Stephen Daisley

Roseanne Barr’s downfall is a victory over Trump culture

Roseanne Barr's downfall is a victory over Trump culture
Text settings

It's always the ones you most expect. Roseanne Barr, an icon of Trump culture, has had her TV sitcom cancelled by ABC after she tweeted that former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was the product of a union between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes. Jarrett is black and was born in Iran. 

In the 1980s, Barr was a trailblazer for working-class female stand-ups. In the 1990s, she was ABC's ratings queen, with a self-titled half-hour that spent seven seasons in the top ten despite her off-camera reputation as a tantrum-throwing termagant. Along came the twenty-something bubblegum sitcoms, Friends and its imitators, with their thin scripts and thinner leads and suddenly Barr's sardonic slice of down-at-heel life was too heavy. Dotcom America was upon us, era of nerdy-cute billionaires and a credit bubble that would definitely never burst. 

It's a point of debate what Barr went out of first, the spotlight or her mind, but soon enough she was running for President, nominally as the candidate of the socialist Peace and Freedom Party but on a platform largely indistinguishable from the mutterings of a bus station bag lady. She told Russia Today: 'MK Ultra mind control rules in Hollywood. If you don't know, Google that and look into it' and pledged to 'shut down those who make the Jewish People their Moral Hostages…namely the Rothschild banking family, who coincidentally are the reason people hate the Jews'. 

Barr, who is Jewish, posted a litany of eye-popping tweets about Jews (since deleted) and even posed as Hitler burning cookies in an oven, later explaining: 'I dressed up to protest against Israel’s actions against Palestinians in Gaza. The cookies were Palestinian cookies.’ Her show may have been cancelled but, on the plus side, she has a bright future ahead of her in the Labour Party. 

Soon Barr was on a journey that began with birtherism and ended with her backing Donald Trump for president. From there she has accused Hillary Clinton of murder and called her Muslim aide Huma Abedin a ‘filthy Nazi whore’.

Which is why, when ABC announced it was reviving Roseanne for a tenth season, there was much wringing of liberal hands about a Trump supporter being given a network platform. They needn't have worried. What little politics impinged on the reboot was standard-fare primetime progressivism. Roseanne's grandson likes to dress in female clothes and Roseanne is apprehensive but Everyone Learns An Important Lesson and decides to live and let live. A Muslim family moves in across the street and Roseanne is apprehensive but Everyone Learns An Important Lesson and decides to live and let live. Daughter Becky agrees to be a surrogate for a childless couple and... you get the picture. 

The series concludes with the uninsured Connors sunk by flash floods, until FEMA comes bearing reconstruction dollars and these MAGA warriors decide the federal government is just dandy after all. Without intending to, Roseanne showed up Trumpism for the shallow intellectual carnage it is. Trump is no conservative and neither is Barr yet they have become the twin faces of American conservatism and, what's worse, American conservatism has let them. 

The revival was a carby nostalgia feast for those of us who grew up with the Connors, the snarky blue-collar rejoinder to Leave It To Beaver and the other iconic TV family of the 1990s. Dan and Roseanne, plus three kids and a neurotic sister, wisecracked through poverty, unemployment and deindustrialisation in Lanford, a hollowed-out suburb of Chicago. It's a shame the show has been cancelled because, just as the original was an authentic portrayal of those left behind by Reaganomics, Roseanne 2.0 was a reminder that the Obama recovery failed as many people as it helped. 

It's hard to see how ABC could have gone on without its star but it would have been an intriguing experiment. Two and a Half Men continued for four more seasons after Charlie Sheen was fired, Cheers for a further six after ditching Shelley Long, and Valerie managed another four years after replacing Valerie Harper with Sandy Duncan (and rebranding as The Hogan Family).

In cancelling Roseanne, ABC said its star's most recent remarks were 'inconsistent with our values', suggesting that her earlier, equally obnoxious, outbursts were not. Then again, the networks find themselves in uncharted territory. In the 1980s and '90s, they struggled to cater for a demographic they had only recently alighted on and which they politely termed the urban audience. Now they are presented with a sizeable white demographic which is still culturally dominant but has convinced itself it is an embattled minority. 

Roseanne ticked that box, at least superficially, and appeased an audience bitter over the cancellation of red-state friendly sitcom Last Man Standing. The angry white audience makes TV executives squeamish but it is a major demographic and they are in the demographics business, after all. There is still money to be made from Trumpculture. 

For now, though, they have drawn a line and a welcome one it is too. The cancellation of Roseanne is not an attack on free speech or political pluralism but a small victory for American civility and decency over Trump culture, which has done so much to erode both.