Like many of you, I have been following news about Roseanne and Samantha Bee getting in trouble for making comments on Twitter. One made flat-out racist comments; the other used a questionable word. The result has been a lively, passionate discussion about free speech on Twitter. (As well as a correlating number of flat-out troll reactions). But I can bring a unique perspective: I have watched both women on television. I have seen Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, as well as most of the episodes of the Roseanne revamp, and their Twitter activities – in one case, gracefully, in another, sadly – reflects the tone and tenor of their work.
Let’s look at Samantha Bee’s infamous use of the “C-word” – let’s be honest: she’s used it on her show before and it’s been appropriately bleeped out. Remove it from this (or any other context), and she manages to make a serious point. (To be even more specific: how Ivanka could celebrate her being a mother when her father’s policies are encouraging the separation of children from their families at the border). Could she have made the same point without using that word? Of course. But Samantha Bee was exercising her right to free speech…and she is embracing the consequences.
Several sponsors have dropped out from her show. Samantha Bee has apologized for her statement in public (and on Twitter) multiple times. But at a time when criticizing the current Presidential administration is openly avoided (especially by the mainstream media) and key issues are often ignored or dismissed, turning Samantha Bee into a scapegoat seems hardly appropriate or worthwhile. (And an irrelevant side note: Samantha Bee once guest-starred on an episode of Law & Order that featured a television personality, inappropriate behavior, and prescription drugs. You should be able to catch it on Ion Television Wednesday mornings).
But when we discuss Roseanne’s tweet, in which she claims that an African-American leader is the result of interspecies breeding (to put it mildly)…there’s no way you can separate what she said from any larger point. (In other words, Roseanne’s tweet was merely posted as a mild insult in itself). And Roseanne’s post-tweet behavior – quitting Twitter, then blaming it on Ambien (resulting in the drug company disavowing racism as a side effect) and doubling down on her sense of outrage and wish to have her show uncanceled isn’t just immature…it’s part of her overall pattern of avoiding responsibility.
I should know – I grew up during the first iteration of her sitcom.
I rarely, if ever, watched it – after all, many people in my family were like the Conners, and that’s not a compliment. (When her series finale was on the air, I ignored it in favor of the Doctor Who TV Movie, and then the Chicago Bulls playoff after that. I do not regret my choices). Whether it was fighting with producer Matt Williams, her short-lived marriage to Tom Arnold, or even her claims to a less-than-pleasant past, Roseanne has tended to engage in a similar pattern of behavior:
- Make outrageous statements and claims, leading to public criticism
- Provide a weak-willed apology that provides some rationalization/justification for her behavior, and
- Continue to portray herself as the victim without any willingness to make positive change
And that’s before some of her more recent history of making outrageous claims, including calling a former Presidential candidate the “c-word”.
First, there’s an appropriate way to apologize, which writer John Scalzi outlines in his blog. But more importantly, this has implications for how issues of “free speech” are changing. After all, when we have a President making outrageous claims on Twitter and a media climate that focuses more on that than actual policy issues, does the First Amendment still hold sway?
Yes, it does, because freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from consequences.
For example, I can honestly state that after watching Samantha Bee and Roseanne’s new show…Samantha Bee takes huge chances when examining key political issues from a woman-centric perspective. However, having seen most of Roseanne’s reboot I can honestly say that Roseanne’s show is a poorly-written, pandering pile of garbage that only serves as self-created fan fiction to assuage a fragile ego.
Seriously – plots have taken sudden twists (for example, Becky lies about her age in order to sell an egg for money…but turns out to be infertile. Two episodes have ended with variations on “you’re weird, but we love you anyway.”) One episode even suggested that living in a disaster area is a good thing because FEMA money would save them. (Let’s also include tone-deafness, especially amidst reports that Puerto Rico’s death toll has been sorely underestimated). But the pilot episode, where Roseanne’s sister calls her out on bullying and Roseanne’s response is “…Because I know what’s best for everybody”) sets the tone. In short, the Roseanne revival serves as a last-ditch effort for an aging star to maintain relevancy rather than find a new outlet.
Having said all that, I fully expect there to be criticism either in the comments below or via our Facebook page. Some will even “troll” me via my Twitter account with all the usual right-wing catchphrases to indicate how much lesser I am than they are…but that’s the power of the First Amendment: the President can’t call for a television show to be canceled (as he has with Samantha Bee) or provide “state-sanctioned” approval (like Roseanne). And even I have been trolled on Twitter by a PR agency who objected to a claim that buying Twitter followers was a “false tactic”. But that’s the truth of free speech on social media – responses are immediate, and there are frequent consequences. It takes courage and dignity to face those consequences professionally.
Roseanne has publicly stated that she has felt “thrown under a bus”. But the great thing about free speech is that we can see that she did it to herself. And she’s reluctant to face the consequences.
But Samantha Bee? Handling it like a professional.