Last week, the ABC revival of “Roseanne” was canceled just three months after its initial premiere. The network’s abrupt turnaround (the show had already started preproduction for its second season) sparked dozens of articles, tweets and Facebook posts both for and against the cancellation.
Many had decried the decision to put the show back on air. While the cancellation came less than 24 hours after a racist Twitter rant from the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, this is not the first time Barr has vocalized her controversial, hateful viewpoints. Among myriad questionable decisions made by Barr, the actress was also a vocal supporter of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Barr’s character in the “Roseanne” revival, therefore, inherited the political sympathies of the actress portraying her.
In its original run, “Roseanne” was heralded for its portrayal of blue-collar, white America — and the original run of the show secured its place in the hearts of its viewers because of the sincerity of this depiction. The revival was supposed to return in order to once again voice this unseen demographic. The show’s failure came in not realizing that this part of the country is no longer unheard.
The poor white working class is a demographic that has only gained attention since 2016. These communities in Middle America have long served as part of political strategies. The emphasis on the importance of these states’ electoral votes, coupled with the results of the last presidential election, has only further prodded strategists to continue pandering to this demographic.
The New York Times and the Washington Post ran remarkably similar articles on Nov. 9, 2016 — respectively titled “Why Trump Won: Working-Class Whites” and “How Trump won: The revenge of working-class whites.”
Much of the talk around the election seemed to argue that the reason Trump was elected was because poor white individuals felt unseen and threatened. And while there were many reasons Trump was elected, the fervor of these working-class white voters helped. It is a fervor that was, and continues to be, carefully cultivated. In short, this tactic of pitting working-class white people against working-class minorities is not new. It is a tried, true and frighteningly effective feat of fearmongering.
It seemed that the new season of “Roseanne” was a poster child for this cognitive dissonance. Trump was a champion of the white working class — despite inheriting much of his wealth and being part of elite New York society. The show claimed to stand as an objective critique of both the far left and the far right. Yet by having episodes like that in which Roseanne was convinced that her Muslim neighbors were building a bomb, which aired as the star herself was tweeting outlandish conspiracy theories, the show did not achieve this objectivity.
Unsurprisingly, the cancellation of “Roseanne” instigated claims that free speech was being censored by the network and “liberal agendas.” As expected, Trump tweeted about it — noting that Bob Iger, CEO of ABC’s parent company Disney, called Valerie Jarrett to apologize on behalf of the network. Trump’s ire was over the fact that he did not receive a similar apology for the “HORRIBLE statements made and said about (him) on ABC.”
Reactions to the show once more highlight the glaring double standard employed by the far right when it comes to free speech. Ire over Barr’s “oppression” did not extend to equal outrage over ABC’s refusal to air a “Black-ish” episode about kneeling during the national anthem. Similarly, Trump called for the cancellation of Samantha Bee’s show after Bee used a gender-based, offensive term to describe Ivanka Trump.
Importantly, Bee used her privilege as a white woman to call out another white woman, Ivanka Trump. Meanwhile, Barr used her fame, platform and privilege to lob racist insults at Jarrett. These actions are not equivalent.
“Roseanne” was not the only show depicting working-class America; it was just one of the few shows that had yet to grasp the fact that what it means to depict working-class America has changed. Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” and NBC’s “Superstore” show working-class families and individuals while also critiquing systemic racism, homophobia and the stigma around mental illness, maintaining humor all the while.
The working class is not going unrepresented. Rather, there is a failure to recognize that the working class encompasses many identities and experiences — white and nonwhite alike. Art that understands this should be encouraged. Art that doesn’t should adapt or face the consequences.
Contact Danielle Hilborn at [email protected].