Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Barring Roseanne

It’s amazing how often some pop culture thing “blows up” to use a click bait phrase, and then “the Internet goes wild!” to use another. Today was such a day with word that Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne reboot was cancelled after the comedian made a racist Tweet. For the better part of a day there was no other story being talked about.

Roseanne’s rebooted show was a political football from the very beginning, with the Left condemning the show and declaring they’d never watch it because of Roseanne’s often stated—and often crudely stated—support for the current occupant of the White House. That’s the same reason folks on the Right fawned over the new show, the current occupant included, who talked about the show’s ratings, of course.

The whole thing became so hyper-politicised, as quite literally everything in the USA seems to these days, that I didn’t know what to think. My initial inclination was to follow the lead of my tribe—those of us somewhere to the Left of Centre—and not watch it. Easy for me to say: It was an American TV show and unlikely to air here, I thought.

Until it was broadcast here about a week behind the USA, I think.

I was a huge fan of the original Roseanne, with its often—though not always—accurate portrayal of the zeitgeist of its time. It portrayed working class realities more than any other show of its time, with good acting and writing (most of the time).

So, carrying the memory of the show I once watched and liked uneasily paired with my rejection of Roseanne’s personal embrace of the current occupant, I ended up watching the show.

The first one I saw, I held the remote in my hand prepared to change the channel the moment it pissed me off. I watched to the end. And I watched episodes after that. In my opinion, both the Left and the Right overreacted, as they so often do. It wasn’t raging Trumpeteering as the Left predicted, nor as good as the Right declared.

I saw Roseanne (the character) argue about the 2016 election with her sister Jackie (played by my fellow native Illinoisan Laurie Metcalf). Roseanne said why she’d voted for the current occupant, and Jackie said that Roseanne’s constant abuse of Hillary Clinton drove her to vote for Jill Stein—much as happened in a lot of places, including the three states that put the current guy into the White House.

I also saw Roseanne be certain that the Muslim family next door were terrorists as her president’s team constantly preached. But she learns that they’re real people who are facing their own problems, and she defends the Muslim mother in public when a snotty teen abuses her.

In another episode, husband Dan (John Goodman) loses out on a contracting job because the lower bidder—as they put it—“hires illegals”. In a subsequent episode, Dan is desperate to raise the money to pay for Roseanne’s knee surgery so she will stop abusing painkillers. He decides to hire “illegals”, too—and then fate intervenes with flooding bad enough that there’s plenty of work for everyone. And that’s where the series ended.

There were a few moments that were vaguely doctrinaire, but in general the show was NOT a commercial for the current occupant—not by a long shot. It was mostly an updated version of the old show, but putting the Connor family into the current time with all the problems people of their class might face—rationing their prescriptions because they can’t afford them all, being unable to afford surgery, feeling trapped by circumstances not of their making, and, in the case of Roseanne, being desperate enough to vote for a racist con man and buffoon “to shake things up” (the episodes I saw never said how anyone but Roseanne and Jackie voted).

The show’s main problem was that it just wasn’t all that good. Sure, there were some good jokes, but the whole thing felt tired, as if sometimes they were just going through the motions. The acting was often quite good—and could even be better than in the original series—but it also sometimes felt flat. It was pretty much the same thing with the writing and the quality of the jokes.

Even so, it was no horror show or exercise in political indoctrination. It MOSTLY rang true, it MOSTLY described modern working class problems fairly accurately, but, the thing the Left and Right both missed, I think, was that the characters—especially Roseanne herself—grew.

So it turns out that the problem here wasn’t the show Roseanne itself, it was actor Roseanne herself, as the Left said all along. In particular, it was Roseanne’s inability to keep her mouth shut. She kept Tweeting insulting things about her political opponents, including sharing debunked lies, as well as sharing all sorts of conspiracy theory nonsense. She was a problem waiting to explode, as her American TV network, ABC, must have known.

So today, and not for the first time, she Tweeted out racists insults. Fox "News" defended her, of course, as did all the Trumpeteers on Twitter. The thing I personally saw that made me laugh and sad at the same time was a huge number of Tweets from Trumpeteers saying that Valerie Jarrett “looks white”, so, therefore, the remark couldn’t be racist. A few even put up photos of Rosanne and Jarrett claiming that Roseanne “looks darker”. To me, that tactic seemed especially desperate and deluded.

The tragedy in this is not the fall of someone who was once quite good and relevant, but who is now a political extremist focused on the bizarre and just plain nutty. The tragedy here is that hundreds of other people have lost their jobs, too, people who would never do anything as stupid as what Roseanne did. They don’t deserve what happened to them because of Roseanne’s moronic behaviour. Still, you’d think something like this was inevitable.

For months, I kept hoping that Roseanne was pulling an elaborate prank, that at some point she’d tell everyone that she was pretending to be a supporter of the current occupant just to prove how gullible his ardent fans really are. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. She’s really as weird and downright loony as she’s seemed, so today’s events were inevitable. This time, there probably can’t be a return. That’s clearly not a bad thing.

Update May 31–further reading: "Roseanne Tried to Use ‘Roseanne’ to Prove that Trump Voters Aren’t Racist. There Was Just 1 Problem." from The Nation. I think this explains why the character of Roseanne defends the Muslim mother, even though the comedian Roseanne attacked Muslims on Twitter.
"The extreme right won’t stop defending Roseanne" from ThinkProgress. This is not the far-right's finest hour.

The image up top is by cartoonist xkcd, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.


Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Not surprisingly, that was the reason I wasn't keen on the show long before the star's weirdo politics became an issue. There have been so many reboot and derivative shows on TV, streaming services, at the movies, and even on Broadway, that it's seemed as if all the creative ideas have been used up.

Then, when the politics things emerged, I had different reasons for not watching. In this case, the problem is it almost worked.

rogerogreen said...

I watched the original Roseanne for a few years. I'd stopped by the time she was working outside the home.
I hadn't watched the new version because I'm just a little cranky about all the reboots, Will and Grace, e.g.. And the remakes are worse. Still, I'll probably at least check out Murphy Brown this fall, just to prove how inconsistent I am.