The Rightful End of Roseanne

Roseanne Barr is finished. And it’s about goddam time.

I watched the first few episodes of the Roseanne reboot with an open mind, but the show’s racism and intolerance, well on display within the show and bluntly expressed in Roseanne’s off-air demeanor, demonstrated very conclusively that this was not a contemporary answer to All in the Family, but something more akin to a sitcom version of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints. An early scene showing the Conners swapping an insufficient supply of medication due to inadequate American healthcare created the illusion that this was a show like its previous iteration, one aligned with the working class roots that had made the original such a success. But then we saw the Conners casually belittling “all the shows about black and Asian families” and it became very clear that this was a program committed to white supremacy. As The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum pointed out, the show relied on coded language, unrealistic dialogue, and sideways jabs to disguise its bigotry-drenched narrative.

I was not the only viewer to flee. It took only weeks for the reboot to drop from 18.44 million viewers to a mere 10.42 million. This was the show that Trump had said “was about us,” but that “us” shed 44% of its purported unity within months. The cast and crew quickly became unsettled by the Faustian bargain they had bought into. Co-showrunner Whitney Cummings left. Then writer Wanda Sykes left. And as actress Emma Kenney was about to bolt, she was informed by her manager that the show was cancelled. The linchpin was a startlingly racist tweet in which Roseanne declared that former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett was the product of “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes [sic]” having a baby.

For anybody who had been watching this hatred from the sidelines, Roseanne’s vulgar and vituperative racism was there in the unfettered manner in which she tweeted easily debunked alt-right conspiracy theories as if these hurtful falsehoods represented true gospel. She falsely claimed in March that David Hogg, one of the brave kids who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and who went on to become a formidable activist, had offered a Nazi salute, despite the fact that Roseanne herself had dressed up as Hitler for Heeb Magazine.

Barring a pickup from an online streaming giant — an unlikely event, given Amazon’s recent woes with Transparent and the Roy Price scandal, Netflix cutting ties with Louis CK, and Hulu likely not wanting to risk its progressive-minded programming slate given the success of The Handmaid’s Tale — there is little chance that Roseanne will return, unless she decides to produce it on her own dime. And even then, she would probably not have enough clout to convince all the cast members and crew to return. Such a hypothetical reboot, untethered from the manacles of network Standards and Practices, would only amp up the atavism further in the interest of “truth-telling,” perhaps inspiring the Southern Poverty Law Center to include Roseanne Barr amidst its distressingly voluminous list of offenders.

This was the first television show cancelled by a single tweet. And I don’t think it will be the last. What Roseanne’s self-immolation demonstrates, quite rightfully and righteously I think, is that America does have limits to what it will tolerate. There will undoubtedly be Daily Caller-reading banshees writing thinkpieces proclaiming this cancellation as a calumny upon the First Amendment. But the decision to write and produce a show, much less watch one, has not been quelled and the audience hungry for this casual xenophobia has regrettably not been deracinated. There are still ten million loyal Roseanne viewers. And I can easily imagine Roseanne being propped up as an underground comic, recast as an alt-right faux Lenny Bruce or perhaps the American answer to Dieudonné, and making a fortune through a monthly Patreon account.

In an age in which a self-help transphobic huckster like Jordan Peterson is framed by the “Paper of Record” as a “dark web intellectual,” Roseanne will probably not be the last repugnant show airing on American television. I fear that we are only at the beginning of hatred and intolerance marketed as “wholesome entertainment.” And while mainstream media rejects Roseanne, one must now be on the lookout for independently produced offerings cut from the same Klan cloth that are snatched up by television executives in the interest of corporate profit. This is, after all, how Roseanne was rebooted in the first place. The question now is who has the chutzpah to push the envelope further into a fetid swamp of ugliness and whether some network desperate for a hit is willing to pick up such a bilious offering, counting upon the American public to forget how these same gatekeepers helped make Roseanne happen in the first place.

We’ve Updated Our Privacy Policy

Edward Champion is committed to bringing you the most truthful and bracing accounts of our modern world, whether the stories are fiction or nonfiction. And we want to make sure that you’re aware of some updates to our Privacy Policy so that we may better comply with one of the European Union’s newfangled progressive acronyms. It will help you better understand how and why we collect and use certain information pertaining to your life experience.

