“Roseanne” is dead, which may give the powers that control our culture an excuse to retreat into old, reflexively liberal habits.
That would be a grave mistake. Even after the fall of “Roseanne,” Hollywood should keep hunting for, and showcasing, right-of-center shows that portray Trump supporters sympathetically — albeit without the unstable superstar at the center of the bad experiment.
When “Roseanne” blew up in the television ratings, cultural commentators quickly hailed the brave new era of Trump-friendly comedy: Here, finally, was a show that portrayed the President’s supporters as ordinary, and decent, human beings.
Little wonder, Trump called Roseanne to congratulate her on her enormous premiere ratings.
And television executives took notice. It’s not a coincidence that Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” was picked up by Fox after being dumped by ABC. As E! reported, “The ‘Roseanne’ revival’s massive record-setting numbers proved audiences were more than open to conservative political views on their TV screens.”
Now, Barr has trashed her career for the umpteenth time — this time, probably permanently.
In the wreckage, it’s fair to expect a backlash to Trump-voter-friendly comedy.
First, the comedic world is deeply uncomfortable with taking the concerns of Trump voters seriously; as ardent members of the cultural left, they see Trump and his supporters as threats, not voices worth granting credibility.
That means that Trump-related comedy has almost universally targeted Trump and his supporters, characterizing them as idiots and clowns and fools. Even John Mulaney, a relatively apolitical comedian, slapped Trump supporters in his latest Netflix special.
After describing Trump as a “horse in a hospital” — a funny bit, to be sure — Mulaney then noted, “Sometimes, if you make fun of the horse, people will get upset. These are the people that opened the door for the horse.”
These comedians generally claim that it’s easier to mock Trump and his supporters than past Presidents like Obama. Obama’s pretentiousness and self-righteousness, his self-evident pomposity could have been mocked — but most people on the left agreed with Obama’s self-assessment.
Furthermore, Trump is an inherently funny character in a way Obama wasn’t. And most of all, it’s far less dangerous to work within the intersectional box created by the left than to kick it open through comedy.
Second, members of the cultural left seem to operate on the assumption that Trump voters support Trump thanks to his excesses, not in spite of them. In other words, they believe that actors and writers and producers and directors who support Trump are more likely to blow themselves up, Roseanne-style, than are members of the left.
After all, we already know those people are crazy — the evidence being their support of the President. The argument of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes likely resonates: “Roseanne’s problem turned out to be that she far too authentically represented the actual worldview of a significant chunk of the Trump base.”
It’s true, it’s risky to cater to that base, if they all believe like Roseanne. It means that the only way to keep them watching is to trot out bizarre arguments that threaten the fabric of the republic. “Roseanne” was an odd duck — a show that took voting for Trump as a simple choice, but promulgated socially liberal messaging, ranging from cross-dressing to same-sex marriage and abortion.
It’s unlikely that Hollywood will be able to repeat that feat. If they want to cater to Trump voters, the logic goes, they’ll have to take seriously his actual politics, which Hollywood finds toxic, off-putting and liable to public implosion.
All of this is a mistake. The success of “Roseanne” wasn’t based on Roseanne’s palatability as a human being, nor was Trumpian support for the show related to Roseanne’s bizarre conspiracy-theory-laden Twitter feed. Barr has just 766,000 Twitter followers; her premiere show drew more than 27 million viewers.
Trump supporters were in thrall to the show for as simple reason: because it didn’t label Trump supporters deplorables beneath contempt.
That market is still there. And it’s hungry. If culture-makers decide to shy away from comedy that appeals to Trump’s base, they’ll be leaving money on the table — and they’ll be making the culture poorer, too.
It turns out that a monolithic comedic culture that prizes “Will & Grace” but won’t tolerate shows like “Roseanne” actually polarizes the culture further: It reinforces the feeling among conservatives that they’ve been labeled too deplorable to be part of the cultural conversation. And that means more alienation, more conflict and less laughter.