Roseanne on sexism, class and fame

Growing up I watched a lot of TV. It’s strange to remember now, when I don’t have cable, and only watch the occasional netflix show or movie, but as a kid TV was what kept me company. It was always on, in the background when I did homework, as soon as I got home from school. Roseanne, along with a few other shows, were how I spent the majority of that time. I loved her show and I wasn’t even sure why. Now I think I get it.

In a recently published New York Magazine article, Roseanne opens up about her experience in showbiz, mental illness, classism and sexism. It’s an incredible piece. She leads with explaining that the media has been clamoring for her opinion about Charlie Sheen. But she has her own story to tell, about being on top and still getting screwed, about sexism and classism in showbiz.

“Winning” in Hollywood means not just power, money, and complimentary smoked-salmon pizza, but also that everyone around you fails just as you are peaking. When you become No. 1, you might begin to believe, as Cher once said in an interview, that you are “one of God’s favorite children,” one of the few who made it through the gauntlet and survived. The idea that your ego is not ego at all but submission to the will of the Lord starts to dawn on you as you recognize that only by God’s grace did you make it through the raging attack of idea pirates and woman haters, to ascend to the top of Bigshit Showbiz Mountain.

All of that sounds very much like the diagnosis for bipolar disorder, which more and more stars are claiming to have these days. I have it, as well as several other mental illnesses, but then, I’ve always been a trendsetter, even though I’m seldom credited with those kinds of things. And I was not crazy before I created, wrote, and starred in television’s first feminist and working-class-family sitcom (also its last).

Roseanne’s show was an early feminist influence. She was funny, powerful, respected by her family and real in ways that most TV shows are not. The family dealt with their issues in a way that was often painful to watch– with yelling and high pitched emotion. It was painful because it had resonance beyond its role as a sitcom. She says in the piece that her show has even more resonance today, since it focused on working class Americans who were struggling.

She also talks about the serious sexism she faced as a female star, even after she’d hit the top.

When the show went to No. 1 in December 1988, ABC sent a chocolate “1” to congratulate me. Guess they figured that would keep the fat lady happy—or maybe they thought I hadn’t heard (along with the world) that male stars with No. 1 shows were given Bentleys and Porsches. So me and George Clooney [who played Roseanne Conner’s boss for the first season] took my chocolate prize outside, where I snapped a picture of him hitting it with a baseball bat. I sent that to ABC.

Her article shows that despite what showbiz has put her through, she’s still very much the same Roseanne from her show–strong, abrasive and unafraid to give people hell.

Read the whole article here.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    In some level, it is encouraging to see stars be more open with bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised that people of a more creative temperament do have it, but I don’t want this to become a fashionable diagnosis, either. There is nothing fun about having bipolar disorder. It can be massive disruptive to one’s life, the pain is intense, the treatment is maddeningly insufficient, and it requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline to stay healthy.

    I hope the people who are admitting to bipolar disorder really have it. Their life stories with the disease would be invaluable in reducing stigma and making people more literate of it.

  2. Posted May 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to the article.

    Growing up in a family whose last names never matched, with a contractor step-dad, a mom who didn’t take shit, and without too much money, Roseanne spoke to me. At the time I soaked up so much random television I never thought much about why felt a special connection to the show.

    Only in retrospect do I realize that I was lucky to have Roseanne and, at least in its earlier days, the Simpsons, which depicted working class/ lower middle class families dysfunctional and full of love. Having a family that reminded me of my own, warts, struggles and proud moments mixed together, meant a lot. I was never a diehard fan of the show, but I continue to feel a strong attachment to it for portraying class realities and uncompromising femininity without flattening them or removing the love infusing all of it with meaning. Not only was Roseanne Barr one of the only strong, proud female characters I ever had a chance to see, but I also savored John Goodman on the show as an almost as rare example of masculinity. He WAS not the Jackie Gleason/King of Queens/Ray Romano… man-child who made no sense as someone his partner would marry. Characters were flawed, often acting in ways that were unlikable, but human and still loveable in the way a family member is more than their last act of kindness or cruelty.

    Sitcom families have always been and continue to be utterly unrecognizable to me. I liked Titus for its, constantly telegraphed, message that the nuclear/sitcom norm by which all other models are judged dysfunctional, was a norm reflected only in the minority of families in this country. Malcom In The Middle briefly flirted with this, but instead dove into increasingly petty, sadistic directions with very little sense that the characters actually loved each other.

  3. Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    This was great,I loved that show and I love how blunt she’s being about the culture of Hollywood, and in particular the culture of BS and game playing directed towards creative women, and people in general who insist on adhering to their own creative vision. The story about the male writer bullying her and simultaneous writing pithy lines he thinks are “feminist” yet read more like his own version of a pro-domme fantasy are telling, as are lots of the other personality types she described encountering (if you think they only exist in TV and not in the art, music, or comics worlds, you need to sit down and breathe deeply for a minute…). She’s also well aware of the classism (what she refers to as “class bigotry”) involved in how the characters were portrayed and received, down to her having to fight with the producers to allow the character to dress like a busy mom who works a factory job (which is what Rosanne Connor was).

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