Runaway Rant: Roseanne, Crime & Punishment

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Helena Bonham Carter as Ari in Tim Burton’s reworking of Planet of the Apes.

How serious of a crime is a foul tweet, and what should the punishment be?

The Crime

Roseanne tweeted something stupid and offensive. Agreed. She said someone who is part black looks like a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. It’s not just sophomoric, it’s elementary school recess time bullying — “You look like __________.” [Note: there’s a good chance Roseanne was referring to Helena Bonham Carter as Ari in Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, though that may not help her case. But for those of us that like our reality chunky and with a full array of grays in it, it may be worth considering that Helena is white and her makeup may be the similarity in question. Also worth noting is that Valerie Jarrett was a senior advisor to Obama, and thus someone with considerable prestige and power.]

In a climate where it is accepted that if you say or tweet something wrong, that’s the end of you and your career, than it makes perfect sense to tar and feather Roseanne and run her out of town. [Spoiler alert, I find the aforementioned climate more troubling than Roseanne making fun of a powerful politician’s appearance]. What Rosanne said smacks of old-school racism proper, and that’s probably the bullet train to ruination. Never mind for a moment that you can say Trump looks like a pig, Jabba the Hut, and make a sculpture of him with a micro-penis and that’s A-OK, you deserve a medal of honor.

A Google search for “Trump looks like Jabba the Hut” gets 185,000results. Apparently Carrie Fischer said Trump should play Jabba. Cher compared the two on Twitter, no problemo. There’s lots of Photomontages and cartoons of Jabba the Trump. Some might call that body shaming or fat shaming. THAT’S not PC! Should we make ourselves offended?

Screenshot-2018-6-8 Cher on Twitter

Give Trump a pig’s nose and put him on the cover of New York Magazine and get a pat on the back.

So, just to be crystalline clear, some people you can make fun of, including their body, complexion, genitals, and be absolutely vicious about it. Others you can’t criticize at all. Know which is which BEFORE you go after someone’s appearance!

Sometimes when I’m in a cynical mood I think it’s human nature to want to have someone to hate and despise as the evil other. Can people abandon that altogether? Does there always have to be someone who we are allowed or even encouraged to hate and ridicule?

Don’t you want somebody to hate?
Don’t you need somebody to hate?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to hate?
You better find somebody to hate!

At least we know who we CAN hate with impunity. That’s a relief. It’s Trump for sure, and his race and gender.

By the way, there are little things you pick up when you live in a foreign country long enough, and a little gem I gathered in China was that “pig skin” is a derogatory phrase Chinese use to describe white people.  This, we know, is not racist, because racism is power plus privilege, and only white people have that, though it does get perhaps a little sticky in China where whites aren’t a majority. Point is, comparing Trump to a pig could be making fun of his race a wee bit.

But, there’s a serious distinction one needs to make here. It’s OK to make fun of someone’s face, appearance, or penis in overtly cruel ways. It’s even OK to exaggerate racial characteristics if the person doesn’t belong to a protected class (ex., making Trump look like a giant Cheeto). But don’t be racist!

I’d be a hypocrite here if I didn’t admit to making George W. Bush + chimp photo-manipulations myself, back in the day. And I drew an unflattering caricature of Trump last year.

Oh, I forgot my montage of him and a mushroom cloud, which I made after he threatened the people of North Korea with “Fire and Fury” like an idiot out of “The Sound and the Fury”.

So, yeah, I’m not innocent. Nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes. In my defense the idea of nuking people really pisses me off.

I also did a caricature of Kim Jong-un, because I’m not overly fond of entitled tyrants, either.

I’m OK for now, though, because nobody cares how cruelly you depict Trump or what you say about his physical appearance. The worse the better! And sure, if an alien species were to look at all this and didn’t know much about American history they might be a bit confused about why comparing one person to a pig and another to a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes were on polar extremes of good Vs evil.

Oh, but my caricature of Kim Jong-un. I’m on thin ice there. If he weren’t the Supreme Dictator Leader of North Korea, and were, instead, someone in Obama’s cabinet, than all of a sudden this becomes a racist drawing!!!

