I cant forgive her these latest awful tweets, yet she was once a rare voice that connected conservative and liberal America, tells Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore
As the new king of primetime, Richard Madeley said of Roseanne Barr’s disgusting tweets that sedatives don’t build you racist. Barr, whose show has now been cancelled, left Twitter after comparing a woman of colouring to an ape and then reappeared claiming that the sleeping pill Ambien had made her say these nasty things. She has also said that she is being picked on while other celebrities are not.
Her excellent casting has distanced itself from her outbursts, but still she goes on. Watching this woman has for some time been like watching a auto crash, and yet her talent is undeniable.
When I first considered that Barr was on Twitter, years ago, I was delighted. A working-class heroine is something to be. Or it was at one time. She wrote about imperfect, complicated blue-collar life with edge. In the 90 s there was no dishwasher in the Conner family house. They went to the mall, the phone was on the wall, the protagonists were overweight but had a sex life, jobs were hard to come by and the women were often smarter than the men. All of this was an inspiration, with Roseanne as the wisecracking self-styled slobby” domestic goddess”.
And then Barr unravelled before our eyes. Physically self-loathing, she had numerous plastic surgeries. She claimed to have been abused by her mothers after memories went inundating back. Twenty years after building those allegations, she said that going public with them was a terrible mistake.
As a child she had Bell’s palsy. She nearly died in a car accident at 16 and had such traumatic head injuries that she ended up in a psychiatric organization for eight months. In 2012 she operated for presidential nomination. She claims Donald Trump stole her Twitter act.
The euphemism used for her is “troubled”. These latest tweets, as obnoxious because this is, are nothing new- Barr has been tweeting outlandish conspiracy theories and racist rantings for ages, from rubbish about chemtrails to vicious Islamophobic insults. Her is supportive of Trump came as no astonish. That trajectory was visible. She tells of herself that she is a radical and not a liberal, and there is something uncomfortable there that the media establishment don’t want to reckon with.
When she marriage Tom Arnold in 1990, he and Barr claimed that the latter are America’s worst nightmare-” white junk with money “. The thing is, though, the Conner household were smart. They were presented reading actual books.
The reaction to Barr’s new show was critically mixed but she got 18 million viewers. Can you represent Trump voters sympathetically on Tv? Yes- and Barr did just that. Roseanne and her sister Jackie( the wonderful Laurie Metcalf, in” Nasty Woman” T-shirt and pussyhat) bicker over Roseanne’s is supportive of Trump, which is portrayed as being about jobs rather than social policy. Money is tight. Dan and Roseanne are shown eking out their expensive medication, swapping statins for anti-inflammatories. Race and gender-fluidity figure( they have a black granddaughter ). Grandson Mark wants to wear feminine dres and is protected by Dan. Family rises above politics.
To me this is important, as the liberal bubble of so much popular culture is surely big enough to include a little bit of “otherness”. This is not the view of Roxane Gay, who wrote:” We cannot reach people who build dangerous, shortsighted political choices. We confess, as Jackie does, or we resist, as hopefully the rest of us will .” She was saying that the myth of a white working-class voting for Trump has to be bust, because so many of his voters were middle-class. So it is not only about jobs.
Now, though , no one has to resist the entice of watching something complicated and funny and uncomfortable, because Barr has said inexcusable things. This is her own fault- but what a waste of her gifts. At a period when politics is so polarised, anyone who can show a dialogue between sides is important. In the UK and the US, the liberal media talks largely to itself and wonders how the right stays in power.
Roseanne Barr has always been a peculiar mixture of liberal and utterly reactionary social attitudes. And what do we with do that in a tickbox culture? Don’t we expend a lot of our lives learning to separate the art from the artist, usually in the case of great all those people who do bad things but attain great art? So while I don’t think Barr can be forgiven the latest awfulness, I hope we don’t be borne in mind that she made some fantastic ground-breaking television. Once.
* Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist
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