Roseanne Barr, like so many Americans, has broken my heart.
I found out early in life that people you rely upon to protect and guide you will let you down. As you move through life, you learn institutions and ideals you cherish can betray you. In the past, I’ve responded to these betrayals with confusion, hurt, grief, sorrow, sometimes denial. But no more. My disappointed hasn’t curdled into disgust – no, it’s blossomed into righteous, and rightful, anger.
Back in her heyday, Roseanne was a hero of mine. Here was a housewife who used her unique point of view and working-class feminism to rise in the stand-up comedy ranks and stake out an iconic place in the dense TV sitcom jungle. Both Roseanne and her perspective were raw, honest and revolutionary. Unlike most female comedians before her, she was not self-deprecating or apologetic. She did not seek audiences’ approval or warm and fuzzy adoration. A mainstream success, she seemed a candidate for the feminist Mount Rushmore, and on a personal level I found validation in her stubborn authenticity and impatience for bullshit. There were a few red flags (I mean, how did Tom Arnold worm his way in?), but by and large Roseanne Barr was a laudable champion of women and the working-class.
“I owe it to myself, the planet, all people — including you, Roseanne and Trump supporters — to fight for a better world for us all.”
The Roseanne I knew and loved in the 1980s would have made mincemeat of the likes of a dishonest, venal buffoon like Donald Trump. But while the decades and modern medicine have been kind to Roseanne’s face, they seem to have seriously dismantled her moral compass and critical thinking. My champion of women and the working poor is now an advocate for a misogynist with the hubris and hostility to not only attack women but to boast of it as well. He offers no concrete plans to help most Americans, but rather offers empty promises, lies and legislation that blatantly serves only the wealthiest Americans. Roseanne espouses an illiterate, racist bully who dismantles much-needed environmental protections, makes clear his xenophobia and homophobia, and is blatantly involved in treason and obstruction of justice (for anyone interested in following actual journalism). This heavy-set Jewish woman praises a man who disparages women and judges them solely on their appearance, and who throws anti-Semitic dog whistles to his base whenever it suits him. Roseanne is championing a man who screws (sometimes literally) women, minorities, the poor, and the working and middle class.
If this weren’t insane enough, she also buys into and spreads the dregs of the alt-right’s craziest lies and conspiracy theories. Like her newfound purse-lipped hero, Roseanne rails against the Clintons, feminism, Muslims and other tired shiny objects that distract people from their President’s punishing policies. On multiple occasions she’s used social media to rehash and spread asinine theories accusing a litany of Democrats (and Republicans Trump sees as his enemies) as being part of a secret ring of pedophiles – “Pizzagate” being a prime example of this assholery.
Just last week, the newly emboldened star of her eponymous sitcom re-boot rallied praise for President Trump and the “untold story” of his wonderful work freeing underage sex slaves: “So many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world. Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere,” Barr tweeted. “Notice that.” The Washington Post points out that Roseanne is one of waaaay-too-many Americans “susceptible to bogus information that validates her worldview. Abby Ohlheiser highlights how “Barr’s tweetstorm about child sex trafficking did not just thank Trump for his focus on the problem — it implied that he had grabbed hold of it after previous presidents ignored it.” Roseanne often shares perspectives like Liz Crokin’s assertion that “the Parkland, Fla., shooting was a “blatant false flag” — as is largely the #MeToo movement — to distract us all from Democrats’ sex trafficking hijinks and Hollywood elites’ involvement in “eating babies, drinking blood, sacrificing, and that kind of stuff.” (Note to reader: I have never eaten a baby or drunk blood, though I may have engaged in ‘that kind of stuff’ — if ‘that kind of stuff’ means rooting for Jack McCoy while eating half a jar of peanut butter.)
So now I’m supposed to join millions of Americans and watch Roseanne 2.0. Some friends argue the new show will be a kind of Trojan Horse for Trump supporters. The theory is their like-minded blue-collar avatar will lure them in, only to be exposed to a grandkid who’s black and another who wears the opposite sex’s clothes, and it’s all treated like it’s perfectly normal. “See,” the theory goes, “the family’s progressive tolerance for gender fluidity and mixed race families will be infectious.” Well, big whoop. These details feel as realistic and tacked on as Dan’s rise from the dead. So Roseanne’s the kind of fictional grandma who champions her fictional grandson’s interest in wearing girls’ clothes. She “doesn’t see color” when it comes to her diverse TV family. But here in the real world, both fictional and real-life Roseannes support a real-life President destroying the real-life lives of millions of minorities, transgender folks, women, children, working families, people in need of healthcare, immigrants, the planet itself.