Yikes! I wasn’t so big on Hillary either, mostly because of her warmongering and American Exceptionalism. I thought the whole point of universal standards was that there are no exceptions. When there are, I believe that is known as tyranny. I was for Bernie, but then again, I just discovered, so was Roseanne!! [Note: I’m not really a fan, but I did watch her show back in the day. Haven’t seen the new one or anything from her in the last decade.]

Possible and debatable double standards aside, Roseanne F’d up and everyone knows it. You don’t say something that substantiates a comparison of blacks to less-than-human simians, which is what was done in the past to justify chattle slavery. She unintentionally aligned herself with the most historically despicable American mental cancer. I don’t know what’s more shocking, the offensiveness of what she said or the stupidity of saying it. C’mon folks, who doesn’t know better than to compare someone to Planet of the Apes in 2018!

Granted, she was on a prescription drug which may have clouded her judgment or the clarity of her thought, and she says she didn’t even know the woman was part black. Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s an excuse, or a bit of both. The drug company quickly chimed in that their product is not know to cause racism. Funny, but, a quick Internet search shows that Ambien’s side-effects include: memory loss; confusion; aggression; anxiety; depression; suicidal thoughts; disorientation; and inability to concentrate. So, the real question is, could those side effects alter someones thoughts or judgment thus producing a racially insensitive utterance? Mmmmmmaybe.

I think we can all agree that what Rosanne said was nasty, dumb, and smacks of racism. We can’t be as sure that it was really intended the way it came off, or that she was 100% in control of her facilities.

The Punishment

My issue is with the draconian punishment, and it’s because I’m not comfortable living in a society in which if you slip up once, and say something wrong, than your career is over, and you end up humiliated in the public square. It’s the same reason why I don’t support capital punishment. I just don’t like the government, or whomever, having that kind of power over me or anyone else. I don’t trust the powerful to necessarily be good, nor do I think they are necessarily better, more just, or more human than you or me. And the same goes for the social media mob.

Pan back a bit and look at the underlying principle. A moral transgression is now punishable with the instant termination of someone’s career. Imagine if we were to comb through rap lyrics and punish the artists who used the word faggot, whore, bitch or similar, and especially if the context made it explicitly worse?

Do we want to live in a society with extreme punishment for relatively minor moral transgressions? Even if you are OK with that, you might not be if the definitions of moral transgressions were altered a bit. A video I saw of gays being whipped in public in Indonesia in front of a cheering crowd comes to mind.

People F up and say dumb shit sometimes. When I was in grad school one of my non-white teachers advised my peers (I was the only white male in my class) that they shouldn’t hate white men because, “Are you going to hate a pig your whole life?”. It was kinda’ like the idea that when you are angry it’s like holding a hot piece of coal. So, the problem was burdening oneself with hating, but the part about white men being pigs was golden. If one puts on ones anti-bias helmet, that was a pretty F’d up thing for my teacher to say. It actually encouraged my peers to hate me, as a pig, temporarily, but not to obsess on it too much because I wasn’t worthy of their time.

Now, what would be an appropriate punishment for that teacher? Should her career have been destroyed? I would have been happy if she’d just realized that was a shitty thing to say and noticed her own stunning hypocrisy. Maybe she gets a warning or something. She’s gotta’ live it down.

In Roseanne’s case, what punishment would I find suitable. Well, I kinda’ think that for a careless, stupid, and offensive tweet the public outcry, shame and humiliation might have stung far worse than being compared to Planet of the Apes.

But there’s now an idea of “protected classes”. If you don’t know about this, it’s rather new as far as I know. I mentioned this in another rant, but my introduction came via new regulations about what kind of content will be tolerated in certain social media platforms. No inciting of violence against protective classes is allowed, for example. I wondered why only a select group were protected from violence directed at them. I think everyone gets the idea and knows who the protected classes are and who the unprotected class is.

I gather that you can compare Trump to a pickled, shaved Sharpei with a flattened cow patty stamped to its head and it’s OK because he’s in an unprotected class. Say anything remotely similar about Obama and, well, I dare not give a faux example because it makes you the lowest of the low.

In Thailand you can’t say anything bad about the King. Absolutely forbidden. Blasphemy! And there are punishments. In America you can say whatever you want about the president, but not about a protected class.

I hope that’s an exaggeration. I’m not really sure about the full import of “protected classes”. I think we should go straight to protecting everyone equally, AND relaxing punishments across the board. Thus, if someone is really, as in literally, as in what the word really means, inciting violence against an innocent person or persons, than I think it should be OK to pull the plug on that. But it shouldn’t be too subjective and debatable, such as when radical activists wanted to shut down an artist’s show because she once made a painting of Emmet Till as a protest against white supremacy, but they felt it was unintentionally itself white supremacist, and thus all of her work incited state sponsored violence against black people and continued genocide against indigenous peoples.

And if we are going to allow vicious caricatures of Trump’s visage and his pecker, perhaps other comparisons, even racist ones against protected classes shouldn’t be considered high crimes against humanity on par with dens of torture.

I’m not sure of all the politics and subjective impressions involved in this debacle, but I am quite certain I am not comfortable living in a society that metes out extreme punishment for comparatively minor transgressions (uh, just think Dylan Roof for a really sickening crime). A counter is that the law didn’t punish Roseanne, ABC just chose to cancel her series. This is a new phenomenon we are seeing, where a person is judged, punished, and sentenced without a lawyer to defend them, a jury, or the rule of law. It’s a kind of moral authority and mob rule. ABC was doubtlessly responding not only to their own moral codes, but to the anticipated perception of the public, and not wanting to be associated with racism. We’ve seen the same thing in the art world, with shows being canceled, works destroyed, and paintings taken down because the public (or rather the social justice faction) is taking justice into its own hands.

Whether one approves or not of this application of justice to Roseanne, do we really want justice to be determined by an anomalous moral authority and mob rule?

As I said with Hillary Clinton and exceptionalism, if we are going to have very high moral standards, I would prefer that they are universal, agreed upon, that the punishment fit the crime, and that the accused be given a fair trial. No exceptions for people above the law, too big too fail, or protected classes. It’s just so much easier and obviously more fair if we have one standard for everyone. The least we can ask of justice is that it not be confusing, relative, or hypocritical.

I like my justice to be less extreme than whatever the offense, not more. It’s called setting a good example. I’ve felt this way about capital punishment since I was in my teens. How can we tell people it’s wrong to kill if we sanction doing it ourselves? If there’s justification for the state to kill its citizens, then, well, sometimes it’s not just OK to kill, it’s righteous. I’d prefer to err on the other end of the spectrum.

I’d rather justice were guilty of being too lenient rather than too severe. [Note that the same people who were fiercely against the three strikes policy or people being jailed for marijuana possession support SHUTTING DOWN Roseanne for a mean tweet.] By me, when we are destroying people’s lives over a tweet, it’s just too easy to throw ones life away. And if stupidity is a crime, well, shit, it’s also too easy to be stupid. I would reserve the stronger punishments for stuff people do very deliberately, in a way that is intended to cause serious harm, and requires a bit more planning and cruel execution than just typing for a few seconds at the keyboard. Suddenly typing a tweet is like walking through a land-mine. One false step and BOOM!

And here’s one of my first caricatures of Bush II from 2001.

Just tweak out who is in charge of what is a moral transgression, and if I had a career, it could be ended tomorrow for this old drawing.

Before we worry about the application of punishment, we need to consider the degree of punishment. The more drastic the punishment, and the less accountable the moral authority administering it, the greater the potential for grievous social injustice.

~ Ends

[My ideas aren’t fixed and I can change my mind. Sometimes someone leaves a comment that helps me adjust my sites on an issue and have a bit more clarity. So, this is my opinion this afternoon. When you write an idea you stick your neck out, brand yourself with a stance, that’s when you become defensive and closed-minded towards other views. So, best to admit on the front-side that ones ideas are works in progress, and progress happens in and through making mistakes. That said, this seems a pretty good argument to me.]

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8 thoughts on “Runaway Rant: Roseanne, Crime & Punishment

  1. Eric,
    You make a lot of good points here. Not a lot of people want to comment on a racist statement. But this is when you need to be able to speak freely, otherwise we lose all of our freedoms in the end, and not just the one being ostracized. I agree the punishment should fit the crime. Prison I believe is mostly to reform people. Except for the very worst who will never be released. When someone is shamed publicly and then goes away for ever, how does that help the person who’s made a mistake? Or help society, how does that help the masses? It would seem to me it only makes people think, I’m not going to speak up, about anything, even if you feel your justified. That’s the start down a very bad road. When people are being taken away in the night it’s too late to speak up. I know, that’s crazy, that could never happen in America!

    Here’s one more thought. Have you heard of Charles Darwin? He had a theory he called evolution. I thought he proved we all evolved from apes. I know it’s insensitive to say someone looks like an ape, but we are all related to them so should probably look a little like our ancestors. If someone said I looked like an ape, I’d probably say, thanks genius, I am one, and so are you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes but he’s very rich and powerful – its quite different when poorer less powerful people take a swipe or laugh at at some one like that. When he laughs at a disabled reporter that disgraceful. It’s all about power differentials. I’m surprised that you can’t see that that matters, Eric.

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        1. I can see why it’s disgraceful if Trump mimics a disabled reporter, and I can see why it’s stupid and offensive to compare a black person to Planet of the Apes.

          Let’s go deeper than that, and be more particular. Roseanne’s comment was about a former senior advisor to President Obama. THAT is a position of power, and I would guess riches as well. So, she is also powerful.

          So, the distinction we are making is that when Roseanna attacks a powerful person’s race, she is attacking the whole race, and that includes people who aren’t powerful.

          But the same holds for Trump when the attacks are directed at his race, gender, or body. His hair is fair game, I’d think, because it doesn’t reflect on anyone else. But the body shaming is pushing the limit. When we attack his race we attack everyone of that race.

          Is there a double standard? Is it OK to ridicule white male bodies and complexions? Why is it OK?

          I already know the answers, but I think they are hypocritical and ultimately counterproductive. If we are going to say it’s not OK to attack people’s race, gender, etc… we can’t say EXCEPT one group.

          Either everyone is fair game, or nobody is, if we wanted to be fair. Now, if we want a scapegoat that it’s OK to ridicule, that’s something different, but I wouldn’t call is social justice.

          Anyway, the point of the article is that the punishment is too severe, there’s rampant hypocrisy, people are being brainwashed, and the left is turning into a monstrous parody of itself. One only need look at the new version of Miss America, too see that. We are going to get rid of the bikinis and judge them on what they say. My guess is they are going to give social justice lectures. Hooray for Miss Social Justice. Now, I couldn’t give a flying flapjack about Miss America, never watched it, always thought it was lame and backwards, but, this new development just shows how ridiculous the radicalized, extremist, and reductionist end of the left spectrum has become. And I was for Bernie, and when he dropped out, Jill Stein.

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  2. Emma,
    Please don’t take any of this as I’m angry, just asking some questions that go through my head. I guess she’s famous so a lot of people listen to her and that makes it worse, but I’ve always believed in the same standards for all. That’s true equality. Maybe because we’re not there yet so it’s ok to hold the oppressors to a very high standard until it goes away. Is that the thought behind the double standard where it’s ok to say horrible things about Trump and not get fired, but say anything about a minority and your done? My worry with that is for the long road. What seeds are being planted in the minds of young white men. I’m old and can brush off insults that younger people take serious offense to. Maybe I’ve just read too much history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gotta interject here. I think there’s a sticky little issue that people don’t even see, or are afraid to acknowledge, which is that there’s a lot of prejudice, dehumanization, belittling, scapegoating, taunting, and humiliation directed at white males, and explicitly in terms of race and gender (ex., all the mugs being sold with “White Male Tears” emblazoned on them). So, it’s OK to mock the suffering of others and rejoice in it IF they are white males, but anyone else and it’s a hate crime with serious consequences? I think it’s time to say NO, it’s NOT OK to be mean and nasty, with impunity, to a select group of people based on their biology at birth and irrespective of their actual circumstances or who they are. Should be obvious and painfully so.

      Oh, it doesn’t happen? I think it does, and there are stunning examples of it. I can just use my own anecdotal experience, like the teacher I mentioned who said white men are pigs but don’t waste your time hating them because they aren’t worth it. I had another teacher say to me, directly, in a graduate seminar, “We’ve heard from you for thousands of years, and nobody cares what you have to say anymore”. That’s a royally fucked up thing to say to a student in a college classroom. It is part of what destroyed my career. And it took me years to recover psychologically from the abuse.

      I also got lots of rich and gooey racism directed at me in China. People who think racism is a white thing need to travel more.

      Like

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