Roseanne vs. “Roseanne”

Should “Roseanne” have been cancelled because Roseanne is a racist?

The MeToo era, in which art is being removed from museums and TV shows cancelled because of the extracurricular behavior of the artists, raises the old question: How should we view the relationship between the art and the artist?

Apparently ABC didn’t find “Roseanne” racist. They only cancelled when Roseanne made the racist tweet. If we consistently cancelled works of art because of artists’ prejudices, there would be little left of, say, 20th century art. Almost all white writers and artists, like most of their audience, were to some extent racist and sexist, and a lot anti-semitic. (Since art is, despite what we like to think, not, miraculously, transcendent and universal, these attitudes often seeped into the art itself.)

I just read that Einstein’s newly published travel journals display some anti-Chinese racism. I assume we don’t want to cancel the theory of relativity because he was not always the great humanitarian he is often thought to be.

Of course there are other reasons a network might want to cancel a show even if the work itself is unobjectionable. No one has suggested, that I’m aware, that “The Cosby Show” was abusive toward women. But I imagine its life in re-runs will be limited by what we know about how the man was behaving while playing “America’s father.”

Perhaps ABC figured that “Roseanne” the show, even if not itself racist, would would be tainted for viewers by association with its creator’s racism.

The politics of the earlier working class sitcom “All in the Family” (1971-79) –that is, the politics of the show’s creators– and those of its [loveable] title character were clearly different. The comic premise of Archie Bunker’s loveable racism and sexism depended on his being viewed as a holdout of a war well on its way to being won by feminism and the civil rights movement.

Now however, perhaps even the original “Roseanne” would read differently. Given social, economic and political realities of the past few years, the jokes, may seem antiquated, perhaps condescending, maybe not so funny.

Already at that time 20 years into the flatlining of wages for working people, a lot of the working class represented by the characters have not t as it has turned out, come to share the politics of the series’ creators. They have instead they became the Tea Party and Trump supporters. I think there would be a considerable overlay of irony for viewers red or blue in watching re-runs of either show.

I was a regular watcher of the original “Roseanne.” While ABC apparently did not find the revived version racist or otherwise a problem, I decided not to watch it partly because I had never found the original series as entertaining as “Frasier” (or “Seinfeld”), and because from what I read about the revival, it might well (like a perfectly well-executed statue celebrating the losing side in the Civil War) be giving aid and comfort to the Trump-encouraged resurgence of racism and fascism. I had better things to do with my TV viewing time. Like watching the powerful “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

I was dozens of episodes into my third bingewatch of “Frasier,” a classic of comic genius in my opinion, since the series ended 14 years ago, when a friend happened to mention that Kelsey Grammer, Frasier’s creator, was a conservative and a supporter of Ben Carson, of all bizarro candidates, and then of Trump. (Aw, say it aint so.) I haven’t stopped watching, but I must admit it has affected my viewing. A little. It’s still very funny. Whatever his creator’s political shortcomings, it’s hard to picture Frasier, that loveable snob, as a Trump supporter.

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