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Choose Life: On Roseanne’s Racism, Samatha Bee’s Vulgarity, and Trainspotting’s Truth

Which is worse? A comedian calling a black woman an ape or a comedian calling a white woman a c—?

In the wake of the cancellation of the rebooted Roseanne sitcom for its star’s tweet comparing Obama administration consigliere Valerie Jarrett to a character from Planet of the Apes, many of the show’s defenders employed one of today’s most common rhetorical weapons: whataboutism, a logical fallacy aptly described by Wikipedia and linked to Russian disinformation efforts throughout the 20th century.

When Dad Dies in Disgrace

Like a lot of people my age, I was first introduced to Bill Cosby on vinyl LPs.  My father shared his love of Cosby’s comedy with me, and he delighted in watching me discover some of Cosby’s classic bits like “The Chicken Heart that Ate New York City” and his sketches about a dubious Noah trying to understand what God is saying to him. “What’s a cubit?”

For me, Cosby was part of my awakening to, well, the stupidity of racism: watching him on Johnny Carson in the early ’70s when I lived in Tampa, Florida (then struggling with the forced integration of their schools), and hearing my new friends laughing at Cosby’s jokes while they said to one another “That n—–’s funny as hell.”  While I could only stare at them and wonder Why would anyone call this smart, decent guy that word?

 

Roseanne: The Ultimate Reality Show

What is the secret to the success of the rebooted sitcom?

Obviously in a strict sense Roseanne is not a reality show – the Connor family is fictional.  It does portray the foibles of working class life humorously and accurately, but that does not set it apart from the myriad of other good sitcoms. What garnered 18 million viewers, generated a cultural phenomenon, and has set the left’s hair on fire is Roseanne’s and Dan’s clear-eyed view of the world as it actually exists, and their anticipation of unintended consequences.