Conservatives are generally childish about culture; they enjoy TV and movies and, to some extent, books but become enraged when they turn on cable or open a novel — or just read about them on a right-wing aggregation site — and find messages of which they do not approve.
This is why, as others when given lemons make lemonade, conservatives take culture and make Culture War, their decades-long assault on those few areas of American life they have yet to fuck up.
This was fully in evidence when, after the pro-Trump star of a TV show got fired for a racist remark, the brethren launched a retaliatory attack against the anti-Trump star of another TV show for calling Ivanka Trump a cunt.
You’ve almost certainly heard about Roseanne Barr’s tweet on May 29, comparing the black Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to a monkey (“Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”). The Trump-loving and -beloved Roseanne star has been tweeting racist, conspiracy-theorist, and other kinds of gibberish for years, but this time she got in actual trouble for it: Her network, ABC, canceled her show.
When such people lose gigs for their speech, conservatives usually do a little two-step. On the first, they acknowledge that in most cases employers have the right to fire people for pretty much anything. (This step is mandatory; if they didn’t at least grudgingly admit people like James Damore and Paula Deen can lose gigs for their speech, they’d have to defend people like Trump flipper-offer Juli Briskman — and that they will never do.)
On the second step, after a twirl, conservatives usually insist they nonetheless have the right to get angry about their celebrity homies’ disemployment, because it is not merely a matter of employment law, but also about conservatives’ oppression at the hands of the Liberal Elite, which makes it much worse than some poor schnook losing his sole means of survival because his boss didn’t like his Facebook post.
In Barr’s case they skipped that step — at least at first — because, with some exceptions, even conservatives recognized (again, grudgingly) that it’s not considered cool anymore to compare black people to monkeys. So the first wave of conservative reactions contained mostly unalloyed condemnation — see National Review’s “Roseanne’s Firing Is Not a Free-Speech Issue,” Rod Dreher’s “Roseanne Deserved It,” et alia.
True, some professional Trumpkins did their usual stunts. There were attempted mind tricks from Bill Mitchell (“According to the movie, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the apes were actually superior to and enslaved the humans… still trying to figure out how this is racist unless calling someone superior is racist”), revenge fantasies from Jack Posobiec (“Roseanne, Tim Allen, Kevin Sorbo, Stephen Baldwin and other blacklisted content creators should start up their own version of a blockchain-funded Netflix”), and Baghdad Bobism from Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (“ABC hands midterms to Trump, GOP”).
But for a moment it seemed nearly everyone agreed that Roseanne’s tweet and indeed Roseanne herself were nothing conservatives should defend. In fact, at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last lamented that “people on the right were desperate to see Republican types portrayed with any sort of sympathy by Hollywood. And so, they latched onto her, and her show, despite the fact that Roseanne Barr isn’t any sort of conservative.” That’s how serious this was — usually you have to defy Donald Trump to get excommunicated from conservatism.
This Era of Good Feelings lasted a few hours.
Then conservatives started complaining that they were being unfairly tarred with Roseanne’s racism, just as they had been unfairly tarred with the past sixty years of race-based Republican electoral strategy.
“As Roseanne is considered a Donald Trump supporter and Trump is widely accused of racism, people are loosely smearing Trump as responsible for her, however indirectly,” incredulated David Limbaugh at the Daily Wire. According to Limbaugh, these misapprehensions were based not on anything Trump had actually said and done, but on “the left’s favorite categorical smear of conservatives and Republicans” that they’re racist.
Some even claimed Roseanne’s racist remarks were the fault of liberals. “ ‘Roseanne’ was rebooted by the ABC Network,” wrote RedState’s Brad Slager. “ABC is owned by Disney. Disney is run by Democrat-supporting executives.… If you want to find blame for poisoning our airwaves with this woman then turn your head to the left.”
A drive ensued among conservatives to find a liberal celebrity to get fired, in some sort of crude street-gang notion of justice. At first the brethren aimed at Bill Maher on the theory that Maher’s comparison of Trump to an ape was the outrage equivalent of a white lady comparing a black lady to an ape. After delighted liberals, who consider Maher more of an Islamophobic pain in the ass than an ally, flooded the internet with Willy Wonka “Stop, don’t,” responses, the moment mostly faded.
