Separating the art from the artist has been more than a continued effort for many entertainment fans — it’s now a point of controversy as more damaging secrets spill out among our favorite writers, directors, and creators.
Roseanne Barr doesn’t have secrets, though. Roseanne Barr lays out every controversial aspect of her personal beliefs on Twitter. The world can see everything she has to say with the tap of an app. But the world is also getting to know Roseanne Barr in “Roseanne” — or, more accurately, they feel like they are.
Given the show’s title is the creator’s first name, it’s easy to see where the confusion comes from. Even though Roseanne Barr plays Roseanne Conner in “Roseanne,” that’s a lot of Roseannes to separate. And it doesn’t help that both Barr and Conner are outspoken supporters of Donald Trump.
Those who identify with the comedian’s right-wing (and highly controversial) political views may not need to separate the character from the actress at all. But how many people do? Much of the discussion surrounding the premiere’s landmark ratings have stemmed from the belief “Roseanne” is catnip for an underserved audience — namely, low-income conservatives in middle America.
But it would be presumptuous (and reckless) to assume the show’s viewers are as extreme in their beliefs as Barr. Since Tuesday’s premiere, Barr has come under fire for her past actions, including:
- dressing up as Adolf Hitler and baking human cookies
- incorrectly accusing Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg of giving a “Nazi salute
- denying the existence of transgender people
- and, most recently, she’s been promoting the Trump-backing conspiracy theory known as “The Storm,” which claims Donald Trump is breaking up child sex-trafficking rings run by high-profile Democrats and famous liberals.
Now everyone who likes “Roseanne” but disagrees with Barr’s radical ideas has to defend their choice to support a series backed by an objectionable voice. Even series star Sara Gilbert, who plays the liberal-leaning Darlene Conner, came out arguing “the Conners aren’t Trump supporters,” implicitly downplaying the series’ conservative politics by saying the president’s name is never mentioned on the show.
IndieWire’s deputy editor and chief film critic, Eric Kohn, made the argument that the show functions as a criticism of ineffectual governing: “Ultimately, ‘Roseanne’ illustrates the futility of working-class America,” Kohn writes. “Two decades have passed and the fundamental struggles of this household remain the same, no matter who’s in charge. Only this time, rather than being ignored by the system, they’ve been hoodwinked.”
In my review of the revival, I pointed to a general lack of humor as being a serious slight, but the star’s politics aren’t the problem: “If [‘Roseanne’] wants to dig into health care and jobs, it needs to do so in ways that start conversations instead of ending them.” “Roseanne” isn’t bad because it’s conservative; it’s bad because it’s lazy. The sitcom offers a portrait of a struggling family without comment. Criticism of their condition, as Kohn noted, may be implied, but the series itself isn’t critical.
Such half-assed engagement invites the viewer to project their own beliefs onto the show. They may only see Roseanne Barr onscreen instead of Roseanne Conner, and even though her personal radicalism hasn’t made its way into the episodes yet, that doesn’t mean people won’t find ways to see it there. (It also doesn’t mean her ideas won’t soon appear in the series, but that’s another discussion.)
Separating art from the artist is a choice every viewer has to make for themselves. You’re not wrong for watching “Roseanne” or for steering clear. But as the past week’s controversial discussion has born out, being blissfully unaware of who’s making the content you’re watching can only last so long.
For more on the topic, listen to IndieWire’s Very Good Television Podcast, embedded below. Hosted by IndieWire Editor Liz Shannon Miller and featuring TV Critic Ben Travers, the episode delves into why people choose to watch or avoid television that’s made by troubling creators.
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