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By Erika Sanzi
America could really use some role models and yet somehow, time and time again, entertainment and media find a way to reinvent and elevate the mean-spirited and the unhinged. Roseanne Barr is no exception. But she’s hardly alone.
Author and poet Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
ABC made the conscious choice not to follow that advice when it decided to launch the Roseanne reboot and while being lauded by many for quickly deciding to pull the plug on the show, it’s hard to defend their decision to hire her—again—in the first place.
Long before her racist tweet about former Obama advisor and friend Valerie Jarrett, Roseanne had revealed herself as someone willing to say hateful—and yes, crazy—things in a public forum. She has been showing us who she is for decades and it’s hard to understand how or why we would elevate her to a place of prominence for any reason.
“Mom, isn’t that the lady who screamed the national anthem, then spit and grabbed her crotch?”
“Why yes, yes it is. And now she has her own show. Again.”
“The people who are upset with NFL players kneeling during the anthem must have been really upset about that, right Mom?”
The truth is, Barr isn’t conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. She is a conspiracy theorist who can’t get enough of Jill Stein one minute and Donald Trump the next and who has no qualms about being unabashedly xenophobic.
Right leaning cable news host S.E. Cupp rightly describes Barr this way:
This is a woman who was an early supporter of Birtherism, has compared Muslims to Nazis, took to Twitter regularly to attack citizens both private and public, floated wild conspiracy theories and bullied Trump opponents with racist, homophobic, and antisemitic insults. She infamously dressed up as Hitler in a photo shoot and posed with burnt ‘Jew cookies’ and has promoted anti-Semitic personalities.
And if her xenophobia wasn’t enough, her conspiracy theories must have been.
From JJ McCullough at National Review just last month:
Barr has never met a conspiracy theory she didn’t love. She’s a 9-11 truther who believes that “Bush did it,” and she has called the Boston Marathon bombing one of many “false flag terror attacks” perpetrated by the Obama administration to “remove” the Second Amendment. For good measure, she also believes that the old man Bush killed JFK.
ABC knew about all of this before they decided to re-launch the show. So remind me again why we are applauding ABC?
As risks go, Roseanne came with a ton of them. How did ABC think this was going to go? Suddenly becoming a network star again would put the crazy back in the bottle?… You either knew what you were getting or you hoped no one would care.
But this isn’t new. Keith Olberman was just hired—again—by ESPN. Just after calling the secretary of education a “motherf*****” on Twitter and spending the year tweeting profanity laden rants about the president—and plenty of time before that personally attacking prominent women with whom he disagrees— ESPN decided to bring him back into the fold.
It’s hard to imagine there aren’t more noble and kind people who could do the job better, and with more integrity, than a jerk like Keith Olberman.
THIS HATE ISN’T NEW
Many believe that the election of Donald Trump has led to a coarsening of our discourse and an emboldening of those who hold nationalist, nativist, and yes, racist, views. I agree with that assertion.
But we are kidding ourselves if we think that our way of treating one another was anything to be proud of prior to the election of our current president. It was bad then and it’s worse now.
I spent part of my weekend listening to a mother weep over the vile things that were snapchatted to her son over Memorial Day weekend. Anti-semitic, homophobic slurs sent by his teammates. It’s not the first time. And he is certainly not alone. And neither is she.
We know that children are subjected to the pain of bullying, racism, religious bigotry, homophobia and all garden variety forms of cruelty. And we—the grown ups—bemoan all of that, blaming the parents for their children’s ways and the schools for not doing enough.
WHAT IS ALSO RIGHT IN FRONT OF US IS THAT WE EXIST EVERY DAY IN A COUNTRY WHOSE PRESIDENT, SOME ELECTED OFFICIALS, AND OTHER HIGH PROFILE FOLKS DEMEAN THEIR OPPONENTS AND CRITICS OVER THEIR RACE, THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, THEIR NATION OF ORIGIN, AND THEIR APPEARANCE.
But what is also right in front of us is that we exist every day in a country whose president, some elected officials, and other high profile folks demean their opponents and critics over their race, their religious beliefs, their nation of origin, and their appearance. Television and radio are riddled with personalities who are paid millions of dollars to insult whole swaths of Americans for their religious beliefs—or lack thereof—or their opinions about everything from police brutality, to patriotism to healthcare.
Hollywood types and White House correspondent dinner invitees love to take sanctimonious swipes at the unenlightened and ordinary but struggle to look in the mirror when they are complicit in protecting—and even celebrating—big time bullies and sexual predators.
NO MATTER HOW HARD WE WORK TO SHIELD THEM, OUR CHILDREN ARE SURROUNDED BY INFLUENCES THAT MOCK AND DISRESPECT OTHERS
No matter how hard we work to shield them, our children are surrounded by influences that mock and disrespect others, social media posts by renown influencers who say and do terrible things, and a culture that is increasingly petty and cruel.
Perhaps in this moment, at least, we as parents can use the example of Roseanne to finally show our children that, yes, there are consequences for the things we say and the way we treat others.
Every single person in media has the ability and opportunity to elevate those who, in addition to their talents, can and will improve the tone and substance of our national dialogue.
Let’s hope they finally do it.
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting fellow.
Erika blogs about education in Rhode Island and New England at Good School Hunting.