Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'Roseanne' presenting a working class, female dominated household.

Roseanne, a sitcom running on ABC from 1988 to 1997, portrayed a working class family living in Illinois. Bucking the trend of sitcoms presenting the "perfect" family, Roseanne was seemingly the first to have both parents working outside of the familial home, presenting it as the reality, and a necessity to survive. It seemed the public saw it as refreshing to see a blue-collar family represented, with the series reaching number 1 in the Nielsen ratings making it the most watched television series in the US from 1989 to 1990. Out of its nine season run, the show remained in the top four for six years, and in the top twenty for eight. The role of the head of the family was not taken by the husband and father, Dan (John Goodman), but instead taken by Roseanne herself, with her being seen as the dominant, influential force in the household.

In its early years, the show was not wholly well-received within the industry, however. Roseanne Barr (the uncredited creator) said that '[i]t was pretty clear that no one really cared about the show except me, and that Matt and Marcy and ABC had nothing but contempt for me—someone who didn’t show deference, didn’t keep her mouth shut, didn’t do what she was told' [ ]. Barr was widely praised by feminists for her positive portrayal of a female character who gains respect from her on-screen family and the viewing public by working hard and successfully running a household any way she deemed appropriate. Until this point, television shows based around a family unit, did not present what, for many, was the reality. Running a family was not shown to be effortless, personal "flaws" were overly presented, and not the subject of ridicule and Roseanne was shown multiple times in her work environment.

One piece of evidence which can be used to show just how groundbreaking Roseanne was is the fact that, as noted by Julie Bettie, '[o]ne study of 262 domestic sitcoms from 1946-1990 found only 11 per cent of the shows had blue-collar, clerical and service workers as the head of the household. In contrast, families like the Huxtables (The Cosby Show), headed by a physician/husband and lawyer/wife, became "average among the privileged populace of television."' [ 'Class Dismissed? Roseanne and the Changing Face of Working-Class Iconography,' Social Text, Vol. 45 (Winter, 1995), 127. ]

'Roseanne and Dan (John Goodman) were this wonderfully flawed, childish couple, clearly still nuts about each other and coping amiably with all the crap life threw at them.'

In the 1980s it was still relatively rare for any person deemed as an "other" to be presented on television in a positive light, and as a part of a "normal," everyday environment. Roseanne, not only included a leading female character, breaking down traditional patriarchal conventions, but also homosexual characters. Early on in the season's run Alexander Doty notes that 'Roseanne gives the title character a gay boss in a long-term relationship' [ Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture, 122. ] In addition, a main character is also revealed to be gay. Roseanne's sister Jackie is openly shown to be a lesbian. On this, Barr commented that '[her] show seeks to portray various slices of life, and homosexuals are a reality' [ Ibid. ].

Rather that choosing to present a glossy, affluent family, the Connors regularly come up against many issues that affected many American families at the time, and indeed still do today. A certain sense of "gritty reality" was shown - refreshing in its truthfulness for many viewers. Personally, I have not seen all episodes ever made, but across the nine seasons in some form or another, the show (presented as a comedy) dealt with poverty, teenage pregnancy, obesity, race, social class and gay rights. These things, as eluded to, typically were / are seen as being associated with "others" in society. By breaking down stigma, presenting social issues as "normal," with a comic twist, Roseanne is still viewed, fifteen years after the final episode was broadcast, as ahead of its time, and a vehicle to aid opinion change and acceptance. Retrospectively, reading how Barr, in real life, had to fight to against male (and female) oppressors, the show gains extra credence and resonance.

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