Culture warriors then cast about for another Emmanuel Goldstein, taking shots at Keith Olbermann, Joy Reid, and others, and occasionally darkly muttering that whoever they picked would have it coming. Then on May 30, Full Frontal host Samantha Bee called presidential daughter/accomplice Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” for appearing to rub the world’s nose in Trump’s cruelty toward immigrant families instead of trying to reverse it.
That particular word, when used by men against women, has misogynist connotations, so that usage is generally frowned upon. But intra-gender use is a different story: Man-on-man cunt-calling is part of the English literary tradition — see Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, or Jarvis Cocker — and when used by women against women it is rather like the use of the N-word among African Americans, rude but not an existential affront.
Such distinctions, you will not be shocked to learn, were not observed or acknowledged by culture warriors, who demanded, despite Bee’s near-instantaneous apology, her firing in the name of equal justice. For the most part, they didn’t bother to try and explain why the two statements should be treated equally — they just assumed they should be and went on from there, a rhetorical gambit we might call “begging the oppression.”
For example, National Review’s David French complained, “At elite levels of American society there exists a very real progressive peer privilege,” and that prog privilege was why Bee kept her job. French then retold a story about how a colleague at Cornell Law once toasted him, “To David, the person who taught me that conservatives are human,” which French seemed to take as a microaggression and evidence that in liberal academe “I was working against a set of presumptions, and the ice beneath my feet was thinner than the ice beneath my colleagues.” It’s a miracle he survived to tell the tale.
French then claimed to know young conservatives who, despite their oppression by progressives, “want to write screenplays for the next Batman reboot,” which he took as a sign that “the Left’s long march through cultural institutions can be countered by a long march of our own.” No, I’m not kidding, culture warriors actually talk like that.
Volume vendors of right-wing outrage did their bit. “ESPN, Disney Hire Keith Olbermann — Again — Despite Vicious Attacks on Women,” headlined Breitbart, suggesting some sexist skeletons in the liberal broadcaster’s closet. Turns out Olbermann once said conservative talking head S.E. Cupp’s parents should have sought counseling from Planned Parenthood — an insult but one with no obvious sexist component, unless you think insulting a woman is automatically sexist, which seemed to be Breitbart’s argument; the site also revealed that “Olbermann also called Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway a ‘wretched human,’ and a ‘fascist,’ ” which it included as part of “Olbermann’s personal ‘War on Women.’ ”
Finally came the Roseanne Resurgence: Conservatives started defending the anathemized comedian against liberal oppression. “Just sat down with my dinner to rewatch #Roseanne,” reported new Milo Chadwick Moore. “@hulu has removed all the episodes. We’ve reached peak-Stalin.” Surely readers remember the Cancellation of the Kulaks.
At TownHall, Kevin McCullough admitted Barr’s tweet had been “utterly contemptible” but argued her punishment had been disproportionate: “The ink was barely dry on her tweet,” wrote McCullough, “before [Barr] not only experienced the level of blowback that made her want to crawl in a hole, but her life, and that of the several hundred who worked on her number one hit comedy at ABC Network had been eliminated from planet earth.” Wow, I thought they just canceled the series. Yet Bee “will report to work on Monday,” complained McCullough, “more profane and more incentivized to remain so than she has ever been.” With such injustice staring him in the face, it’s no wonder McCullough was reduced to incoherence.
Meanwhile the president — who, I hardly need remind readers, has no problem using the word cunt himself — gave an official pardon to right-wing propagandist and campaign finance crime felon Dinesh D’Souza, famous for saying of Barack Obama, “YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO…,” and of Rosa Parks, “OVERRATED DEMOCRATS DEPT: So Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus—that’s all she did, so what’s the big fuss?” Feel the civility!
While I hate to attribute to Trump the 11-D-chess smarts his advocates claim for him, I must say he seems to understand that when it comes to insults, even profane ones, all anyone really cares about is whether they go against their enemies, in which case they are brave truth-telling, or against their friends, in which case they’re whatever kind of offense to good taste one can come up with quickly to complain about, reason and logic notwithstanding. So, really, the only reasonable response is: Fuck all those cunts, pricks, and assholes.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 4, 2018