Submitted by Matthew Weininger
At a time when sympathetic portrayals of right-wing characters in pop culture are few and far between, it’s no surprise that the revival of the television show Roseanne on ABC has many Trump supporters and conservatives jumping for joy. The show is billed as a blue-collar family sitcom. It stars, of course, Roseanne Barr, as the titular salty matriarch, whose personality is based on the actress’s comedic persona from the ’80s and ’90s. Twenty years after the show went off the air, the whole cast is back; and this time around, Roseanne is a Trump-supporting grandma.
Immediately, the praise from conservative media and pundits started pouring in. Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld said Roseanne was a “sitcom without a sermon” that “replaced demonization with dialogue.” James Woods tweeted, “The goddess is back and rocking it!” Even the president himself called Roseanne to congratulate her on the show’s impressive ratings.
But just below the surface, there’s a lot about the show that’s not worth celebrating.
Despite being raised Orthodox Jewish, Barr portrays a working-class, Middle American White woman. As recently as 2012, Barr was a member of the Green Party, but she has claimed to have experienced an awakening and came around to supporting Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Despite Barr’s newfound Republicanism, many aspects of the rebooted show have been changed to reflect the attitudes of the “progressive” Left. Roseanne’s grandson, Mark, “dresses in non-traditional attire” and is “gender creative”—which is to say he’s a transvestite.
Barr justified the decision to the Television Critics Association in January, saying, “I’ve always attempted to portray a realistic portrait of the American people, working-class people—and in fact it was working-class people who elected Trump—so I felt that was very real and something that needed to be discussed.”
Apparently, she thinks having a crossdressing child was a “realistic portrait” of most Trump supporting families. According to an interview in Entertainment Weekly, the idea to include the gender-bending child comes from Sara Gilbert, another Jewish actress on the show.
Let’s talk about the character of Mark, Roseanne’s grandson. Whose idea was it for him to dress in non-traditional attire?
It was originally Sara Gilbert’s idea because she knows kids who do that. We did a lot of research. It’s very tricky. We talked to GLAAD people to make it very specific to one kid, not try to make it about everybody. The hardest part about it, weirdly, was the terminology. We’re not saying the kid is trans. He’s not even at that point. My son had a friend who was 5 years old and he dressed like a girl. Ultimately he turned out to be gay, but he wasn’t trans. We didn’t want to put all that weight on the kid. He really is a kid who is non-traditional and right now he wants to dress like a girl. We’re saying, who knows what will ultimately happen?
Gilbert says she included the child to familiarize Americans with children who may not be trans, but just “want to dress like a girl.” In other words, the inclusion of Mark is intentional social engineering on the part of the cast to demonstrate to parents that their kids could be “genderqueer.” In the first episode, the family debates how to react to Mark, and the various characters are unsure of how to handle his proclivity for women’s clothing. While the characters don’t reach a concrete resolution, the idea is already planted in the viewers’ heads that Mark ought to be allowed to keep crossdressing.
In addition to Mark, Roseanne now has a Black granddaughter named Mary. Mary is the child of DJ, Roseanne’s son, and his Black partner.
In Roseanne’s first airing, there was one episode in which DJ refused to kiss a Black girl for a school play. Roseanne said her decision to include a Black granddaughter in the reboot was a nod to that episode, and intended to show how DJ’s views on interracial relationships evolved.
“That was something I always wanted to do because of DJ not kissing a Black girl. So that’s important to me,” Barr told The Hollywood Reporter in February.
As for Roseanne’s character herself, she appears to only support Trump for economic reasons. Roseanne gets in several arguments with her younger sister, Jackie, a stereotypically liberal woman who wears pink “pussy hats” and voted for Jill Stein. But in these arguments, Roseanne comes nowhere near defending Trump’s nationalist campaign platitudes on immigration. Rather, she defends Trump for bringing back “jobs,” boosting the economy and offering “change”. Essentially, Roseanne is a Steve Bannon-esque “economic populist,” who imagines a world of immigrant and native, Black, Brown, and White, straight and gay united through “jobs.”
Judging from the first episode, Roseanne appears to be fairly liberal on social issues. Such biases are unsurprising given that they are shared by members of the cast itself. Roseanne co-star Sandra Bernhard (also Jewish—perhaps there’s a recurring pattern?) said on MSNBC that she couldn’t understand why any women would vote for Trump, and that female Trump supporters must be “under the thumb of [their] husband.”
This is what makes the show so insidious—it masquerades as a populist, positive portrayal of Trump voters, while actually attempting to normalize anti-White and anti-traditional social views. It leads the viewer to think, “Well hey, if this normal Trump-supporting blue-collar family is cool with miscegenation and gender nonconformity, then I guess I am too!”
Despite what Roseanne says, the show doesn’t present a normal Trump supporter. It presents a safe, diluted, Hollywood-approved Trump voter, who supports Trump purely for economic reasons and whose pro-feminist, pro-abortion, pro-crossdressing views are intended to make her look more “moral” to the audience.
This is exactly why neoconservative John Podhoretz praised the show in his op-ed for the New York Post. He wrote that Roseanne “gets it right” by including a 9-year-old crossdresser and showing Republican voters who are not motivated by social issues.
The world between the coasts has just sent a message to the major domos of our popular culture. The message is: We’re conscious enough of our differences to shut you down when you set yourselves against us (the Oscars) but we are ready to provide enthusiastic support for your efforts if you treat us with respect.
In other words, Roseanne is an inverse Archie Bunker.
Archie Bunker, the “lovable bigot” of the 1970s sitcom All in the Family, was originally created by the show’s progressive cast of writers to be unlikable. His “backwards” views on Blacks, Latinos, Jews, gays, and Catholics were intended to be mocked. But soon what became known as the “Archie Bunker effect” took hold, and audiences fell in love with the character. They found his rants about hippies and commies to be endearing, and relatable. By 1972, political pundits were discussing the “Archie Bunker vote” in the presidential election.
Hollywood writers were so far removed from the opinions of Middle Americans that their unlovable conservative turned out to be quite lovable, indeed. Roseanne, on the other hand, is what Hollywood elites think right-wingers ought to be, and is thus portrayed sympathetically intentionally.
Roseanne is not about making Middle America great again. It’s about making Middle America palatable to costal elites.