In My Words: ‘Roseanne’ reboot offers mixed portrait of blue-collar America
In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Naeemah Clark, associate professor of communications, writes about the recent reboot of the TV show "Roseanne."
This column was distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate and was published by The Raleigh News & Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun. Views expressed in this column are the author's own and not necessarily those of Elon University.
By Naeemah Clark
The blue-collar class has not always been served well by Hollywood television producers. From ne’er-do-wells Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton in “The Honeymooners” to the ultra-dysfunctional Al Bundy from “Married with Children,” blue-collar workers have been portrayed as hapless and perpetually troubled.
Then, when ABC premiered the sitcom “Roseanne” in 1988, the show was lauded for focusing on the hardworking, authentic mom Roseanne Conner who used humor and savvy to keep her blue-collar family afloat in trying times. She was breath of fresh air in a television landscape that did not focus on this type of mid-American mom.
When the show was revamped this March, there was a similar excitement from the audience and critics. Once again, Roseanne was telling a story that’s not been on television lately.
This time, Roseanne Conner is living in a modern family replete with a black granddaughter, a grandson who prefers girls’ clothes, a sister who supports “Nasty Woman” (Hillary), a son in the military, a daughter who wants to sell her eggs (Roseanne’s possible grandchildren), and her husband Dan, who hides his gun in the freezer in the garage.
Oh, and she’s an unabashed Trump supporter.
Mr. Trump has publically expressed his happiness with the show. And this isn’t surprising. After all, the entertainment industry has displayed its displeasure with him. For example, Norman Lear’s Netflix sleeper “One Day at a Time” tells the story of a wworking-classCuban-American mother leading her family with humor and savvy. In its second season, there was an entire episode critiquing Trump’s anti-immigration stance. At one point, he is called a “monster” for creating fear in the Latinx community.
So, for Trump, even though close to 25 million viewers did not actually hear his name in the first two episodes, 2018’s “Roseanne” is tantamount to a hug from the Hollywood establishment.
Barr’s (and Conner’s) positive spin on the potential of the Trump presidency resulted in call from #45 himself. Ironically, to this viewer/media representation scholar, the show was not as laudatory as Mr. Trump may seem to think it was. In actuality, there are a few indictments of elements of his #MAGA philosophy in the “Roseanne” revamp.
Early in the first episode, Dan and Roseanne are swapping pills from their monthly cache of prescriptions. They exchange their statins for heart meds, lamenting the cost of the drugs. Yet Roseanne critiques the fiscal irresponsibility of Obamacare much like Trump does on Twitter and, well, everywhere else. In the same scene, Roseanne Conner refers to her pain medication as “candy,” which seems to fly in the face of how Trump talks about remedying the opioid crisis via media that shows that drugs are harmful.
Also in the first episode, it is revealed that Roseanne’s sister, Jackie, is furious that she was bullied into believing falsehoods about Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, Roseanne is blamed for Jackie casting her vote for Jill Stein. It is not a stretch to see that Jackie’s argument is directed toward her sister, but their conversation is a nuanced condemnation of how Trump vigorously maligned Clinton with dubious information.
The episode ends with Roseanne chastising elementary school students for bullying her grandson. Again, the sitcom anti-bullying trope is counter to Trump’s consistent badgering of those around him including Meryl Streep, Amazon.com and his own attorney general.
The 2018 “Roseanne” does well to capture what is happening in working-class America in that the characters are diverse in age, race and ability. #MAGA is far less concerned with the trendiness of diverse representations. Trump has mocked a disabled reporter and John McCain. Photos taken of White House interns show they are largely white, as is the leadership of the Trump administration.
If #MAGA wants to appeal to the real-life working class, an embrace of diverse people who are elemental to the revamped Conner household would be a good start, but #MAGA isn’t really about that. In fact, it points to this type of purposeful diversity as being little more than political correctness.
#MAGA also holds that the Second Amendment is paramount in the minds of responsible gun owners. Dan and Roseanne go on a search for their missing handgun now that their grandchildren are living with them. Once they find it in the garage, they hide it again so their daughter Darlene doesn’t make them get rid of it. Of course, they should have told Darlene that there is a gun in the house, but the Conners’ irresponsibility is played for humor. In this current climate of young people getting their hands on guns, the depiction does not seem in line with NRA’s talking points.
There are other moments that seem counter to Trump and the #MAGA folks including Roseanne’s fervent stance for women controlling their own bodies. There’s Roseanne Conner’s zinger regarding kneeling during the National Anthem that conjures images of Barr’s past controversial rendition of the National Anthem.
Yet, in an attempt to capture the zeitgeist, the aforementioned references are woven through the episodes.
It adds to the fun of the reboot, but it is also confounding. At points, Roseanne Conner appears to have voted for Trump against her best interests. At other times, Roseanne Barr seems to be poking fun of a few of the sensibilities of his voters.
Perhaps neither is aware of it yet, but I don’t think the 2018 Roseanne is doing either of them any favors.