Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 11:18 pm | Fair 66º


Randy Alcorn: ‘Roseanne’ and the Collateral Damage in America’s Culture War

The Roseanne show is the latest casualty in America’s ongoing culture war in which every issue is contested on a left vs. right ideological battlefield, where everyone is assumed to belong to one side or the other — and the other side is always wrong.

While there are few who would defend or excuse Roseanne Barr’s puerile, racist tweet that targeted Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to former President Barack Obama, ABC’s response was disproportionate to the offense —m more like a hasty, massive, retaliatory air strike.

Taking out Barr with ABC’s version of shock and awe hurt hundreds of innocent people who were working on the show. But then, war is hell and, as with all collateral damage, the innocent were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, right?

The critical objective to punish the nasty, bigoted Barr had to be met — no matter the cost.

Defenders of ABC’s action blame Barr for the collateral damage, but that assumes the network had no other option but to blow up the entire show. ABC could have demanded a humbling, if not humiliating, on-air apology from Barr. It could have required an episode that explored and condemned such crude racist speech.

But no, America’s culture war takes no prisoners.

By barrel-bombing the Roseanne show, ABC denied each of the show’s 10 million to 22 million weekly viewers the choice of continuing to watch it or to reject it if they found that the personal statements of one of the show’s actors was egregious enough to warrant putting the entire cast, writers and production crew out of jobs.

If destroying art is acceptable when the artist is an obnoxious, outspoken racist, or holds beliefs some or even many people find offensive, then get the torches ready to light the bonfires for books, paintings, music, movies and TV shows.

Saturday Night Live, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show and others will have to go. The Bible could be just as susceptible as Mein Kampf.

The Roseanne show had a multiracial cast and examined current issues from both sides of America’s cultural divide. In that respect it was good for the country. It exposed viewers to the other side of the issues and portrayed the impact those issues have on ordinary Americans.

Through comedy it delivered empathy and ideas to its audience, sort of like honey delivers medicine.

And if there is anything this country needs today it’s medicine that can treat its epidemic of ideological pathology.

In this hypersensitive, hyperbolic atmosphere of political correctness and ideological certainty, disproportionate, even irrational, responses are all too common. Will ABC’s canceling of Roseanne make a positive change in American society by promoting civil discourse and deterring the political feces flinging in America’s crazy culture war?

Probably not.

With the various social media available to massive numbers of people from nearly every nook and cranny of society, imposing and enforcing anyone’s idea of civil discourse is likely a Quixotic crusade.

While the Roseanne show is a casualty in the culture war raging in America, the greater casualties are impartial reason, constructive compromise and national unity.

Nothing gets done to address the very real problems and threats confronting the nation. A fractiously partisan, venal Congress obsessed with party politics and infested with lobbying special interests is perennially ineffectual.

With so much of the public distracted by identity politics accompanied with reciprocal animosities, vitriolic accusations and seething suspicions, the nation drifts into dysfunction.

Fundamental founding principles and constitutional civil rights are increasingly under threat and being eroded. More power is concentrated in the executive branch, leaving the nation at the mercy of the competence, ethics and intelligence of a single person.

And, as in ancient Rome, if the emperor is good, most folks are happy, but when the emperor is not — watch out.

Actions like ABC’s may be intended to insist on a minimum level of civil discourse in our society, but they may also be part of a troubling trend to restrict free speech by imposing politically correct prohibitions. Some countries, including several Western democracies, have passed hate speech laws that fine and jail citizens whose speech, art or writings government censors determine are offensive or dangerously inciteful.

Can it happen here? Sure.

America has demonstrated a proclivity to overreact to threats — real, perceived or exaggerated. The cost has been civil liberties and common sense. The War on Drugs and the War on Terror are the most striking examples of this.

Let’s not get carried away again by allowing more restrictions of civil rights just because a few prominent personalities behave boorishly — even if some of them are elected officials. Boycott the former and vote out the latter.

Meanwhile, the better way for us to raise the level of civility in the public forum is to practice civility ourselves and not stoop to retaliatory incivility. Name-calling, coarse invectives and spittle-flecked slander are never as impressive nor effective as articulate discourse and cogent arguments dispassionately delivered.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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