By Steven S. Drachman.
Today Roseanne Barr sent a tweet. I won’t repeat it.
You know what her tweet was.
On the day her career ended, today, this was her response to the gathering storm:
“I am truly sorry for making a bad joke…. I should have known better. Forgive me — my joke was in bad taste.”
This sent me to the dictionary.
Here is the definition of the word joke, from Webster’s:
“an action, saying, event or circumstance which causes or is intended to cause amusement or laughter || something to be treated lightly, as not important, and with humor….”
Was her remark really intended to cause amusement or laughter? Did she think there was someone out there laughing at her tweet? Was it intended to be treated lightly? Roseanne knows “jokes” — she has made an awful lot of funny ones — and she knows that this was not a joke.
I don’t really think we can separate people from the things they do. If you beat someone up, you are a violent person, for example. If you lose your temper, you are a short-tempered person. And if you send a racist tweet, you are a racist person. People are what they do. So let’s ignore the idea that Roseanne sent a racist tweet but Roseanne is not a racist.
Also, let’s forget about the idea that a liberal who made an offensive joke would not be similarly punished. That’s not what we are talking about. We are not talking about Michelle Wolf.
Roseanne is not a racial comedian, like Rickles. We used to say, well, Rickles tells racial jokes, but he is not a racist. A trip to Atlantic City to see Rickles at the Trump Hotel & Casino convinced me otherwise. He was a racist comedian. Roseanne is not. Roseanne is also not a political racist, like Richard Spencer, or a “scientific” racist, like Charles Murray. She’s not even really an active racist — her TV show has always featured characters of color and has often addressed racism and, it seemed to me, did it well.
So what is she?
This happened a few years back with Imus. You remember what he said. When public opprobrium built, he characterized the remark as a joke “meant to be amusing.” Imus was not a man without wit; he knew that there was nothing about the remark that could be construed as amusing.
By contrast, take, for example, an episode of Fresh Off the Boat, which contained a number of thoughtless and trivializing AIDS jokes. While wretched and cruel, they were recognizable as “jokes.”
Which brings me back, as always, to Mark Halperin, the political reporter and pervert, whom I knew in Hebrew School, more than four decades ago. Anyone who wants to read my recollections of him can do so. But anyone who knew him then, and everyone who knew him in more recent years, recalls someone who was savvy and self-aware. Yet he also engaged in behavior guaranteed to repulse women and destroy his career.
What perplexes me is the inexplicable nature of this behavior. To look for a motive is not to excuse or condone the crime; generally, people doing bad stuff are motivated by something. We know why OJ killed his wife. We know why Bernie Madoff hatched his Ponzi scheme. We know why Ponzi hatched his Ponzi scheme!
But what Roseanne did this morning, like what Mark Halplerin did for years, and what Imus did ten years ago, was an unforced error. People say that she did it because she thought she could do whatever she wanted; but why did she want to do this? An inexplicable and inexcusable act of self-destruction that wrecked her career along with her truly historic legacy. She threw herself into the dustbin of history, and for what?
Her new sitcom, a revamped revival of one of the greatest TV shows in history, returned with a message that I thought was important. Her show told us that the Trump supporter and the Clinton supporter could co-exist in the same country, and even in the same family; that in today’s America, we could still love each other, that we did not have to vilify each other. She has given her opponents more ammunition than they could ever have dreamed of.
Someone explain this to me.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is published by Chickadee Prince Books.
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