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Negative Criticism, Even When It’s Based on Politics, Is Not the Same as Censorship


roseanne political censorship

Much of the criticism of the new Roseanne reboot has had less to do with how it works as a traditional sitcom, and more with the ideology behind it. Some are upset that the character of Roseanne Conner is a Trump supporter. Some are discomfited by the way the show sanitizes and whitewashes that support. For others, the problem lies with Roseanne Barr herself, and the fact that ABC gave such a prominent, lucrative platform to a hateful, transphobic woman obsessed with rightwing conspiracy theories.

Yet not everyone feels like these are valid reasons for criticizing the show. There are some who think this is proof that there’s a Hollywood conspiracy determined to blacklist conservative voices. (You might think the fact that the show got made and had high ratings would contradict that point, but apparently not.) But it’s not just the Sean Hannitys and the Tomi Lahrens who think it’s out of line to criticize the new Roseanne.

This tweet comes from Miranda Bailey, the creator of CherryPicks, that female-centric film review site I am (was? am, I think) so excited about.

Bailey isn’t the only one with this opinion, of course, so I don’t want to lay all this at her feet. Still, it’s especially disappointing to see it come from her. As many people–most of whom are female film critics–have pointed out in the replies to that tweet, not only is negative criticism wildly different from censorship, but for the creator of a film criticism website to state otherwise is confusing and even troubling. As is the implication that any expressing a negative opinion online is “screaming.”

There was once a time when critics didn’t talk much about the words and actions of the creators of the art they consumed. (At least, not if those people were talented white men.) Those days are over. Critics and audiences alike care about who they’re supporting. Not all, of course, but those who do shouldn’t be treated like that’s an unreasonable thing to take into consideration when making viewing choices. I don’t watch Woody Allen movies. I’m glad Harvey Weinstein was fired. Is that censorship? Roseanne Barr is simply another person on the list of creators I don’t want to support with my dollars or my eyeballs.

For critics and consumers to consider the creators, as well as their content, is not censorship of those creators. It doesn’t even matter that Roseanne’s ratings are huge and ABC already renewed the show. Even if the negative criticism of Barr and her character was influencing those decisions, the choice to not watch the work of someone whose words and actions viewers find despicable is a valid one. It’s just as valid as choosing not to watch a show whose content I don’t enjoy.

Of course, I also don’t want to watch a show about a lovable Trump supporter. (I sure as hell don’t want to watch a character I once cherished be transformed into one, trampling on the show’s compassionate, inclusive legacy.) So this is both. I’m disappointed this show exists, both because of the content and the star.

I’m not sure why I’m obligated to watch it anyway, or to keep my opinions to myself despite the fact that having opinions about pop culture is the right of everyone and also literally my job, as if as if we have some obligation to democracy that can only be upheld through silence and pleasantries.

(image: ABC)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.