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Spare us the hate, Roseanne

The US comedian has sparked a firestorm with her latest racist remarks, but considering her history, anyone could have seen it coming

In a remarkably short 12 hours, Roseanne Barr followed an arc that began in triumph, with her starring in the third-highest rated show on US television, and ended in infamy

The episode started with an offensive, racist tweet - of the sort she's tweeted thousands of times in the past few years - about Valerie Jarrett, one of former President Barack Obama's ex-staffers. Shortly afterwards, the tweet disappeared and was replaced with an abject apology. 

Roseanne announced she was leaving Twitter, as if the social media platform was at fault for her woes. Then, one of her key African-American supporters and showrunners quit. The arc ended with a complete flameout when ABC cancelled her show. 

It's been quite a whirlwind, the sort of chaos that Roseanne loves to sow. But not quite what she envisioned, I'm sure.

Begging forgiveness

It began with this: "Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby=vj." I don't know what she thought she was doing when she used Jarrett's initials. But it didn't fool anyone: when her Twitter followers criticised her tweet as racist, she replied disingenuously that "Islam isn't a race." 

Her next ploy was to delete the tweet, which was already ricocheting around the social media world. Then she humbly apologised for her "joke" and begged Jarrett's and America's forgiveness. Apparently, it wasn't forthcoming.

All this was a bridge too far for ABC executives. But how could they have believed they could create a TV character who was not infected by the pathology of the real Roseanne?

That's when Wanda Sykes, a key player in the Roseanne reboot, quit. ABC realised then that it was facing a major crisis and decided to wash its hands of Roseanne.

My question: what didn't they know before they signed her to star in the remake of Roseanne that they now know? Was Roseanne not a known quantity beforehand? Wasn't her racist, Islamophobic, Holocaust-joke poison known to them? 

I know I sure did my best to make the world aware of her sickness when I published this Alternet profile in 2016. In fact, during the run of her previous TV show, Last Comic Standing, also produced by Sykes, I tweeted Sykes directly about Roseanne's proclivity for outrageous, offensive comments. The show's producer never responded, nor did anyone at the network that aired the show. They all observed radio silence, probably because Roseanne was only one of several judges and her bile wasn't so obvious.

Rancid values

All that changed when ABC reinstalled her as the star of her own network TV show, in which she was a version of her real self. Then the facade became far more exposed, leading to this outcome.

Everyone who thought this show would be a great idea should re-examine their assumptions and values. They wanted to create a show that would take advantage of Trump's "return" to the US heartland. It was natural to think of the hard-working, down-to-earth Conner family, with their solid American values. The Conners were, so the executives thought, exactly the type of family that voted for Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016. What better way to attract a contemporary US audience?

US President Donald Trump speaks during a bill-signing ceremony in Washington in May (AFP)

What they didn't understand was that those simple values, which played so charmingly in the 1990s in the show's heyday, had curdled and turned rancid in the era of Trump. Donald Trump, unlike King Midas, turns everything he touches into dreck.

But the show's revival might still have worked if it didn't have the baggage of Roseanne 2.0: the real celebrity who raved not just about insane conspiracy theories, but referred to Muslims, African Americans and even liberal Jews as apes and Nazis. Into that toxic stew, she added a mix of homophobia as well.  

Zionist conversion

As recently as 2012, Roseanne was a strident anti-Zionist who spoke out for Palestinian rights. Then she underwent some form of Zionist conversion that turned her into a militant supporter of the Israeli far-right and the settler movement.

On the same day she attacked Valerie Jarrett, she also skewered Chelsea Clinton, falsely claiming that she married into the family of financier George Soros. Then she doubled down, claiming he was a "Nazi" who "turned in his fellow Jews" during the Holocaust. This is an anti-Semitic meme forwarded by white supremacists and media conspiracists such as right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, among others.  

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All this was a bridge too far for ABC executives. But how could they have believed they could create a TV character who was not infected by the pathology of the real Roseanne?

They were cynical enough to think they might cash in on a Roseanne Conner/Barr with her finger on the zeitgeist. But they were naive to believe that she somehow wouldn't bring exactly the same bile as Trump has brought to the White House, into the homes of American viewers - or at least a tweet away from their homes.

Then, when she did what they knew she might, they unceremoniously dumped her as though she were radioactive, which she was all along.

I also have a hard time understanding what her co-stars, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf, now distinguished actors known for their thoughtful performances and liberal values, were thinking when they agreed to rejoin the cast for this ride down memory lane. Admittedly, there was a lot of money involved. That has always stood in the way of good sense in Hollywood. But did they not realise they were astride a tiger that might turn around and bite them (and their careers)?

Will Roseanne make a comeback?

I jousted for a few years with Roseanne on Twitter and was smeared by her in her inimitable way. Finally, she blocked me. But I get the last laugh, because ABC has now "blocked" Roseanne. My only hope is that America will do the same. We deserve to be protected from her brand of hate, rather than have to watch it weekly on national television.

I do have a nightmare that the Sinclair Broadcast Group may buy the show from ABC and find it a suitable home on cable somewhere, maybe paired with a new show starring Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson. Then, Roseanne will come back like a vampire from the dead to haunt us again.

It's occurred to many that Roseanne's social media persona may be a combination of deliberate, almost theatrical provocation and pathology. She has claimed publicly that she is bipolar. That may well be. But it doesn't explain why Hollywood entertainment executives were trying to make a buck while ignoring that she is a raving sociopath.

- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the collection Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Roseanne Barr at an event in California in January (AFP)