Information Collected Automatically: When you use Edward Champion — and by “use,” we mean this to encompass any social encounter, communication, or shared experience — it could be the subject of a future essay or a story told in audio drama format, sometimes many years after the events have transpired. Edward Champion is a writer, after all, and, as such, a desperate scavenger. We may write about the experience explicitly in an email or in our journals or through some embarrassing Facebook post within 24 hours of the transpired event. We may talk it out with our friends so that we may better understand what happened. Edward Champion often takes steps to always have “the first draft of history” at our disposal. If if the experience leaves a lasting impression, then there’s a pretty good chance that our subconscious will be unable to refrain from feeling or thinking about it. This is because Edward Champion is equipped with something that our development team refers to as the Human Heart. While we may possibly collect certain details involving times, names, and places, we wish to assure you that our processing methods are largely spontaneous and you will probably never know if you were the inspiration or the source of something unless the data matches pretty closely with the final product, in which case we will feel morally obliged to inform you.

Information Collected by Accident: Edward Champion has been known to become so curious about an esoteric topic that he will fritter away afternoons trying to confirm the details of some half-remembered TV show or a beautiful novel he no longer has in his possession or an obscure French film he watched in his twenties. Or he may be curious about the fate of a once beloved figure who nobody talks about anymore. He may, in the course of his considerable hunger for information, go to libraries and you may find him at a microfilm machine somewhere within the greater New York area. It is also possible that Edward Champion’s collection of this information will be all for naught, merely an exercise to get back to the thread of what he was attempting to write about in the first place. During the course of this information collection, his head will likely be filled up with facts and he may be misidentified as an expert, simply because he tends to be a sponge, often remembering details that others forget.

Cookies: Edward Champion sometimes eats cookies when he is nervous and may do so during the act of writing. This will likely not affect you in any way, but if the European Union requires us to upload pictures of us eating cookies, we will do so to Instagram, which the European Union has declared as the arbitration venue for all cookie-eating disputes. We will not collect any cookies from you or ask you to make them for us, unless you are invited to Edward Champion’s domicile of creation and all parties have agreed to a bakeoff formally communicated through a hastily composed text message. We may, however, bake cookies for you and distribute these quite whimsically and randomly.

Data Retention: Edward Champion is not as much of a packrat as he used to be. But he does live with a lot of books and will likely buy your latest volume if he really likes you or thinks that your work is the cat’s pajamas.

Updating Your Account: At any time, you can choose not to read or partake in Edward Champion’s creations. We realize that Edward Champion can be a rather intense person, even though any perceived intensity is largely by accident and he is fairly easygoing in person. If you have difficulties with Edward Champion or you feel that your user experience has been misunderstood, he will likely meet up with you in a bar and buy you a beer and talk about your user experience in the interest of ensuring that all parties understand each other and that they laugh about the great follies of life on a more frequent basis.

Third Parties: Edward Champion will probably speak glowingly of you to third parties. He may play matchmaker. He could get you involved with other creative parties to increase the likelihood of very cool things happening. If you know him, he will probably read a draft of your novel or script in progress. Since Edward Champion is an exuberant type, he may urge other parties to give you a shot. Please understand that the use of Edward Champion may just surprise you, especially if he becomes very loyal to you. Please try to respect this.

Elegy for a Fiend

The thin man looked up and down Second Avenue for the fuzz and raised the snuff spoon to her nostril and she scooped it up with her beak in less than a second. Then the man said he wouldn’t leave because she had sampled the merch and he insisted she had an obligation to buy. She said that fifty dollars was too much and that thirty was the going price in her hood. Then he muttered something about this being Manhattan and she grew truculent.

I stood there, frozen, even as he got in my space aggressively with the spoon from the start when I said no I would not be partaking. And I tightened my knuckles and wondered if I was going to have to get into a fight. Just how in the hell had I managed to get to this place? I was standing outside an underpopulated dive with sky priced drinks and the worst DJ mix I had probably heard in five years and I wasn’t having any fun at all. The man wouldn’t leave and, given his showy scrutiny, it was clear that he was a small time type trying to unload some supply. I had lost a friend to coke many years before. My mother had snorted blow. I had never actually seen her do this, but I did sometimes see the white dusty residue on the mirror some Saturday mornings, along with the whir of the tumbleweed she’d picked up the night before, blowing out the door without even stopping for a newly brewed cup of MJB.

