In singing the praises of Roseanne Barr Connor I’m a couple of decades late and many inflationary dollars short—I guess I’m going to have to stop thinking of myself as a trend-setter. The thing is, I didn’t like Roseanne back in the day, and that’s putting it mildly. My antipathy towards her made me a statistic; as one critic noted, “Professing to be a militant feminist, she makes many feminists uneasy…apparently because she’s not terribly, well, feminine.”
I wouldn’t say what I disliked was her lack of femininity exactly; it was more the crassness that turned me off: mooning spectators at a ball game, telling fart jokes, singing like a demented banshee—although anything that roused the wrath of The Nitwit, as her singing of the national anthem did, makes her okay in my book.
Anyhow, I’ve been watching reruns of Roseanne in the morning—or rather, in the middle of the night, which is when I tend to wake up these days. As Larry says, reruns make for better entertainment, because you don’t have to wait a week or two for the next episode. Four eps are on in a row, and I’m enjoying them more than I would have predicted. I probably would’ve liked Roseanne a lot more if I’d watched her as Mrs. Connor and ignored tabloid stories about Ms. Barr.
The rest of the world apparently knew all along what I didn’t; Roseanne’s won four Emmy’s, two Golden Globes, six People’s Choice Awards, one Peabody, and three from American Comedy. It’s not the awards that impress me, though, but the fact that the show is—really, and not in any fake or surface way—feminist, working class, and honest. This is true not just of Roseanne herself but the whole family. John Goodman, the big teddy bear, is an actor I’ve loved ever since he bellowed Sea of Love in the movie of that name.
Just about every hot-button women’s issue is dealt with on Roseanne: relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters, women’s work, violence against women, lesbianism…I could go on indefinitely. By now I’ve probably viewed close to a hundred episodes, and not once have I been offended, or even disagreed with, the way they’re handled. It isn’t because Roseanne is Politically Correct per se; rather, it’s that the situations and the way they’re played out are treated realistically. The dialog’s so honest, at times the show seems almost unscripted. And at twenty years old, the show still feels relevant.
The contrast of Roseanne’s two teenage daughters, basically butch and femme, is brilliant. The relationships between Roseanne and her sister Jackie, and their respective relationships with their mother, provides another kind of contrast, so that a wide spectrum of mother-daughter dynamics is explored. While the men on Roseanne are somewhat peripheral, they—especially Dan—are far from one-dimensional. On one show, after Roseanne accuses Dan of being “such a Maaaan,” son DJ says, “But I thought it was good to be a man,” and Dan says, chuckling, “Oh no, son, not since the 1970’s.”Roseanne most often makes me laugh, but at times I’ve been deeply moved. I was devastated when Becky eloped at 17; Roseanne’s pain evoked memories of my mother and me back when I was a teenage bride.
When comic Alan King introduced Roseanne on his series Inside the Comedy Mind, he rattled off a list of viewers she supposedly represents: “The hopeless underclass of the female sex. Polyester-clad, overweight occupants of the slow track. Fast-food waitresses, factory workers, housewives — members of the invisible pink-collar army. The despised, the jilted, the underpaid.” (Sounds like a Dylan song!)
Roseanne’s face lit up with delight and she said, “In other words, the coolest people.”
I’d like to be included in that cool demographic, but as a single mother and iconoclast I couldn’t relate to the Connor family. Had I been watching the show during its first run, I probably would’ve felt just as alienated and sad as I used to feel watching Father Knows Best, what with no teddy bear hubby and many unresolved family problems. Today, with all that behind me, I can enjoy the show without having my baggage interfere.
Still, in some ways Roseanne has spoken for me. When she was on
Inside the Actors Studio she told the audience, “The networks are never going to include this, but I have to say that most mothers have a hard time
because being a mother means you’re also a woman. When the whole world is treating you like shit and putting you down, how can you not make
mistakes?” Go Rosie!
And where, by the way, is Roseanne Barr now?
Roseanne’s book, My Life As a Woman
Some of the quotes and information above came from articles on this site.
- Your next box set: Roseanne (guardian.co.uk)
- Roseanne Barr Files Suit Against Ex-Hubby (eonline.com)