Graham: Freedom of speech doesn't come without fallout
This week, Roseanne and Samantha Bee showed how words matter, as does context and intent
Roseanne Barr woke up Tuesday morning with some racist thoughts in her head. In an Ambien-induced haze, she published them for all to see, kicking off a wild week where a lot of people got in trouble for the foul, ill-advised or otherwise offensive things that spilled out of their mouths, either on stage, TV or everyone's favorite replacement for actual communication, Twitter.
This was a short week, coming off of the Memorial Day weekend, but it sure didn't feel like one. Within hours of the work week starting, Roseanne's tweet led to the cancellation of her TV show, which became a political firestorm, because in 2018 pretty much everything becomes a political firestorm. The President wasn't concerned with such matters, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters later that afternoon. By the next morning, of course, the Tweeter in Chief was weighing in on it, not shockingly making the situation all about himself.
Later in the week, comedian Samantha Bee referred to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, as the c-word on her TBS show, "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee." Not a great move in any week, but especially not in a week where a female comedian with her own TV show was already hung out to dry for the dumb things she said. Where's her firing, the President asked. (Why the President is concerning himself with the employment policies at TBS is what everyone else should have asked.)
Regardless, we're now discussing words, the meanings of words and who can say which words, because 2018 is the playground and we're all kindergartners. Why can Roseanne say one thing and get fired, and why can Samantha Bee say another thing and keep her job? Why can rappers use the n-word, but when Bill Maher says it there's an uproar? And may I please have a snack? My tummy hurts!
There's no easy answer for who can say what words, except that under no circumstances should white people ever use the n-word. Cases are individual and must be considered according to the source, the context and the intent of the comment. As for Roseanne, her tweets -- which for some reason she chose to publish at the risk of losing her empire, because Twitter is a drug that even the most rich and powerful among us can't say no to and those sweet, sweet retweets and likes are apparently worth it -- were hateful and harmful and rooted in racism. She compared former Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape. Her intent was clear, and ABC acted swiftly, ending her show immediately, despite the ratings bonanza the rebooted "Roseanne" caused when it premiered in March.
On to Bee. When she called Ivanka Trump a see-you-next-Tuesday in reference to a photo the President's daughter posted where she was lovingly holding her child (hashtag Sunday Morning!) while thousands of families are being ripped apart by her father's immigration policies, it was not a shining moment in her comedy career. It's comparable to last year when Stephen Colbert referred to Donald Trump as a conjunction of a different c-word and a "holster," which isn't even a thing, but also stirred up controversy over name-calling and appropriateness.
Was Bee's comment crass? Sure: In the United States, the dreaded c-word is pretty much the worst word you can call a woman. (In the UK, I'm pretty sure they throw it around on morning TV, but we don't live in the UK, even though when there's a Royal Wedding we like to pretend we do.) Bee said it for shock value, and in that regard it was effective and called attention to her larger point about the Trump administration's policies, which was lost in all the brouhaha. Her comment was rooted in playground-style name-calling which, sorry, is not as hateful or harmful as racism.
Is that splitting hairs? Maybe it is. That brings us to veteran punk band NOFX, which this week landed itself in hot water -- if NOFX makes CNN, it's not going to be for a career appreciation piece -- after band members made flippant remarks on stage in Las Vegas about last fall's Sin City mass shooting massacre that left 58 dead and hundreds more injured. “That sucked,” the band's Fat Mike reportedly told audience members, "but at least they were country fans and not punk rock fans.” Oof. Is that punk rock, or is it just boneheaded? The band issued apologies, so it seems its members conceded to the latter. NOFX was subsequently dropped from a music festival this weekend in Ohio and lost a beer sponsorship as a result.
Should the band face further repercussions? Should Roseanne be fired for her comment while Samantha Bee gets to keep her show? Maybe, maybe not. But if it would help even the playing field, maybe Bee should be canned and we can go on a campaign to clean up all usages of offensive language and get to the bottom of this whole mess. That would be great, right? We can start at the top. Except the President might not like that so much.