Raising The Barr: In Defense Of Roseanne And Her Politics
By Mathew Rodriguez
In the final moment of the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne Barr that aired on Aug. 12, Barr took to the stage and sang the final two lines to our national anthem. While the moment was meant to recall the moment where she screeched her way through the anthem at a baseball game — and drew the ire of red-blooded Americans everywhere — Barr sang the anthem in a beautiful soprano and missed nary a note.
Hearing Barr sing the lines “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” one had to think of the resonance those lines hold for Roseanne’s career. For a woman as brave as she has been, she hasn’t been free to do much without immense scrutiny. Now, as she runs for president, and as she is honored by her comedy peers, it is time to recognize Roseanne for what she is — a trail-blazing feminist icon who lived out national, gender, and societal politics well before she sought political office.
Roseanne embodied a politics of visibility that is all but absent from mainstream pop culture today. She was brash, overweight, and unrefined — almost every man’s nightmare. She refused to make a joke of her weight, and there was no punch line to her voice and demeanor. In a patriarchal world, Roseanne ran her household, and millions invited her into their household weekly.
While other television moms, like Peggy Bundy, at the time followed the paradigmatic schlub/hot wife married twosome formula and lived in a home where the man wore the pants despite his bumbling ways, Roseanne played a frumpy wife; she famously fought with the show’s wardrobe department to make Roseanne’s clothes dowdier. She never saw her weight as something to be corrected, but embraced. She subverted the typical patriarchal family structure, and showed that a middle-class family with two working parents had room for two voices in the running of that household — with the female voice often outstripping the male counterpart.
The middle-class setting of the show is not to be ignored, either. While middle-class-ness was nothing new for television families, few families on television are outright rich, few had the kind of middle-class jobs that Roseanne and John Goodman had on the show. After being fired from a plastics factory — remember when America had factory jobs!? — Roseanne struggled with odd jobs, including being a telemarketer, fast food employee, bartender, and working at a beauty salon. John Goodman had a steady contracting job.
While characters on television are either gainfully unemployed, see all the characters on Girls, or have jobs that pay unrealistically well — how did Carrie afford all those clothes and an Upper East Side pad on a weekly column salary? — Roseanne showed what it meant to live paycheck-to-paycheck. She struggle to put food on the table. In the world of Occupy Wall Street and Election 2012, hers was the message that it was not always easy being middle class, and that money worries were a part of the American landscape.
People often misguidedly assume that only politicians can get political. It’s compartmentalizing at its worst. Roseanne pursued her passion — comedy — without divorcing it from a political message. Roseanne tackled poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, birth control, obesity, issues of intersectionality, infidelity, gay rights, domestic violence, and feminist ideas, all while delivering laughs.Roseanne truly understood that the root meaning of the word “politics” is “of the people” and democratized political stances. Rather than politics as only for politicians and comedy being separate from politics, Roseanne melded the two and dared not to speak down to a dumb audience. It spoke to its audience knowing that many people watching were tackling similar issues in their own lives, and they wanted to see a strong woman tackling them on television.
After a slew of bad press, including the aforementioned Star Spangled Banner incident, as well as a very public divorce from comedian and actor Tom Arnold, Roseanne’s popularity has waned over the years. She has attempted no less than three reality shows that have all been seen as failures; all the goodwill she has is often seen as leftover former glory.
She shot a sitcom pilot titled Downwardly Mobile with John Goodman, but it was not picked up — it seems depicting middle-class politics during a recession is much less funny for some, even if it is a propos. Roseanne, however, continues to move forward and adapt. She wrote what is one of the best celebrity op-eds I’ve ever read for New York Magazine, affirming what we all already felt: Charlie Sheen can act erratically and garner millions of dollars, while she was deemed a crazy bitch, showing she hasn’t lost any of her bad-ass feminist cred.
She is now running for president on the Peace & Freedom party ticket, showing her loyal followers on Twitter that there is more to the political system than the current binary framework. Barr is running on a mostly socialist platform of dismantling the pro-corporations structure of the American economic system and legalizing marijuana.
Though many may feel free to ignore her, this is America after all, perhaps it really is time for us to give this brave woman a shot.
Mathew Rodriguez is a graduate of Fordham University, where he majored in English and comparative literature and minored in women’s studies and creative writing. Mathew is a published essayist, new media journalist and academic. He plans to pursue a PhD in English with a concentration in gender studies. Mathew is also a social activist who embraces the tenets of feminism and works for LGBT rights. When not writing, he currently works for the LGBT health/ medical services nonprofit APICHA Community Health Center as its program assistant. Follow him on Twitter @mathewrodriguez.