A few weeks ago I heard Ramona Koval interview Roseanne Barr on ABC Radio National’s The Book Show (Friday 08.07.2011), and judging from the comments section of the website for this show, I wasn’t the only person who found it a great interview. Roseanne has a new memoir Roseannearchy : dispatches from the nut farm, and the interview covered feminism, class, living your life in public, personal criticism of Roseanne by pretty much anyone who wrote a column anywhere, and about being from “the tribe of librarians.”
I think there are allot of fans of Roseanne Barr out there (a look around her blog will tell you as much), and they are not heard as much as the critics – it is very easy to write derogatory things about a woman who created a show about working class life in America in the 1980’s when everyone was supposed to be aspiring to be more than working class, but when most people lived a working class life. It’s easy because it’s easy to belittle people if they can’t be seen, heard or acknowledged, and working class people aren’t ever heard or seen in the mass media – do you see tradesmen reporting the news, nurses hosting TV shows, or truck drivers winning awards? Although they work five or more days a week every week of their lives, quietly keeping the world on track, working class people rarely get a real voice. I am not suggesting bricklayers start reporting the news, only that if there isn’t a forum to hear something, nothing is going to be heard, and as a result, invisibility makes it appear as if certain people, their ideas, and the issues they deal with, don’t exist.
I remember from the 1980’s that people would often talk about the Roseanne show, in school, in the home, it really did have an effect much greater than it is given credit for by the people who have seven day attention spans in the media. An article from the New York Times about the end of the Roseanne series finishes with an insightful comment about how the world of mass media and the real world barely relate to one another. In an episode of the show, a TV producer comes to turn Roseanne’s life into a TV sitcom, but he doesn’t want anyone like Roseanne in it.
”You’re blue collar. Middle America is blue collar. Americans want to see themselves on television.” Of course, he didn’t think it was a bad idea to cast Melanie Griffith as Roseanne. ”Nobody in their right mind is going to want to look at you,” he tells her. Proving guys like that wrong for nine years may have been Roseanne’s sweetest revenge. It was a revenge that Middle America could share.
‘Roseanne’ and the risks of upward mobility / Caryn James, New York Times, 18.05.1997, viewed 24.08.2011, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/18/arts/roseanne-and-the-risks-of-upward-mobility.html
I can’t bare to watch reality TV, and until I read that passage above I couldn’t articulate why. Now I can – so look out, here comes a rant! It’s because reality TV has taken working class people – ordinary people out there minding there own business, getting on with their lives – and put them in a zoo. I love watching shows with professionals doing their thing. I love food shows because I have worked in kitchens so much and know it isn’t easy to make some of the stuff they do, but after years of hard work a chef/professional can make it look as easy as anything, and manage an insane work environment like a kitchen at the same time. Allot of people criticise Gordon Ramsay and his Kitchen Nightmares, but week after week he goes to a restaurant which has lost its way and he rebuilds it – can you do that? I know I can’t, and what’s more, I never will. So why put ordinary people into a contrived reality TV contest and make them gladiators expected to desperately perform like experts, smiling while they attack each other and throw each off the show? Maybe it’s to make ordinary people look like fools – it certainly appears to be circus-like to me. Reality TV is about trying to make the everyday into a competition, which might be the reality for the ladder-climbing executives who develop the shows, but for most people, we live fairly uneventful lives, uneventful except for the great things that make it important to us, the things way too mundane to report on, write about in newspapers, or make TV shows about. If there is a definition of reality for most of us, it certainly wouldn’t bare any resemblance to the ‘Reality TV’ shows. What the small ‘r’ ‘reality’ would bare a resemblance to is the Roseanne show at its best.
Roseanne’s advice in the interview with Ramona Koval that –
I mean, people have been lied to and told that all you have to do is, you know, just believe some fantasy or believe in yourself, rather than actually taking action in the real world.
– seems simple enough, but it isn’t, and it’s worth thinking about. The media is all about trivialising things. There is only so much time/space that a reporter can devote to something before moving on to something else. Complicated ideas have to be fitted into a few words to fit on page 10, or before the sport on the 7pm news. As a result, people’s lives, their success or professionalism in any endeavour, can be walloped by the media with a few glib statements, before the media turns its attention to something else to wallop. Mass media cheapens the world – it has to be cheap or people would buy something else instead. Developing professionalism in any field takes allot of time, and requires a long view and “actually taking action in the real world.” Anyone who is trying to sell you a short cut is out to make a buck at your expense, and the mass media fits this bill. People like Roseanne Barr who are saying get out there, do your thing, try something, learn and create but achieve something, don’t just talk about it or watch someone else do it on TV or read about it… and while you’re at it, don’t take yourself too seriously… these people deserve to be promoted!
There’s no doubt Roseanne Barr has done enough to write a couple of great stories about her life. I was interested to learn that Roseanne worked as a dishwasher once, long ago – me too, but not long ago! That might explain one aspect of the interview. The Book Show’s page says the interview has “no-holds-barred language” – I thought it was restrained in comparison to what I’ve heard in some of the kitchens I’ve worked in, not to mention some things I hear regularly in the libraries I visit, but you are warned!
SOME RELATED LINKS
IMDB – Roseanne Barr
New Yorker Magazine – saved search “Roseanne Barr”
Deeperweb.com – saved search “Roseanne Barr”
Studies in sexism : Roseanne Barr tells all in the New York magazine / Claire Potter, The Chronicle : Tenured Radical, 16.05.2011, viewed 24.08.2011, http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2011/05/studies-in-sexism-roseanne-barr-tells/