After five minutes, the dealer left. She had a satisfied smile on her face. And the scene gave me new context for someone who I had pegged before all this as merely exuberant.

It was not long after this that I realized $100 was missing.

I had come to her because I had had a wild night and I thought she was the knowing soul who could help me make sense of it. An evening that started with a date that never showed, continued with a happy hour among old men sitting by themselves and sipping their old man drinks as I nursed a pint while staring at nautical symbols, and that concluded in a feral surprise with three young ladies at a karaoke bar who really liked my singing voice and had rather bold ways of expressing their appreciation that thoroughly confused me. It was a story too unbelievable, the kind of tale that a man my age would invent to make himself feel better, yet it actually happened. And I needed a friend who could help me make sense of it. Because it was too improbable. The first woman had left. She had a train to catch the next morning. Shortly before ensuring that the two remaining women, one quite drunk and the other quite stoned, were with friends and had safe passage home, I texted my friend and asked if she was out and wanted to talk. She told me to meet her at a Midtown bar.

I’d met her months before during one of my bar crawls and we’d hung out a few times. We were strictly platonic. She was young. She had a bright voice and a magnetic charisma and an inexhaustible energy that matched mine. We bonded over Russian literature. It was impossible not to like her. And I couldn’t help but love her a little. We had one conversation in which we described our respective sexual histories packed with such loaded tension that we later ended up kissing, although we both put a stop to that when she said she was not into me. I’d let her crash at my apartment a few times. She was quite fond of having me buy a six pack at a bodega around four o’clock and taking it to a bench, with the two of us drinking as the sun came up, casting a lambent tranquility after a raucous evening. Often I would go to one of my early morning shifts right after this, without sleeping. She once sent me a picture where she sat defiantly on the edge of a rail, careless about her balance. I thought it was a pretty thrilling image that captured her spirit and I showed it to a friend, who promptly told me, “That’s nothing special. What do you see in her?” Adventure. Liberation. Independence. A deliberate flouting of the rules. Existence, in a word. But there were many qualities I didn’t see until life happened.

I never really understood what she saw in me until that night. Then I realized that I usually paid for the drinks because I was a gentleman and I tried to be nice. There had been one time in which she had experienced a concussion and I felt the scars on her head and she was curiously elusive about the cause. When I met some of her friends, they all seemed to be strangely quiet around her, almost hesitant to speak and always giving her the floor. When I asked amicable questions of them, they offered terse and sheepish answers. They didn’t want to be known even though they laughed at my jokes. It was damned odd.

When she asked if I had disapproved of her gotcha moment with the dealer when we returned inside the lackluster dive, she already knew my answer. But I replied sadly, “It’s your choice.” What had seemed amusing all the times before had now twisted into this new challenge: who was living the better and more vibrant life? And then I realized why all her friends had been quiet. And between that and the missing cash, that’s when I knew I had to get the hell away from her.

She chased after me, calling me a child. She shrieked that everyone in the neighborhood could hear us shouting at each other. Predictable tactics to shame me. But I could not be shamed. And I would not let her reduce me any further. Her instincts revealed her as a fiend, not a friend. And I ran to the subway and I raced down the stairs and I wept over what had been so horribly revealed and what had always been there all along as the subway began its slow trundle forward.

Old Man on an Outdoor Lounge

The old man sat with his can and his hat on an outdoor lounge that had once been a lustrous beige. But the plastic strands had long faded into a crusted white that matched the old man’s ashen pallor. He squinted at the sun’s harsh heat, warmer now in April than in previous years, and tried to find some shade beneath the olive tree he’d planted decades before during flusher times, but the branches had dried out and the leaves wouldn’t sprout back despite his best efforts at nurture. Even the tree surgeon had informed him what a hopeless cause it had been and suggested to him gently that he grow another one. But the old man retained some strange faith in the dying tree and, as he took another slow tug from his near beer, he angled his Panama tighter atop his forehead, the beads of sweat dripping into the fierce forest of his bushy gray eyebrows, finding moist pockets within the crags now multiplying faster than ever before on the dry soil of his face.

