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A Handmaid’s Double-Standard

A Handmaid’s Double-Standard

by Kevin Kelton

Yesterday I joined the national chorus applauding ABC and Disney for firing Roseanne Barr after her tweets about Valerie Jarrett and George Soros. Today I am reconsidering my stand.

I think I was wrong, and I think ABC was, too.

In light of the Samantha Bee’s controversial c**t comment about Ivanka Trump, and considering other recent controversial jokes in the news, we need to decide on one national standard. Either we have freedom of expression or we don’t.

Thirty-eight years ago comedian Charles Rocket was summarily fired from Saturday Night Live for ad-libbing the word “fuck” in the goodbyes segment. Sixteen years ago Bill Maher lost his ABC late night show, Politically Correct, after suggesting the 9/11 attackers were “not cowardly.” Last year, Kathy Griffin was fired from CNN’s New Years Eve coverage (and lost millions of dollars in bookings) for a photo of her holding the dismembered head of the president. SNL writer Katie Rich was suspended for tweeting a joke about Barron Trump. And ‘lest we forget, Sen. Al Franken was hounded out of office over a joking photo (and some unverified allegations of mild misogyny). 

I was opposed to all those forms of politically correct censorship, so I have to be in Roseanne’s case, too, as awful as her tweets were. 

Though I give ABC and Disney executives great credit for trying to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances, I now think in the light of another day that maybe there was a more appropriate punishment for Roseanne Barr – one that didn’t unfairly punish her fellow cast members, crew and fans. 

Maybe ABC should have instead insisted on the first episode of season two of “Roseanne” addressing the tweet controversy in some positive light. What if Roseanne Connor were shown taking to Twitter for the first time and sending that exact same tweet about Valerie Jarret or Michelle Obama or Oprah or another high-profile woman of color. And suppose that person were somehow brought face to face with the TV Roseanne to explain why the comment was hurtful to all black people and especially young black girls. What if Roseanne’s character actually learned and grew from the experience, much as was done with Archie Bunker when he met Sammy Davis Jr.

Obviously, this consequence would not have hit home with Roseanne the way cancelling her highly profitable series did. And it could have been written off as a cheap publicity stunt. But it also might have had more lasting social impact to show an avowed Trump supporter coming face to face with her own ingrained racism. Wouldn’t that have potentially made a more positive cultural shift than simply firing their right-wing icon?

If there needed to be a harsher consequence for Roseanne’s actions, it should be handed out by the market place of advertisers and ratings. If Americans want to punish her for her actions, they can do it with their remote controls. That is the jury that should be making these decisions, not a C-suite of entertainment executives trying to impose morality on all of us. They are TV programmers, not ministers or ethicists. I like Bob Iger, and I’d probably like ABC President Channing Dungey, but beyond the bounds of what they put on their airwaves, I’m not sure I want them determining what’s acceptable public conversation and what’s not. We don’t give the power of public censorship to elected officials. Let’s not give it to corporate bosses.

If we give private citizens that power, they will take it and they will use it. If Roseanne can be summarily fired for one misstep of poor judgment, so can you. Anything your employer deems inappropriate can be brought back to haunt you, and maybe derail your career forever. I know we have “at will” employment already, but this current trend will only magnify it. Yesterday it was Roseanne. Today it is Samantha Bee. Tomorrow it may be your spouse, your child, your parent, or you. If you think you are so infallible that you are immune from such a fate, guess again. So did Barr, Bee, Griffin, Franken, and the others.

The steps between our world today and the world of A Handmaid’s Tale are incremental and often imperceptible in the moment. Little individual rights that get taken away. Little individual injustices that no one else stands up against. Until we ask, how did we get here? We got here because we allowed it.

I’m not ready to turn a generation of comedians and other celebrities into handmaidens.

Valerie Jarrett and Ivanka Trump will be fine in the morning. But our culture is on life support. Let’s not keep tugging on the plug.

