‘I’m bipolar and have ADHD and multiple personality disorder,’ Roseanne Barr once said. ‘But they’re now all in remission due to the powerful drugs I smoke.’ In the same interview, Barr described herself as ‘on the autism spectrum’, and said, ‘I talk directly to God within my own mind and need no intercessor.’
Clinically speaking, Barr is as mad as a bag of badgers. Professionally speaking, disinhibition is no handicap in a comedian, and frequently mistaken for honesty. Socially speaking, she is the kind of person compelled to share her madness. She is the kind of person who was born for Twitter, and consequently should wear a pair of thumbless gloves whenever she is online. When ABC revived Roseanne, she said that her children had made a social media intervention, to keep her out of trouble.
It didn’t last long. Recent Barr tweets have linked to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and the claim that Chelsea Clinton is married to one of George Soros’ nephews. The tweet that brought down Barr was another political-marital conspiracy theory: ‘muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj’. This sentence, rendered in what used to be called English, suggests that Valerie Jarrett, whose is African American, is the lovechild of an Islamist and a character from Planet of the Apes.
Jarrett was born in Iran, where her African American parents worked at a hospital, and grew up speaking Farsi and French. Most of the characters in Planet of the Apes are members of a future human race that, after genetic mutation caused by nuclear fallout, has taken on simian characteristics. No one, not even Barr in a moment of remorse, candor or desperation, has claimed that she had Charlton Heston in mind when she referred to Planet of the Apes.
Barr apologized: ‘I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me—my joke was in bad taste.’ But the wheels of digital outrage were already turning. Even a fellow comedian like Al Sharpton called for Barr to be fired from Roseanne. ABC complied. And really, what else could the network have done—apart, that is, from remind people that Barr is mentally ill, and more in need of treatment than degradation?
Mad or not, those who live by the tweet have no excuses when they die by it. It matters that everyone knows the rules for the civil exchanges on which democracy depends. In 2009, Barr posed in Heeb magazine as ‘Domestic Goddess Hitler’, wearing an SS-style uniform with a swastika armband and a tray of freshly baked ‘Jew cookies’. ABC had no problems with hiring Roseanne after that exercise in bad taste. But that was fine, because Barr is Jewish. So is George Soros. Indeed, Barr, after a refreshing dip in the sewer of the internet, has recently accused Soros of having done similar things as a child in Nazi-occupied Hungary.
Similarly, it is fine for ESPN to hire Keith Olbermann. In August 2017, after Donald Trump’s dubiously even-handed initial response to the Charlottesville riot, Olbermann was driven to muse on Twitter, ‘Fuck you @RealDonaldTrump Nazi Nazi fuck Nazi Nazi RACIST Nazi BIGOT go fuck yourself fucking Nazi fuckers.’ Obviously, Keith has anger issues. Still, last week ESPN hired him as a sports commentator. Keith advances his trenchant and considered political analysis as a private citizen. Which is how Roseanne Barr will be advancing hers, now that ABC has fired her.