Class Television: In Praise of Roseanne Barr

Class Television: In Praise of Roseanne Barr

Mark Engler: Class Television

I never fully appreciated the sitcom Roseanne when it had its network TV run from 1988 to 1997. But I’m beginning to become a big fan of creator Roseanne Barr.

This is, in part, due to a remarkable and much-discussed testimonial she gave in New York magazine, released this past week. It is a chatty and irreverent first-person account of her battles to create “a realistic show about a strong mother who was not a victim of Patriarchal Consumerist Bullshit–in other words, the persona I had carefully crafted over eight previous years in dive clubs and biker bars: a fierce working-class Domestic Goddess.”

Roseanne adds: “It was 1987, and it seemed people were primed and ready to watch a sitcom that didn’t have anything like the rosy glow of middle-class confidence and comfort, and didn’t try to fake it.”

The article covers a lot of ground in terms of sexism in Hollywood, the depiction of women on television, and the class politics of media creators. Roseanne’s conclusion:

Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.

Roseanne depicts her own descent into fame in an often unflattering light, and this only makes her account more compelling. As Amanda Marcotte comments in her “Notes on feminisms past, still relevant today,” the New York piece is

…a good example of how to think through multiple concerns and levels to a problem without sacrificing your voice or substituting piety for genuine analysis. Also, Roseanne Barr does not care what you think. She admits to many major failings as a person and her strengths are often things we don’t like to admit are strengths–stubbornness, belligerent about what she believes she’s entitled to–and the points she makes are all the stronger for it. Domestic goddess indeed.

The interview reminded me of a video clip that was circulating online not long ago. We all know that handing out tax breaks as a means of attracting businesses to an area has become a colossal boondoggle. Businesses make big pledges in terms of job creation that never seem to materialize as promised, and yet they are subject to no standards of accountability. Grey LeRoy wrote a nice book about this called The Great American Jobs Scam.

That title is well worth picking up. But if you’re feeling too lazy to read a whole book, Roseanne nails it here in just under three minutes:

I’m thinking it might be time to dig up some DVDs of this show.