Kevin Kelton is a former Saturday Night Live writer. He is currently a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

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16 comments on A Handmaid’s Double-Standard

    1. Thank you, Allan. I liked your response, too. 🙂
      –Kevin

  1. Bill Linnell says:

    Good point. It’s like the response to suspend a kid from school for smoking. What does a kid who is experimenting with cigarettes do on three days unsupervised, out of school? Smoke a lot more.

    1. Thank you, Bill. Yes, the more I thought about it, the more I think firing her just charges up Trump’s right-wing base and gives her free reign to go even nuttier. Firing her was the feel-good response, and I admit I also felt good at first when ABC cancelled the show. But as I thought more about it, I think they and we missed a great teachable moment that could have been targeted through an episode right to the people in this country who really need to hear it.
      –Kevin

  2. Havey Epstein says:

    Two very different situations here. Samantha Bee, while doing her job, made a bad judgment call regarding vulgar language. The network she works for presumably has standards and practices that gave her a green light either explicitly or implicitly. Roseanne Barr, on her own time, pedaled a racist tweet along with outlandish lies regarding Chelsea Clinton and George Soros. And it’s not the first time, nor would have likely been the last. It’s unreasonable to conflate the two.

    ABC & Iger, et. al. likely saw the shit show coming in terms of sponsors of the show. AND they’ve dealt with Roseanne Barr before. Cutting their losses now, instead of waiting for the inevitable insanity to rear its head later on, might or might not be the best course of action. But one can’t argue that it doesn’t make any sense.

    1. Thank you, Havey. Of course you’re right, no one can argue that firing her doesn’t make sense. I just think that, even given all those factors, it may not have been the best outcome. She is now a martyr on the Trump mantel. I fear that we may have cut off our ideologic noses to spite our face.
      –Kevin

      1. Frank Giarratano says:

        What’s one is done! What’s the point of “Monday morning quaterbacking”? Roseanne got what she deserved! She’s proving herself more like TRrump everyday, ‘doubling down’, after an insincere apology! She has suffered a loss in prestige, and, while she doesn’t need money, she’s suufering a loss of THAT, TOO (including residuals from reruns of the original show). She can ‘go fly a kite’! I really ‘GFUHS’.

  3. Linda says:

    She was fired for a racist comment. She was warned 4 different times. Samantha’s word was wrong but did not deal in racism. Again we compare apples to oranges and twist the issue. SMH. Stay Focused!

  4. Sadie sue says:

    This is a thoughtful response to this situation and is truly food for thought. However, I can’t seem to really equate the two in my head & heart. Barr’s comments were made as a “private” citizen though a high profile one. While your suggested solution to use her second season as a teachable moment risings a little “After School Special” to me. Barr has been spewing forth her ridiculous agenda for years so I find it suspect for to suddenly “see the light” and capitulate to those demands had the network so ordered. Her excuse for “not knowing” Jarrett was black speaks to 2 proofs – her ignorance of those she tweets about and/or the desire to keeps fires aflame within those who agree with her. Either is repulsive yet that is the world we live. Samantha Bee was righteously angry given the nature of the segment she was performing, the separation of children from their parents. With a picture of mother & child from a clueless person of influence while this atrocity is swirling around our heads was true commentary. Strong words to be sure but the pony needed to be made. It wasn’t based on some conspiracy or “theory” but on fact. And sometime, just sometimes, we need to be hit over the head with a hammer.

  5. Sadie sue says:

    This is a thoughtful response to this situation and is truly food for thought. However, I can’t seem to really equate the two in my head & heart. Barr’s comments were made as a “private” citizen though a high profile one. While your suggested solution to use her second season as a teachable moment rings a little “After School Special” to me. Barr has been spewing forth her ridiculous agenda for years so I find it suspect for her to suddenly “see the light” and capitulate to those demands had the network so ordered. Her excuse for “not knowing” Jarrett was black speaks to 2 proofs – her ignorance of those she tweets about and/or the desire to keep fires aflame within those who agree with her. Either is repulsive yet that is the world we live. Samantha Bee was righteously angry given the nature of the segment she was performing, the separation of children from their parents. With a picture of mother & child from a clueless person of influence while this atrocity is swirling around our heads was true commentary. Strong words to be sure but the point needed to be made. It wasn’t based on some conspiracy or “theory” but on fact. And sometime, just sometimes, we need to be hit over the head with a hammer.

