Our country’s latest crass, ugly spectacle—actor Roseanne Barr’s racist screed on Twitter and the ensuing fallout—will seem like a tiny blip a few weeks from now, but it’s important to note that the debacle was a culmination of the inanity of our screen culture not an aberration.
Referring to Valerie Jarret as “vj,” a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama and an African American woman, Barr tweeted last week, if the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” The sheer, unadulterated ignorance and hatred that could produce such a statement can’t be underplayed or understated. Barr openly used her huge platform as a television star to condone and promote racism and hate, and, fortunately, her television show was canceled because of it.
The television screen made Barr popular and rich but it was a screen connected to the web through Twitter that once and for all glaringly showed the world that her internal hatred and racism actually helped fueled her career by giving her a large audience that somehow can relate to her. So let’s not forget Barr’s persona is a creation of collective hatred disseminated on a screen to an adoring crowd. She didn’t suddenly become a racist or someone who would support the racist President Donald Trump. Her fame qualified the hate, masked its stench.
Trump, who is obviously Barr’s doppelgänger, became popular, too, through a television screen, and, like her, has used explicit and implicit racism to appeal to an audience. They are a culmination of the general ignorance generated by screens and their relationship to capitalism since the late nineteenth-century. This includes the establishment of the film industry in this country to today’s smart phones. Screens can be used as vehicles to present beautiful art and intellectual insight, true, but most of what we see on screens is inane and plays to the basest visceral components of our humanity in order for a privileged few, such as Barr and Trump, to make obscene amounts of money and gain power in a dumbed-down culture.
I get that you’re looking into a screen as you read this, but screens have co-opted our lives and realities and identities in such as way that it’s impossible to communicate or critique them outside of their own parameters.
Trump’s semi-response to Barr’s tweet was typically self-serving but it was notable for the fact that he didn’t actually mention her racist tweet, thereby tacitly condoning it. That response, too, was given to us on multiple screens wedged in between the lies of advertisements and reductionist, trivial memes and the static of Twitter rages. I don’t think it’s too far of a leap to say this particular ugly incident is a classic sign of a deteriorating society even though Barr was presumably punished for her hatred by the cancellation of her television show.
Barr and Trump are symptoms of screen sickness while the rest of the enlightened world looks on in horror. ABC did the right thing by canceling Barr’s show, but we’re still sinking in the inanity of television sitcoms and Facebook memes and Twitterstorms and cable news shows, all presented to us on screens on a daily basis to generate large amounts of money for a small group of people who control our political system. The sickness of racism and general inanity won’t end with the tweets of white supremacists Barr or Trump, and the ugliness will play out again and again on a screen.
Barr’s ugly racism can be and should be framed within the nation’s sordid history of racism, but the screen is the central platform these days for hate and anger, which leads to physical brutality and violence on the streets. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight to the growing cesspool of ignorance perpetuated by the screens in our lives.