Why Roseanne Feels Like a Loss for Our Side

By Adam Hefty (May 31, 2018)

The hating on Roseanne is deserved. But I’m mainly sad about it. That show’s representation of working-class family life meant something in the late 80s and early 90s. I’m sad for the path she went down (for at least the better part of 6 years if not more), sad for where she ended up, sad that her firing will make her a “martyr for the cause” of working-class Trumpism, and sad that the US will probably be working through residues of working-class Trumpism long after Trump is gone. The Roseanne racist self-destruction flameout feels like a symbol for a whole series of losses.

And yeah, I know that there are 90 bajillion analyses “proving” that well-off voters, not working-class people, are “responsible” for Trump, and also proving that Trumpism is more motivated by racism than economic anxiety. (To the latter, I usually want to scream … well, why such a big resurgence of racism *now*, Einstein?) I avoided diving in deep to that whole discussion, because the discussion itself makes me upset, and I suppose in the back of my mind, part of that is that it still feels like an elitist discussion, even when it is taking place (in very small part) in socialist publications. And then I remember that intellectually, yeah, I am probably 90% an elitist at this point, and when I feel revulsion at elitism, it is probably mostly a dim memory of feeling out of place rather than anything still very real about me. I don’t know that I really understand the theory of the declassed intellectual, but I feel it in some way. I dropped my Kansas drawl, got educated, moved around the country, re-adopted my Kansas drawl, got challenged on my own vestigial bits of cultural conservatism, dropped them in fits and starts over 15 years, flirted briefly with “working-class separatism,” went to grad school in a program that always gets mocked for elitism even though it has been home for a lot of decidedly non-traditional students, decided that that re-adopted Kansas drawl was just an affectation and dropped it again, finally learned how to shop in a fancy California grocery store without having a panic attack, moved around the world, and learned that I can adapt to very different situations. I feel the loss of my own thinking having less and less organic connection to anything as the years go by.

Roseanne Barr is probably in these terms a declassed intellectual too, just one with a lot more money and fame. Those can seriously distort your thinking, if you don’t have some kind of political organization to keep you accountable and you … well, have tendencies towards racism and a really reactionary form of Zionism. (And Trump is just a rich boy who stumbled upon the lazy man’s road to demagoguery.)

And I don’t know, the hope is probably just in other kinds of things, not even necessarily TV shows. Teen Vogue leading the way to the barricades, some podcasts and YouTube series I’ve never bothered with; I hear that there are some decent working-class oriented sitcoms these days, but to be honest, I haven’t bothered with them either, since I’m mainly watching the same prestige dramas as my intellectual friends. It’s probably a rich cultural landscape. Even if you believe in the idea of a cultural front, I don’t know that Roseanne’s transformation into a troll / court jester in the service of reaction would register as such a monumental loss.

And yet, for some of us who grew up in a certain time and saw partial reflections of our struggling, imperfect, sometimes dysfunctional, out of money until the end of the month families in her TV family, it does register as a loss. She may get some airtime on Fox or Alex Jones now, but I doubt she will stick in any of those circles in any influential way. She’s still a loud, brassy woman who doesn’t fit into any of the roles that conservative women are expected to fit into. And I know this train left the station long ago, but darned if she shouldn’t have been trolling for our side.

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