  6. Kathy says:

    I”m one of those common people that no longer have any clue what the standards are. Thrilled she was canned, I am now concerned that Roseanne is being touted as a “victim”, I agree, she will just play this for her own purposes. I see a new commercial: “(Ambian made me to it!!, please buy !!!*****”
    Kim Davis is given accommodation for discrimination against gays, but black football players are not allowed to peacefully kneel.
    Franken is drummed out of politics when we desperately need good people, as Arpaio is given a pardon that is repugnant.

    But there is a small insistent voice in my head that whispers: Those individual rights are important…really important… how important???? Oh, yes, critical. Oh..yes.

    So…count me in on keeping the plug in. Great article, thank you.

    Kathy L

  7. Jack Nelson says:

    I do agree for the most part but the part about leaving it to the masses as the final jury I think could and likely would lead to Trump supporters then thinking it was OK to make racist comments, they probably already do anyway, but Roseann keeping her job would make them not only think it’s OK, but also that there are no consequences. Most people would get fired for what she said so I don’t see why she should be an exception. On the other had Sam-B has always been a raunchy comedian which we’ve all gotten used to on late night TV. I know this is all relative to my own tastes and experience but I just didn’t find what she said all that horrible. Maybe the fact I agree with her comes into play, but of course people on the right have their own feelings. However we need to do our best to not encourage or support public platforms for people to foster racial epithets. Thank You!

  8. Bernice Jasper says:

    On and on and on…….No evil comment should not have consequences. It is hard to compare one to another and levels of degree are sometime hard to compare, but I, for one, want nothing to do with people who spout overt, racist, ugly comments about others. I hear comments about “how could” someone make such ugly comments and I wonder why anyone would want to make such comments? I do not find it hard to be politically correct, as it is called. I think it is what decent people do. One degree of ill comments may not be punished in the same way as another, but I feel no regret when the perpetrator is punished. Trump for some of his words: (I feel he started some of this.) “Grabbing women.” will never be forgotten. He was not punished for it, but he will always be remembered for it. Not punishment enough to be remembered as a pussy grabber? Did I forget to mention his comments about Mexicans and Muslims, which in Charlotteville transferred onto African Americans and Jewish people.

  9. Brenda says:

    We are on a corrections course in America. A learning curve as it were. The racial gap is huge not as bad as in the 40’s but pretty bad. There is a large % of this country that do not want anything to do with blacks and have no respect for black people. Actually I am very surprised at how bad the problem is. I pray one day it gets better but I’m afraid it is going to take many many years.

  10. Elaine Tanay says:

    This is an absolute ridiculous comparison. Do you recall Trump supporters like Ted Nugent calling Hilary Clinton, presidential candidate, former secretary of state, the same “c” word? Do you recall Trump inviting Nugent to the White House?!!! Do you recall at Trump rallies, his crowds yelled that Hilary Clinton was a “C—T”? Have you seen the “C-U—-T t-shirts with the whole vile word being worn to Trump rallies. Did he denounce Nugent, his supporters, etc??? How about calling Africa a “shithole” country? Or all the horrible things he has said about women?

    What is not mentioned much is that Roseanne accused Soros, a Holocaust Survivor, of turning in other Jews, and causing their death (she wrote this to Chelsea Clinton) and then profitting financially from it. This does not compare with one swear word that most people wouldn’t use, but many comedians have.

    1. Wanda Whalen says:

      I’M WITH YOU ELAINE.

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