June 2, 2018

Samantha Bee vs. Roseanne Barr

On Wednesday night, as I usually do, I watched Samatha Bee’s weekly show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It seemed like a typical episode of liberal feminist commentary with its usual seasoning of humor. On Thursday, however, I learned that Bee was being criticized for something she said about Ivanka Trump and that there were calls for her show, like that of Roseanne Barr, to be canceled.

I was perplexed that I hadn’t noticed anything outrageous on Wednesday’s show. I knew that Bee called Ivanka Trump “feckless,” but that was hardly in the same category as Barr’s asserting that Valerie Jarrett was descended from apes. I went back and reviewed the show. Actually, Bee criticized Ivanka for failing to be a moderating influence on her father, describing her as a “feckless cunt,” though that second word was bleeped out on TBS. Oh.

As it happens, the feckless asshole who is Ivanka’s father and who acts—“serves” seems like the wrong word—as President of the United States tweeted the following:

What got Roseanne Barr fired was the somewhat cryptic and ungrammatical tweet:
muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj
Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarrett
Apparently, an earlier tweet had suggested that Jarrett, who had been assistant to the president for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs in the Obama administration, had covered up certain Obama “secrets.” I have no idea if there was any truth in that charge, but, given her government position, it is unlikely that she disclosed publicly everything she knew. Whether she was “hiding” facts citizens needed to know is a matter of opinion and of facts not at hand. Whatever she may have done or not done, Barr’s tweet was something of a non sequitur.

Jarrett, though born of black American parents living temporarily in Iran, has apparently never been a Muslim. Her being black and having been born in a predominantly Muslim country apparently led, in Barr’s mind, to her now infamous tweet. The tweet was condemned as racist—and not merely stupid—as blacks have often been disparaged by being called apes or monkeys. Happily, doing so today is seen as beyond the pale.

What of Bee’s characterization of Ivanka Trump? Admittedly, “cunt” is flagged in various dictionaries as “extremely disparaging and offensive” or “obscene,” which is why, even on cable television, it was bleeped out. On the other hand, whether Ivanka is feckless or a cunt is a matter of opinion. That she is is certainly arguable with actual facts, and I have no doubt that Samantha Bee could make such an argument if pressed. (I intend to stay out of this argument.) Barr’s implicit characterization of Jarrett, on the other hand, is nothing more than an ad hominem—and, in fact, racist—attack. It is impossible to offer any facts to support the truth of Barr’s “equation.”

Honestly, I would not personally have used “cunt” as Bee did. In fact, I think I have never used the word to describe a woman however contemptible I thought the person to be. It is a nasty and socially unacceptable word. And yet, I cannot think of a single word that could have been substituted for it that would carry the same sense and power. “Feckless and contemptible woman” lacks the punch of Bee’s phrase. She could have substituted “bitch” for “cunt,” of course, but that word is only slightly more acceptable in polite society. Nonetheless, “bitch” might have been a better choice. Dictionary.com calls the word slang and offers as one definition “a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.” That would not be my characterization of the president’s daughter, but I can see how someone might think it justified.

Donald Trump is no doubt happy that two sponsors, State Farm and Autotrader are, at least for the moment, withdrawing their ads from Full Frontal. I do not believe that TBS and ABC are applying different standards to the words of Barr and Bee, however. Their “offensive” statements are not of the same character. Bee’s sin is decidedly less blameworthy. True to form, while making a point that has a certain surface credibility, Trump attacked Bee as lacking talent—which is surely untrue—and as having a show with low ratings. I don’t know what Bee’s ratings are and whether they are getting better or worse, but I suspect that the president doesn’t either. (Cf. Trump’s referring constantly to the “failing New York Times.”)

Bee’s program is funny and insightful, and I hope that it remains on the air.

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