Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2018 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.
by Nate Willems
I have watched the first three episodes of the rebooted Roseanne. I have read Roxane Gay’s emphatic denunciation of the show. I have seen friends on social media suggest a boycott of companies which advertise on Roseanne. Maybe Roxane Gay and my Facebook
friends are just wrong. Maybe the rebooted Roseanne will make a positive contribution to our culture and politics.
First, the show might not be for you because you are likely not the target demographic. I never watched The Apprentice because I don’t like bad reality television. If you do not like
a working-class sitcom, don’t watch Roseanne.
In three episodes, this version of Roseanne indicates it will confront many real issues faced by regular people: job loss; parents bringing their children to move in with their parents;
nonconforming gender expression; opioids; family members deployed abroad in the military; personal debt. While television has brought us countless stories of wealthy people living in nice suburbs where everybody is attractive, both the original and reboot
of Roseanne stand out because they attempt to show the unglamorous life of working-class America. There is a word for that. It is called relatable.
Of course, it is not just the economic and family challenges of everyday life which are relatable, disagreements over politics within families have also become very common. Roseanne’s character is a Trump supporter. Trump is ever-present in this show as
he is in our news and culture.
Just think about how this may become a tangible positive. The reboot of Roseanne is going to force Trump to withstand the test of time. When a relatable challenge confronts the Connor Family this week, guess what? Trump will not have the answer. When a different problem emerges next week, guess what? Trump may not even care.
Ah, you may ask, what good does this do? Anybody can see this for themselves on MSNBC, on late night TV or in my twitter feed, right? This takes us back to remembering the target demographic: it is probably not you. It might just be possible that traditional news outlets and cultural elites are not going to sway a sizable chunk of white working-class Americans with a tradition of voting Democratic who strayed to Trump in 2016. The logic or satire that converts your moderate Republican banker might not do it for a boiler room technician. Roseanne may be able to utilize a permission structure of white working-class Americans that NPR will never penetrate. With the brand and the credibility the show Roseanne brings, it could become easier for a lot of voters Democrats need to conclude, “Maybe this guy really isn’t worth a shit.”
You are naturally asking how anybody can defend the real-life Roseanne Barr’s extremely unpleasant public statements? Nobody is trying to do that. Be careful, though, as some of the progressive criticism seems to go a bit further. Some of the progressive criticism seems to object to any show featuring a white working-class family. There is some degree of class
condescension against this version of Roseanne just like there was against the original.
You must be able to tell a story without college degrees or much diversity. If you cannot accept a story about Keokuk, why would you expect the people of Keokuk to vote for the
same candidates as you? Blue-collar Iowans are not “those people.” Actually, they are my clients, my wife teaches their children, and they are our neighbors. We must meet people
where they are at. The rebooted version of Roseanne does that and may be uniquely positioned to demonstrate that the emperor has no clothes.
And if you don’t buy any of that, just remember, Wanda Sykes is the head writer for Roseanne.
–Nate Willems is a union lawyer who lives in Mt. Vernon but spends a lot of time in Keokuk