A Tale of Two Standards: The Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee Controversy that rattled both Hollywood and the White House
If you were to play Apples to Apples using ABC’s hit show protagonists Roseanne, you’d likely associate the words principled, vocal, progressive and blunt with her. Think of Kathy Bates’ character from Titanic combined with Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoes, the result being Roseanne Barr. What she brought to American audiences is something unparalleled in its ability to portray an everyday working-class family accurately. Both comedically and truthfully, the Conner family rejected every sitcom stereotype and portrayed everyday financial and familial problems. The “know it all father” and “favorite child” labels are all thrown away and replaced with realistic characteristics that shape each actor’s role. A show that challenges the norms of sitcoms is one of the history books, and Roseanne earned its spot.
With viewership in the 10 million plus range, it seemed like nothing could topple this satirical empire, until one tweet did just that. Just when you thought the Butterfly Effect wouldn’t come back to bite you in the ass, it did. ABC cancelled their hit show in response to a racist tweet sent out by none other than the star herself, Roseanne Barr. Her comment, directed at Valerie Jarret, an African American woman who was the senior advisor to Barack Obama, sparked outrage from co-stars, executives and viewers alike. The president of ABC commented on her tweet, calling it, “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” No doubt it’s inconsistent with their values, after all this is the station that hosts Good Morning America and American Idol.
But this isn’t the first time Barr has ranted with such vulgarity on Twitter. Her infamous Twitter history includes supporting a holocaust-denying musician, labeling Israel as a “Nazi-state” and promoting MK Ultra and right wing directed conspiracy theories. Going back even further takes us to 2013 when Barr tweeted calling Susan Rice a “man with swinging ape balls”. Needless to say she’s kept herself busy since the end of Roseanne as well as its revival. With a resume like this Barr was on thin ice, eventually leading to her undoing, pride really does come before the fall.
Though like any other empire, the bigger they are the harder they fall. Collectively ABC is not the only one feeling the effects from the shows cancellation. Hundreds of writers are now out of work because of Barr’s tweet with no guarantee if they’ll receive any severance. Higher profile workers will likely receive some sort of compensation by their contract, while other lower level workers are left empty handed, this include set assistants, truck drivers etc.. Furthermore, they won’t receive much luck in the job market as most positions for other show’s upcoming seasons have been taken. In other words, this cancellation couldn’t have happened at a more inconvenient time.
But what makes this incident even more interesting is a similar situation that resulted in different consequences. Last week the host of Full Frontal, Samantha Bee, called Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” after criticizing her father’s immigration policy. The remarks sparked outrage among viewers and sponsors. Donald Trump took the issue to Twitter, tweeting “Why aren’t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard but that’s O.K., we are Winning, and will be doing so for a long time to come!”. And for once most of the public agreed with him, citing this as an example of having double standards. Even Megyn Kelly, one of Trump’s number one fans tweeted in response: “This is disgusting. How is this acceptable? And how are we expected to take any of these publications seriously if they gleefully repost something like this at the same time they (rightfully) condemn Roseanne? You know the saying Love is Love? Well Hate is Hate.” Hate is hate, and racism is racism, there really is no inbetween here. Now obviously there is a difference between racist comments and crude ones, but both are equally callous and insensitive. One results in the abolishment of a show while the other is a slap on the wrist. The difference in audience attendance is major factor here as ABC is looked at as a family channel, while shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live are broadcasted close to midnight on NBC. Again it’s no surprise ABC cancelled Roseanne, comments fueled by racism are bound to be met with severe consequences. No offense Roseanne, but what were you thinking? This isn’t Saturday Night Live where you’re fined for dropping the F-bomb here and there. That’s the line drawn between the case with Bee and the one with Barr. But that line is where the wrongful disciplinary action lies. Call it censorship or suppression, both situations were handled in different manners despite having the same context. Both are at fault for using intolerable language to describe public figures associated to the White House. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the public saying, “The collective silence by the left and its media allies is appalling. Her disgusting comments and show are not fit for broadcast, and executives at Time Warner and TBS must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network,”. A social issue reaching the white house press meeting deserves recognition, seeing as this has spiraled into an ongoing debate concerning double standards. No matter the consequences, though, this goes to show the hypocrisy the entertainment industry hides behind when it comes to scolding celebrities.
So where does this leave ABC and what happens now to their missing 8 P.M slot? As of now the only backup plan is move the comedy Black-ish to an hour earlier, replacing Roseanne. But what’s hurting ABC indefinitely is the loss of show that guaranteed consistent viewership. Not every show attracts 15 million plus viewers both on broadcast and online, Roseanne was a holy grail for ABC. On top of that, the show attracted both upper-middle and working-class Americans, most of whom voted for Trump. No matter your political view, ABC had majority of the country on its side when it came to Roseanne. With the path of destruction left in Barr’s wake ABC will focus on promoting their other sitcoms that have loomed in the shadow of Roseanne. Shows like Bob’s Burgers, Black-ish. Grow-ish, Speechless, Big Mouth and many more are now being showcased as adequate replacements. The copycats will have their day in the spotlight as they’ll try to mend the wound inflicted by Barr. But despite any effort made, it likely won’t attract nearly as many viewers as Roseanne did. Like the Oilers losing Gretzky, ABC has lost its shining star in the lineup. Now they can only hope that they’ll recover from this as smoothly as possible and find a suitable replacement soon.
Despite this incident, Roseanne’s legacy will forever impact old viewers and new with its unorthodox approach to sitcoms. But, it’s successful run was no doubt soiled by Barr who now carries the weight of hundreds of now unemployed writers, a cast who hates her guts and a company that will likely never forgive her. Nevertheless, this does allow us as viewers, fans, juicy celebrity drama lovers, etc. to realize the bias of the entertainment industry. It reveals where loyalties lie when it comes to enforcing rules. Barr may have revolutionized the way we watch TV, but she failed to leave her arrogant and clamorous attitude at the studio. The next time you play celebrity word association, prejudiced and imperceptive might go well with Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee and the entertainment industry.