Normally, I’m all for popular culture acclimating Americans to diversity and moving them away from the ignorance and bigotry of their narrow worldviews. “Will & Grace”, “Modern Family” and Ellen DeGeneres’ preternatural lovability have undoubtedly had an impact on homophobia. But what good are so-called progressive outlooks if they only extend to fictional lives? Here in the real world, where real people live, votes, laws and legislation speak louder than scripts and ratings. The Roseannes’ seeming lack of bigotry underwhelms me in the face of what their actions in the voting booth prove. All the Trump voters who insist they aren’t sexist, or racist, or xenophobic (or stupid) are nearly inaudible whispers next to what their political choices SHOUT.
You can say you aren’t a White Supremacist, but if you vote for someone who IS, it’s not all that convincing. If you vote for a man with a well-known history of racism, fraud, corruption, misogyny, greed, dishonesty and incompetence that makes you someone who, well, votes for someone with a well-known history of racism, fraud, corruption, misogyny, greed, dishonesty and incompetence. What does that say about you, your values and priorities? You support a man who sees no moral differential between Neo-Nazis and their protestors in Charlottesville. A man who defames and slanders the women he abuses. A bully famous for his outrageous lies and 4th-grade reading level. An adult who made fun of disabled man’s handicap on national television. And no, none of this is “fake news”. All these facts are easily observed and discerned just listening to the man’s own words on TV, video, the radio, in interviews, and social media. Who and what Donald Trump is has been apparent, even famous, for decades. It’s a matter of public record he doesn’t pay his bills, he attacks minorities, abuses women, launders money, lionizes dictators, and now collaborates with our country’s enemies to undermine our democratic process. That was all OK with Trump supporters. And now his motely crew of inept sycophants in charge of our national security, education and justice systems, environment, safety and healthcare…still, they’re fine. Slandering and firing any public servant with principles rather than blind allegiance – they don’t blink an eye. Race-baiting with lies about Obama not being born in America and athletes peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights…well, for people who aren’t racist and decry “fake news”, Trump supporters certainly tolerate a lot of racism and lies.
“But here in the real world, both fictional and real-life Roseannes support a real-life President destroying the real-life lives of millions of minorities, transgender folks, women, children, working families, people in need of healthcare, immigrants, the planet itself.”
Roseanne Barr is an outspoken Trump supporter with a multimedia megaphone that gives her access to millions. But, as Roxane Gay writes, “Where once she was edgy and provocative, she is now absurd and offensive. Her views are muddled and incoherent. She is more invested in banal and shallow provocation than engaging with sociopolitical issues in a thoughtful manner. No amount of mental gymnastics can make what Roseanne Barr has said and done in recent years palatable.” I agree with Ms. Gay that both the fictional and all-too-real Roseannes’ platforms “are further normalizing Trump and his warped, harmful political ideologies.”
A lot of people disparage my point of view. One Trump supporting relative chides me for caring too much about “current events”. Sarah Silverman, whom I really admire, tweeted she “loved” the reboot and wrote, “Hope y’all let go of needing art 2 reflect/express only what u yourself feel. That’s not what art’s 4.” I love you, Sarah, but Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” was also a piece of art, but had I lived in Berlin in 1939, I wouldn’t have given that the thumbs up either. I learned about the Holocaust as a young child, and ever since I’ve taken concepts like “the banality of evil” and “silence is complicity” very seriously. For me, it’s important to take a stand, to refuse our implicit support, to criticize and resist powers and people who endanger our democracy, our rights, our planet’s very survival.
In Roseanne 2.0, Jackie and Roseanne decide to resolve their problems because they decide their divergent political points of view don’t matter. I get that a lot of people feel that way. I get that many people think it’s superior to prioritize peace within the family over principles and the fate of millions of people inside and outside the family. But for a variety of reasons, I just can’t. It’s not because I divide people into two camps — “My tribe” and “Not my tribe”. But nor do I divide people into people into “my family” and “not my family”. I value all people. I value truth, justice, human rights, the environment and the planet. My commitment to battle racism and misogyny, to support free speech and democracy, these are important to me and a big part of who I am.
Like me, Linda Holmes, host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” feels Jackie and Roseanne’s happy truce is a somewhat dangerous resolution. “It treats politics like a separable, irrelevant disagreement that doesn’t actually have any consequences.” She tweeted, “It basically treats politics as an emotional issue for white people, something that they need to work out with each other, but not as something that makes anyone’s lives better or worse.”
Our voices and political choices have very real repercussions. Politics ARE personal; they aren’t merely headlines or “current events”. The principles we espouse and the ensuing political decisions we make affect millions of people, as well as the future and planet we share. I owe it to myself, the planet, all people — including you, Roseanne and Trump supporters — to fight for a better world for us all. My ideals, my actions, my speech and the media I consume all help comprise my political voice. How I spend my time is also precious to me, and I won’t be squandering it on a sitcom that’s fiddling around while Rome burns. Me, I’d rather be fanning flames in hopes of fighting the bigger apocalyptic fire.