The world had changed too fast and the old man was getting tired. His candidate had won, but he felt that the victory was anticlimactic and that there was still a great deal to be angry about. FOX News’s paranoid drone had replaced the daily half pot of coffee he’d imbibed before the doctors told the old man that he needed to cut down on his caffeine intake. But the old man still needed to remain on edge in order to feel alive. This was why he often loosened molten rivulets of hot rage against anyone who had another worldview. The old man hadn’t yet learned that people two or three decades younger than him, people who didn’t share his skin color, people who weren’t him, had rich inner lives and he still didn’t know how to understand or apologize, even though he’d tell you over and over again that he didn’t need to. The old man’s lungs, once the storehouse of reliably truculent gulps, had thinned out of late into a faint wheeze. The old man could not accept that his time had passed and that his efforts to matter had been largely unsuccessful. If you caught the old man on a good day, he would hold you hostage with long tales that wandered nowhere. Even his patient wife would no longer listen to him. But if he had to be alone, he would be alone.

The old man had fooled himself long ago into believing that he didn’t need anyone, but the outdoor lounge had been there every day he had escaped outside and the outdoor lounge had listened very carefully and had observed him weeping when the old man thought that nobody else was paying attention. Outdoor lounges do not have tongues and thus cannot gossip. But if this outdoor lounge could talk, it would tell you everything it knew about the old man: the many times the old man had talked to himself, hating who he was and detesting what the world had become, and the outdoor lounge would say to you in a plaintive voice that here was a man who needed help. But the old man didn’t believe in therapy. He didn’t believe in changing. He didn’t understand why his family and his friends had deserted him.

What the old man had in this premature summer was the buffer of his paid up mortgage and the instinct of his convictions, even if the old man’s great plans had never quite panned out in his younger years. What he had was a lackadaisical resilience. As long as he was alive, his way would last. That had been the belief anyway.

Eventually the near beer was gone. The old man would not risk another can. He didn’t want his doctors to lay into him. He heard a faint rustling behind him and darted his head. The two kids next door were peeking at him through the slats in the hickory fence, a barrier built long before, one that he could not fathom reconstructing.

“Mister,” they said.

The old man refused to hear them.

“Mister, our ball,” said the first boy. “We threw it over your fence.”

“It was an accident,” said the second boy.

“We didn’t mean it.”

There had been a time in which the old man had once played shortstop. But it was too long ago.

The old man would not leave his outdoor lounge.

“Mister, please.”

“Go away,” said the old man.

And the two kids went away. Time passed and he heard a knock on the door. But still he did not budge from the outdoor lounge, even when he heard his wife’s mellifluous apologies. Even when he watched his wife slide open the glass door that led to the spacious patio that the old man had built from scratch in more pro-active times. Even when his wife picked up the ball without saying a word and the glass door rumbled and he remained alone with an empty can of near beer and a hat that seemed to grow tighter around his large head as the afternoon sweltered.

The outdoor lounge was appalled. And it decided to commit suicide. The rickety aluminum legs collapsed, causing the old man to take one hell of a tumble into the patch of lawn that was still dry even though the old man had watered it every week. The old man could not get up. He cried to his wife. His wife did not answer. The kids did not answer, but the old man could hear the pats of their baseball swooping into the brown leather of their gloves without either of the two boys risking a word. The lounge did not answer. Nobody answered.

It took twenty minutes for the old man to crawl across the desiccated grass and onto the deck before he could summon the will to pull himself up. And shortly after he climbed in bed that night, which was an altogether different but not dissimilar struggle, he asked his wife why she had not helped him. She replied, “Because you have been alone for a very long time and there was no point in intruding. Just go to sleep, dear. Tomorrow is another day.”

