Monday, June 4, 2018

False Equivalencies (vulgarity and offensiveness <> racism)

We've really lost the ability to debate, haven't we.

I posted earlier on the Rosanne Barr issue from a slightly different angle.  But in the days since, my feed has been filled with other bad actor and false equivalency arguments.  "But so and so did this."  That kind of argument did not work when I was a child and it still doesn't work today.

So, today I would like to address a few additional thoughts on the controversy and surrounding issues.

It's funny to me the people who are now calling for Rosanne's show to be put back on the air - I remember when her show first aired how many of them thought it was trash and vulgar itself.  Shows how times and political allegiances change.

This was not the first time Rosanne had been in trouble for inappropriate tweets - Rosanne has a bit of a history of tweeting inappropriate things, enraging people, and then leaving the building.  The particular tweet here was part of a larger exchange with Chelsea Clinton regarding conspiracy theories on George Soros.  She had been apparently warned against any future offensive tweets, but had proceeded anyway.  This incident seems to be less a single tweet ending her career than a straw that broke the camel's back.

The particular tweet from Rosanne is inexcusable - The tweet in and of itself is inherently racist.  She compared an African-American woman to an ape, a common derogatory comparison used to demean African-Americans.  Her tweet also assumes Ms. Jarrett's religion and is Islamophobic as well.  Though it is widely assumed Ms. Jarrett is a follower of Islam, her religious beliefs are not truly known.  The meme that has been circulated on Facebook regarding her statement in a Stanford yearbook that she would make the United States follow Islam is, to put it in today's vernacular, "fake news" and false.

Her tweeting had already caused backstage turmoil - Whitney Cummings, co-showrunner left the show on May 18.  Wanda Sykes announced she would not be returning as a producer following the tweet.  Actress Emma Kenney stated that she had called her manager to quit when she found out it was cancelled.  It is likely that ABC was facing a mass exodus in response to the star's actions and the tweet.  Again, a straw that broke the camel's back.

Rosanne's tweet is not equal to The View, to Bill Maher, to Samantha Bee, etc. - This is where we start seeing the false equivalencies.  Everyone wants to point out apparent hypocrisies where shows that feature statements that are offensive to them get to remain on the air.  Certain groups of conservatives* wonder why The View gets to remain on the air when Joy Behar makes statements that show a lack of understanding of Christianity and are potentially offensive or when Whoopie Golberg or Joy Behar make anti-Trump statements.  They wonder why Samantha Bee's show is not canceled when she calls Ivanka Trump a "feckless c**t" in response to Ivanka's tweet as stories of separated immigrant families were coming out.  They do not understand how it is okay for Bill Maher to compare Donald Trump to an orangutan

Let's put aside the fact that pointing out someone else's bad behavior never justifies your own.  Put another way, regardless of what others have been able to do on air, Rosanne's tweet was still inexcusable and likely deserved whatever consequences it was going to receive.  Even removing that from the equation, the other situations that are pointed to have marked differences from the tweet at hand. 

To begin with, the three programs mentioned all focus on political commentary and often on political humor.  The View is a commentary and talk show.  It is designed to have a group of women discussing topics from a variety of viewpoints and has generally always had a token conservative or two on the panel (Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Candace Cameron-Bure, Paula Faris, Megan McCain).  The format of The View is specifically designed to bring those opposing viewpoints into collision; they want a conservative and a liberal to go at each other, because conflict brings ratings.  So, it should not be surprising that the most liberal panelists will make "shocking" statements that conservatives will not agree with and might find offensive.  That's the point.  What would be truly shocking to said conservatives is to realize that at least 50% of the population of America agrees with the co-hosts of The View more than they do the conservatives.  In other words, the show has a base that it definitely appeals to.

The analogy falls apart even further when Samantha Bee and Bill Maher are brought into the picture.  These two are comedians whose shows are specifically political satire.  Their flavor is political comedy.  The statements and comparisons they made were made as part of their show and in the vein of political comedy.  The comedy may be offensive and vulgar, but it is still comedy used to make a point.  Though Rosanne's show is a comedy, her tweet was made in her real life.  It was a personal tweet made revealing her inner thoughts and opinions.  If it was an attempt at comedy on twitter, it was not clear.

Further, Bee and Maher both targeted people in the public eye.  We always give comedians, pundits, media, etc. a wider berth when it comes to discussing and even ridiculing people who have placed themselves in the public eye.  While Ms. Jarrett had been an adviser to Obama, her time in the White House has passed and she is by and large a private citizen.  Generally, we recognize that if you have retreated out of the public eye, that privacy is to be respected (or we did).

Finally, vulgarity and offensiveness do not equal or even rival racism. We have reached a point in our society where we have deemed certain things patently unacceptable.  Racism is one of them.  And while we do find racism offensive, not everything that is offensive rises to that level.  Somethings can just be vulgar and offensive.  If we started punishing everything that any person deemed as vulgar or offensive, our televisions would be blank.

* - I'm careful to label this as certain groups of conservatives because I recognize that there are groups of conservatives that found Rosanne's tweet to be unacceptable and are just calling out apparent disparities or biases.  Truly calling out hypocrisy is a noble effort.  But if you are asking for Rosanne to be picked up by another network in one hand, while asking for The View or Samantha Bee to be canceled in another, I'm going to question your true motives.

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