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Roseanne Co-Showrunner Bruce Helford Asks Audiences to Separate the Art from the Artist

John Goodman and Roseanne Barr in Roseanne (2018)

The great debate over at which point Roseanne Barr fully becomes Roseanne Conner and if/how we should separate the two continues, and with the renewal of the series, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to that conversation.

In an interview with THR, show co-runner Bruce Helford was asked some pretty blunt and direct questions about Roseanne Barr, to which Helford, most likely well prepped for it, managed to bring out the usual talking points.

An Elle column and subsequent remarks from its author — and multiple people within ABC — feel the show “ignores the very real racism of many white working-class families” and exists to monetize Trump’s base. Thoughts?

Just keep watching the show.

Do you feel like there’s truth to any of those remarks?

I’ll just say keep watching the show. We certainly deal with some of those things, but monetizing Trump’s base? No. We have no agenda, one direction or the other, in terms of anything regarding the show, but we do deal with aspects of how the Conners perceive people who are different than they are.

“Just keep watching the show” is an excuse I hear all the time. We are constantly being asked to “wait for it” when there is plenty of evidence right now that the show is failing to properly address race and racial dynamics in the Conner household. In her write-up for the NYT, Roxane Gay spoke about how D.J.’s young black daughter, Mary is “just there, a place holder, tokenized and straining the limits of credulity.”

Mary, much like Roseanne’s non-binary grandson, Mark, is there to show how socially progressive the Conners are despite not understanding it, but as Gay points out Roseanne has voted “for a president who actively works against the transgender community.” So the two mentalities do not link up.

Or more so, they could link up, but the hypocrisy is not addressed. This is the problem with wanting to keep the focus on Trump supporters who fit into the myth of Trumpism: “White working class people.” Except, there were minorities who voted for Trump. There were immigrants who voted for Trump. There were rich/upper middle-class people who voted for Trump.

Earlier this week on an episode of “With Friends Like These” host Ana Marie Cox spoke to a white woman at CPAC, who “doesn’t think women should work” and is best friends with one of the tiki torch bros because he’s “cute and funny,” and whose views on immigration are based on this mythology that the “pilgrims” came here and built America from scratch.

Cox also spoke to a Muslim woman who voted for Trump and “blamed problems within the Muslim community on generic cultural values, the diversity lottery system, and diagnosed the lack of assimilation by Muslim immigrants as ‘the biggest problem in our society.'” This is an upper-class Muslim woman, who looks down on poorer Muslims, despite having immigrant parents who arrived in this country just before 9/11.

These perspectives are much more interesting than Roseanne’s because she wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to say she supports Trump because he offers something different and “jobs” but also be seen as a progressive person in terms of social issues. Even, ugh, hardcore conservative B*n Sh*piro, tweeted that the appeal of Roseanne is an idea that she’s portraying Trump voters as people who are economically conservative, but socially progressive. And….ughhh….ughhhh…he has a….ugh…point.

 

“Jobs” is not the only reason Trump was elected. It was the wall, it was promising to be the “law and order” president, it was by being the man who would say he would grab women by the pussy, it was by offering Evangelicals an anti-choice Supreme Court Justice. All of that played a part in the election and to ignore it in the narrative is disingenuous.

Then there is Barr herself.

Photos surfaced on Friday with Barr dressed up as Hitler and holding burned cookies that she’s taking out of an oven. Have you and Barr and her team had any kind of conversation about how her social media posts — sharing conspiracy theories, etc. — impact the message that you’re trying to send with the show? Do her social media posts take away from what the show is trying to say?

All I can say on that is that I was listening to a CNN discussion and the subject came up of her personal politics and the attitude was generally, look, everybody’s got the right to say what they’re gonna say and that’s not what the show is. The show is not representing her personal politics. The Conners were Bill Clinton voters back in the day. Those people have very heavily shifted toward Trump. We did our due diligence on what all that would be about. And the show, aside from the fact that Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner both happen to be Trump supporters, has been borne out to be pretty realistic, in terms of the demographics of that area [the Midwest]. But aside from that, there’s a big difference between anyone’s personal politics and what the show is about. They’re not meant to be interrelated in any way.

How do you feel seeing the star of your show dressed as a Nazi?

I know that Roseanne is a very staunch supporter of Israel and she has said as much. I imagine there’s probably some amount of parody involved and all that. I don’t know the context of that so I wouldn’t make a comment on it. My feeling is that people should just watch the show and judge it on its merits. Watch the show without the accompanying background noise. Everybody, including Roseanne, wanted the show to be balanced. When we talk about wanting to open a dialogue in America, that’s something that the show does. We’re not trying to perform brain surgery or cure cancer. We all hoped that this would open a dialogue where people would start laughing at themselves a little bit, get a little less polarized and realize that this is a universal conversation. Lots of families find themselves divided on these issues. There’s got to be a way to talk and still love each other the way that Roseanne and Jackie made their peace [in the revival’s premiere]. And that’s really what we want to have come out of it.

All this would be more balanced in Roseanne wasn’t the star, face and titular character of the show. As Gay writes “She tweets conspiracy theories, rails against feminism and shares Islamophobic opinions. Where once she was edgy and provocative, she is now absurd and offensive. Her views are muddled and incoherent. She is more invested in banal and shallow provocation than engaging with sociopolitical issues in a thoughtful manner. No amount of mental gymnastics can make what Roseanne Barr has said and done in recent years palatable.”

Who she is will always be important to the show. It’s not that she’s a Trump voter, it is that she is extreme with her actions and then hyper-defensive in her response to criticism in a way that if she was on the Left would make her unpalpable to all the conservative pundits who now back her.

Much like Trump, Roseanne is not a true conservative, at least not historically, so while she does have the insight to give, she has ruined her own credibility by playing to most extreme parts of herself.

There was also a nod to ABC comedies Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat when Roseanne tells Dan, “They’re just like us.” What are you trying to accomplish with that bit?

We commenting on the fact that all sitcoms really want everybody to feel included of all diversities and it’s kind of a funny thing. That’s all. When we did the George Lopez show, we didn’t want anybody to feel excluded because it was about a Mexican-American family. And I don’t think anybody wants to be excluded because it’s [a show about] either a black family or an Asian-American family.

Except,  79 percent of the audience for Black-ish is non-black and despite the show wanting to have it both ways many times, Black-ish also had entire episode about the black response to Trump’s election and pointed out how some older black people who vote Democrat may actually have conservative views in a funny way. Fresh Off the Boat is also the only sitcom show about an Asian family on television. Plus, just talking socio-economically, they are in a much higher tax bracket.

So no, they aren’t just like you.

(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: ABC)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.