Hey, Roxane. (That sounds pretty casual but I think Ms. Gay would be too formal. What’s the appropriate salutation when you are challenging the opinion of one of the most influential writers of the decade? What says, I respect your work, BUT…)
I read and re-read your NYT times piece about your choice to abandon the rest of the Roseanne reboot. Being a huge fan of the show, it would take a hella good argument to get me to sign off, but as a conscientious snowflake/ice pellet, I take great pains to NOT become an unintentional fascist. I went into your piece with an open mind but was not ultimately convinced to abandon Roseanne. I actually had some issues with parts of your argument.
For example, I felt you over-reached with your complaint that Mary, DJ’s black daughter, was a marginalized character:
But Mary has no lines and very little camera time. We are given little information as to how she became part of the Conner family and what life for her is like in a small, predominantly white Illinois town... Young Mary is just there, a place holder, tokenized and straining the limits of credulity.
I don’t disagree that that story needs to unfold, but we’ve only been with the Connors for two episodes after a twenty-year absence: there’s a lot of ground to cover! We have re-joined the family at a moment when Darlene is in crises, Aunt Jackie is estranged, Dan is a set piece, Becky rides sidecar with her standard B-storyline, and DJ is still the farthest planet from the Conner sun. Even after two shows we still don’t know what happened to David - Darlene’s longtime love and fan favorite.
To try and cover everything in one episode would have been pandering. In their world, Mary has been at the table for years. It would have been artificial to throw in some post-racial-present-Trump angst just because she was at the table.
And remember: Wanda Sykes is at the writers’ table. Let’s have some faith in exceptional writers.
And then there’s this: back in 1994 in an episode called “White Men Can’t Kiss,” DJ struggled with kissing a black girl in the school play. The rumor mill is reporting that the young black thespian is Mary's mother. Whether or not that's true, that DJ has a black daughter is a quiet yet powerful symbol of the potential for change in the human heart. Mary’s presence is a testament to everything you and I stand for, Roxane.
Which leads me to my second issue with your op-ed: you and several of my friends are clearly taking issue with Barr’s support of Trump. You feel that participation is complicity, for the pop culture buzz is a circle jerk of rumor and statistics about how the success of the premiere is because Trump supporters tuned in to witness Roseanne pay tribute to the poor, misunderstood president.
But that to that, I say, “Hell, I hope Trump supporters did watch the show!”
Because if they did, then they watched the show I watched. They saw a grandpa struggle with the masculinity of his skirt-wearing grandson. They saw a family struggle with how best to support gender non-conformity in one of their own. They saw a little black girl take her place at the kitchen table without issue. They watched Grandma Roseanne make an impassioned plea for tolerance in front of an elementary school classroom.
Hardly a right-wing propaganda piece.
So let them watch, and when that signature Roseanne big-heart pulse betrays this initial 45 PR blitz, Trump loyalists are either going to abandon Roseanne with disgust or reveal themselves to be more compassionate than we tend to give them credit for, widening the Venn diagram overlap and bringing more allies to the table of justice.
And maybe, just maybe, a dark heart somewhere in America might get cracked open if their koo-koo bird leader shows them the way. (Hey, you never know. DJ grew up, so maybe others can, too.)
So I won’t abandon the show, in part, because I believe that much of the bigotry and hypocrisy espoused by Trump will be challenged and wrestled to the mat.
But the biggest issue I had with your argument is that most dangerous bear trap of division we face in America:
If we are to believe the circumstances of this character’s life, a few vague words about “jobs” was more than enough to compel Roseanne, with inadequate health care, with vulnerable grandchildren, and struggling to make ends meet, to vote for Mr. Trump.
It’s not hard for me to believe. Not at all. While it will never make sense to you or me, for so many Americans it was that simple. For us, a vote for the economy was not worth the garbage can of a soul that promised them. But for many, many Roseannes it was a single issue vote. Some of those Roseannes are in my family. Some of those Roseannes work with me. A Roseanne just helped me dig my car out of the snow this past week in Wisconsin.
Roseanne Barr is no humanitarian beacon, and I agree that the separation of art/artist is a challenge. To me, Ms. Barr seems more unhinged and gullible than deliberate: it was shocking to see a blue collar, ground-breaking female comic emerge as a member of the Cult of Trump. I’m honestly not sure I’ve forgiven her or anyone else whose vote has threatened the freedoms I thought were my son’s heritage as an American. I am Aunt Jackie to the Roseannes around me.
But I just can’t make the jump from Roseanne Connor’s vote to the premise that the show is “further normalizing Trump and his warped, harmful political ideologies.” It's not normalizing - he is our freaking president right now. The lines have been drawn. The battle will not be won in hearts and minds - it will be won with action, lots of money, more huge rallies, and elections. Roseanne isn’t endorsing a political platform. It’s just reflecting back to us our country’s baffling internal ideological warfare.
And remember, Roseanne isn’t the only Connor who voted. Abandoning the show would mean abandoning Darlene, Aunt Jackie, Mark Jr, Darlene’s mini-me Harris, Dan, Mary Conner, the Beckies, and …..who am I forgetting? Oh yeah. And DJ.
If you’ve made it this far (thank you) I’d like to close with a sentiment that I tried to put at the top of the piece. It didn’t work up there of course because style > fear, so down to the bottom it goes:
Some of us will choose to abstain from watching Roseanne, and I understand and respect that choice. But that is not where I will draw my line in the sand during this frightening pivot in the American political landscape. Right now there are a million points of rot all across the zeitgeist: I could get overwhelmed just narrowing my fight down to a dozen battles. That I have chosen to stay engaged with the Connors does not make me a “Bad Liberal.” I am taking issue with Roxane’s argument, not her cause.
There are more hills to die on than ever these days: please trust that I have picked mine, even if they do not match those you’ve picked. I, too, am scared and pissed and desperate for a return to normalcy and grown-up leadership. I too am struggling to assimilate the Trump vote into the character of people I (otherwise) like or even love. Everything about this sucks.
But I’m still watching Roseanne on Tuesday night. But I promise I'll let you know if I change my mind about the show.
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...