Unless it comes back from the dead yet again, Roseanne is over. After the star of the eponymous show, Roseanne Barr, insulted Valerie Jarret, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, in a tweet widely derided as racist on May 29, ABC abruptly canceled the reboot of the hit 1990s series.
I’m not shedding any tears for the show or for its central star. I was a one-time fan of Roseanne back during its initial run, but there was just something about seeing all the old characters a quarter century on that reminded me of my own distance from youth … and that’s not something I want to dwell on in the context of enjoying what is supposed to be a light and airy sitcom.
True, I never got aboard the newest Roseanne bandwagon; had I, I still likely would have found Barr’s propensity to insult and denigrate — all in that high-pitched, loud voice akin to Gilbert Gottfried (of whom I’m generally a fan) — a bit too much to handle in an age when respectful communication seems to be going the way of black-and-white television programs.
Roseanne Barr, though, has long been a peddler of dangerous and vicious conspiracy theories, as well as a dealer in invective and put-downs. The Jewish comedienne’s original series was in many ways a celebration of Middle American coarseness; it was part of its charm. But back then, that stood for an earthy down-hominess — more appealing than debasing. Today, however, it appears as backward as trying to drive by sole use of the rearview mirror, celebrating views as authentically “American” as they are repulsive, at least as far as racism is concerned.
Maybe the difference is that in place of Twitter, the late 20th century had The Jerry Springer Show; in place of Facebook, there were the supermarket tabloids.
Today, as the current president has clearly demonstrated, the most hair-brained idea can instantly be granted legitimacy by the collective power of sharing a social media post. (The same day she insulted Jarret, Barr also referred to the daughter of former President Bill Clinton as “Chelsea Soros Clinton,” harking back to a debunked belief that Clinton’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is a nephew of liberal icon George Soros. President Donald Trump retweeted the dig to his 2.7 million followers.)
The rantings and ravings of the deluded have always been a feature of public life, but today, few question them.
Alan Dershowitz, the longtime civil libertarian and Democratic lawyer who today is more likely to be seen defending Trump on national television against what he’s called an overzealous investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, offers a way forward in these hyper-partisan and reason-deficient times. Speaking at Gratz College’s annual gala last week at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the Harvard law professor sparred with college president Paul Finkelman in a question-and-answer session dubbed “Beyond Chutzpah.” In it, he defined what for him it means to be bipartisan.
Bipartisanship, said Dershowitz, means being able to criticize those for whom you voted when they’re in the wrong and supporting those for whom you voted against when they do the right thing. (Dershowitz, he told the crowd, voted for Obama twice and for Hillary Clinton in 2016.) He said this in the context of supporting Trump for relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and in asserting that anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism among some in the far-left of American political life is more dangerous than similar views among the far-right.
Many disagreed with Dershowitz’s sentiments, but few at the Gratz celebration could fault either his logic or his eloquence. Everyone applauded him.
If civil dialogue is ever to experience a return to television, we’re going to need more people like Dershowitz and less like Barr. At the same time, we could do with a lot less Twitter and Facebook.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected].