For a brief time this week, we identified the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Roseanne Barr has been unpredictable and volatile before. This time, she went too far for most — but not all — people by comparing a black woman to an ape.
In some circles that still passes for a joke and that is the way Roseanne meant it, a vicious, demeaning characterization in the tradition of, but more extreme than, tales about dumb blondes and the disabled.
Like those jokes, it was meant to put down the subject while it entertained those who either agreed or were too squeamish to respond. Her language was not far removed from the jokes or even more serious comments you can find today on the internet and not just in the fringe. Many a Facebook feed contains similar language or images, all with the same purpose as Roseanne’s tweet.
If you can put someone down, if you can ridicule and dehumanize them, then you can demonstrate your superiority. If you can get others to agree, to laugh or at least to not disagree, then you gain stature, at least in your own mind.
And if you can put down a whole class of people, a whole race, a whole sex, your power only increases these days.
If somebody does dare to answer, you can always reply with the phrase that Donald Trump has made so popular. You can say that you are “not politically correct” and get away with just about anything.
This time, Roseanne did not get away with it. Her bosses at ABC responded immediately and decisively, cancelling her enormously popular show, ending reruns of the original and doing so despite the tens of millions of dollars that such a move will cost the network.
It’s called doing the right thing and ABC did it. What’s more, it did it while providing a new measure that we all can use, a new phrase that we need to have on hand the next time somebody uses racist, sexist or any other demeaning language to put somebody down.
What Roseanne did was, in the words of the ABC management, “…abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.”
Abhorrent means something that inspires disgust, not knowing nods or laughter. Not something you can or should ignore.
Repugnant means something that is extremely distasteful and unacceptable, not something we savor or put up with. Not something you can or should ignore.
Inconsistent with our values.
Now that’s a tough one because our values have eroded so far and so fast, hiding mostly behind the screen of political incorrectness, that it is hard to say exactly what they are.
For a brief moment there was a question of how President Trump would respond to Roseanne’s tweet and the aftermath. We should not have wondered. Instead of condemning the language, he condemned ABC for not apologizing to him for numerous imagined slights.
So since we will have no leadership from the top on this, it is up to us.
Abhorrent. Repugnant. Inconsistent with our values.
That’s the way to respond to future provocations and it is socially, ethically and especially politically correct.