Recently, ABC network executives canceled Roseanne, a popular revival of the formerly airing sitcom, following a racist comment tweeted by the lead actress Roseanne Barr. The tweet behind the controversy was an attack at Valerie Jarrett, one of former President Barack Obama’s most trusted and influential aides. Jarrett, an African-American woman, was a senior advisor to the former president throughout his presidency and was the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories targeting the Obama administration.
Barr was no stranger to these conspiracy theories as the Roseanne lead often spewed strong right-winged views promoting these theories and providing ardent support for President Donald Trump. The tweet was a response to the conspiracy theory that suggested that Jarrett had a role in helping Mr. Obama in the Trump branded “Spygate” conspiracy. The (debunked) “Spygate” theory claimed that an informant had been planted in the Trump campaign.
Barr tweeted that “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
After facing backlash on Twitter for her racist comment, Roseanne proceeded to delete the tweet and apologize, eventually blaming her bigotry on Ambien and professing her “joke” to have been in “bad taste”.
The Disney owned network swiftly canceled the show, with the ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey announcing the cancellation and condemning the tweet by saying that “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show”.
This unprecedented and quick cancellation was a surprise from the business standpoint since Roseanne had the highest ratings of a TV series in years and was the most watched series of the broadcast season, generating an estimated $45 million in advertising revenue for the network. The magnitude of the success and reach of the show made the cancellation even more significant and set an important precedent for other major companies and corporations to value social justice over flashy monetary gains.
Disney and ABC have been pushing the envelope in media representation through content such as Doc McStuffins, How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal and Black Panther. This cancellation is another step in the right direction since it accentuates the importance of holding those in the spotlight to the ideals of a culturally and racially sensitive society. Jarret, the victim of the racially charged tweet, put it best at an MSNBC town hall by stating that “We have to turn [the controversy] into a teaching moment”.
The Roseanne cancellation must be made into an example that warns individuals not just in the media, but in local communities to be mindful and empathetic of our culturally diverse society. The network’s decision is a statement against bigotry and demonstrates that actions and words that threaten, attack, and isolate people and marginalized groups have no place in our progressing culture.
Many perceive Trump’s presidency to have generated a political climate wherein groups of people with such toxic attitudes and perceptions have been emboldened to express their bigotry. From influential figures in pop culture to ordinary people in workplaces, the view that the First Amendment will protect any hate speech has been further propagated again and again. However, events such as the Roseanne cancellation highlight the importance of social justice despite varying political climates and show us that, in spite of the atrocities that occur throughout the world, we are still moving forward.