THE REAL REEL | The Roseanne Show Is Back…
And It's Calling Out Bougie White People
Progressives still don't seem to be getting the message.
For many reasons, I am a huge fan of the original Roseanne Show, so when the reunion season was announced I was excited. I couldn't wait to watch and see if the same sociologically-on-point-humor and sarcastic quips from 20 years ago would still be able to land with the same reverberating thump.
Would this show be able to maintain its ability to humorously portray a working class family with a medley of politically-charged plot-lines without seeming political at all? Would gay rights, feminism, racism, and classism be brought into plot-lines so subtly that you didn't have a chance to process it from a political standpoint, but only in the eyes of a character you were rooting for? Was it still possible to seem "un-political" in 2018? I would find out.
I tucked myself into bed, turned on my television and prepared to soak in some old-fashioned working-class humor, just like the olds days…accept it was NOT AT ALL like the old days. First of all, I was streaming the show on Hulu, using Apple TV, and there were of course zero commercial breaks.
The last time I watched the Roseanne show live I was still living at home, cell-phone- and internet-free. The original series aired from 1988-1996 which means by the very last season, some of us had pagers, gynormous "Zack Morris" cell phones and possibly email accounts with AOL that we checked monthly. I couldn't vote the last time I watched this show, Clinton was president, and "transgender" and "Black Lives Matter" were not colloquial terms amongst progressives. If you recycled you were considered a liberal hero and if you wanted to make-out with someone of the same sex, you kept it to yourself in most cases. At least I did. There was no Uber, no apps, no Facetime, and you still paid for long-distance phone calls.
It was in fact a different world and Roseanne was cunning, subtly political and overtly hysterical. Roseanne Barr was a brick-layer, a pathmaker for women like Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, and even Tina Fey. She gave women permission to be strong, to be angry, and to exist fully. She modeled big-ness, taking up space, and the refusal to make herself small, in every sense of the way, all acts of rebellion, then and now.
I didn't grow up in an NPR or CNN household. We were not a politically-aware family. My parents worked as bartenders, car wash attendants, nurse-aids, and restaurant managers, and we lived mostly paycheck-to-paycheck. I loved this show because it wasn't filled with upper-class intellectuals and it looked much more like my home life, rather than the wealthy kids I was surrounded by at school.
As a scholarship kid at a private school, I always felt like I traveled to "the wealthy world" by day and "my world" by night… Roseanne fit nicely into "my world". Roseanne was a waitress, my mom was a bartender, Roseanne lived paycheck to paycheck, we lived paycheck to "grandma-please-send-money-for-school-clothes," Roseanne yelled at her family, I yelled at my family. This show was amazing because instead of being another show about a family you wished you could be like (manicured and wealthy), it was about a family you already were like…and it made your humiliating financial shortcomings OK. It made you feel normal.
So, how does a show that prided itself on cultural relevance and taboo plot lines reunite 20 years later and stay relevant? In my opinion, its greatest feature was its lack of political jargon, or maybe that was just my lack of political awareness as a child? Even so, it's unarguable that we live in one of the most polarizing political times, likely since Vietnam, or maybe even earlier. The reunion season is only three episodes in, and this polarization is exactly what they are capitalizing on.
At first the plot line felt forced. The new season opened with overt articulation of Roseanne and her sister disagreeing about the presidency and their individual voting choices. It was not subtle at all, Roseanne clearly voted for Trump, Jackie for Hillary, and they argued about each other's stupidity. Luckily they got this in-your-face point out of the way early and the rest of the scenes and following episodes were more nuanced. This show still has some of it's old magic because it still succeeds in showing a family that loves each other no matter what, despite vastly different opinions and life choices. Here is where we realize that this show is asking something of its viewers.
It's asking us to witness what it looks like when you can't afford to surround yourself with only people you agree with. It is not lost on me that I am no longer that little girl, living in a one-bedroom apartment, or watching my dad pay for groceries using food stamps. I am writing from Portland, Oregon, drinking organic kombucha, on my way to purchase sustainable groceries from a coop. I am surrounded by liberals and if I wanted, I could go for months and months without engaging with or even seeing a Trump supporter. I can do this now. But I am the minority and likely so are the readers of this article. Most of working class America is not living in a city because they love its culture, appreciate its restaurant scene, and it has great schools. Most of America is still trying to pay their bills…one month at a time. Most of America is still trying to get by and can't see past next month's rent or grocery bills. What does this have to do with Roseanne? Everything.
This show reminds those who need reminding what it's like to not be upwardly mobile, to not own property, and to not be debt-free. This show reminds people like me that most people don't have children under well-predicted and comfortable economic conditions, and that relying on people you disagree with politically is the least of their problems. This show may be less subtle than it has been in years past, but perhaps out of necessity, since progressives still don't seem to be getting the message. Who you complain about in politics is no longer interesting. I don't care if you don't like Trump, and more to the point, working-class people sure as hell don't care. Do something about it - create more jobs, get involved in elections, whatever you want… but indulging in our bougie lifestyles while complaining about "the idiot Trump supporters" doesn't make us heroes, activists, anti-racists, or feminists. It just makes us complainers.
Watch this show and judge for yourself. In the meantime, perhaps less blame, less high and mighty, more compassion and more acknowledgement of privileged.
Sincerely, your bleeding heart liberal,
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, and works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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