like those pundits, the show avoided acknowledging that to vote for a demagogue makes you like-minded or complicit.
Everyone at the network and in the cast of the show — including Sara Gilbert, Michael Fishman and Sandra Bernhard, whose reactions are below — can now lament about how disturbed they are by Barr’s tweets. But when you work with an unrepentant racist, you risk this.
At the Television Critics’ Association press tour last summer, a reporter asked Dungey this: “Is there somebody whose job it is to monitor her Twitter feed in absolute terror in case she says something that’s going to make this new show untenable?”
Dunged’s answer was Barr’s son was taking control of her Twitter account, but the reporter noted the “wacky conspiracy stuff” being tweeted in just the past week. “I try to just worry about the things that I can control,” Dungey replied to a laughing crowd.
Hardy har, right?
The network should have pointedly distanced itself from her views. It should have been more aggressive about keeping her off Twitter if it wanted to save people’s jobs. If you do not confront and condemn someone’s biases, you are incentivizing them to continue.
I used to love Roseanne, but I struggled with whether or not to support it because there is no place for her bigotry. I’m actually grateful the choice has now been removed. Roseanne Barr has done enough to soil the legacy of both herself and Roseanne Conner. The character needs to go away.
Make no mistake, it was bound to end badly because bigots gon’ bigot. Everyone should have known this going into the Roseanne reboot. Even though it’s blown up in their faces, one question still remains: When are networks going to repeat this mistake with the next bigot?