My Grandmother

Yesterday my grandmother died. I got the news this morning by email from my uncle. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my grandmother because my family didn’t tell me that she was near death and they haven’t informed me where or when the funeral services are. And I’m too shellshocked and grief stricken right now to find out. The one thing I can say is that my tears of rage are greatly diminished by a relentless sobbing that flows with the rhythm of the rain now pattering against my window. There is a fierce peace to these stronger tears, which mourn not only the majestic woman who my grandmother was and who I now celebrate and who I have also memorialized as the character Virignia Gaskell in my audio drama, but for the beauty of the human spirit. Despite coming from monstrous and unloving stock, my grandmother gave me the hope and the guidance I needed to live my life in defiance of meanness, especially in the last four years. She gave generously on all fronts. She checked in on people. She quietly helped others, whether they were people close to her or total strangers. And because of that, people remembered her. She believed in people and possibility. And despite all the hell I have been through, I still do too. I cannot seem to sour on life or the marvelous world around me. And I will always be grateful beyond words to my grandmother for imbuing me with this resilience.

I wish I could say that I was tough. But I’m not. Right now is a very raw place to be, especially when I consider my grandmother’s openness against the vile way the rest of my family left me for dead. My grandmother was the only member of my family who loved me for my totality when everybody else viewed me as evil and irredeemable. My grandmother saw benevolent qualities in me that I was too afraid to acknowledge until only recently. She taught me how to be kind and positive to others. She also taught me to be responsible. I am pretty sure that my ridiculous work ethic comes from her. I do know that my sense of the absurd springs in part from her.

I remember one time in my youth in which I didn’t have enough money to go to school. Despite being inexplicably pegged as a very smart and talented person, my education options were limited because I grew up poor and starved: a fragile kid coping with the residue of accrued abuse and trying to do the best he could. But I still went to school and I made up for any deficiencies by reading every book I could get my hands on and throwing myself into everything with all the natural exuberance I had. That scrappy and casual ability to roll with the punches despite all odds came from my grandmother. She did, after all, make her wedding dress from a parachute during the Depression. She was determined to celebrate life even when there weren’t a lot of options.

My grandmother was always baffled by the ways in which my mother neglected me and she said that I could borrow money from her. And I did, paying back the small sum each month. And when I did this regularly after about nine months, my grandmother said to me, “You don’t have to pay the rest back. I wanted you to learn something.” And I did.

People who come to know me understand that I am one of the most loyal advocates you can have. And this was because I learned from my grandmother that it was vital to be giving and not expect anything in return, even when there’s nobody in your life to give anything to you. Because of my grandmother, I do a secret good deed every day. Because of my grandmother, I have learned to love and take care of myself. Because of my grandmother, I give to others, often more than I have, when I have nothing. My grandmother would take the time to listen to everyone and she would always reframe every serious problem in a way in which it was never all that big of a deal. Had I not had my grandmother, and now I don’t have her and that not having her seems unfathomable but it is now regrettably and painfully true, I would never have landed back on my feet with a sanguine faith after a sustained period of homelessness and a series of baleful setbacks that I would never wish on anyone. My grandmother, in her own inimitable way, showed me that there was a benign way to not give a fuck and to devote yourself to living.

My grandmother always saw the good in people, even when they had severely wronged her. And she was always good for a devilish and very funny quip, which she would often mutter in a sneaky stage whisper in the kitchen, often with a glass of wine. When I lived in San Francisco, she would ask if I wanted to come up to her home in Marin County to celebrate the holidays. She was the only family member who seemed to understand that love didn’t involve a ledger, but amounted to being there for others and letting life work its strange magic.

This is the most staggering loss I’ve ever experienced. God, it hurts. My grandmother was really the only family I had. But I’m going to be kind and brave and I think that, in remembering my grandmother, I’m going to have to be more true to myself, true to the promising young man that my grandmother always saw. The rest of my family has wished me dead, but I am here, a feeling and caring and flawed and open and honest and quietly kind person who is quite happily alive, and I am now very much on my own. While my abusive and vituperative family would undoubtedly relish seeing their untrue and cartoonish vision of me confirmed, reveling in gossip and backtallk rather than listening and being present for other people and knowing that nearly every putative sully can be forgiven with enough time, I’m not going to give them that pleasure. Because that is not the way you live and love in this often hard world. And that was not the way of my grandmother.

In her own way, I think my grandmother was trying to tell me that I was her and that she was me. There was a great love and a beauty in that. There was also a great ease in the way my grandmother managed it. And I’ve been crying all morning thinking about it. And if I am her, if my heart is even one half as mighty as hers was, if that’s what she was trying to get me to see all these years, then maybe there’s some hope for me after all.