Skip to content

REMINDER: Roseanne Is Motherfucking Hardcore, Still

Hey! Do you remember Roseanne? Oh, okay, let me remind you: Do you remember when your obnoxious uncles got drunk at Thanksgiving in 1990 and everybody was talking about how this one woman was scary and crazy and bitchy and fat and why can’t she just shut up? But they laughed every time they finished a sentence, like it was so funny what they were saying, and you couldn’t see what was funny about it but you were just starting to get this, you were just starting to get that certain women made men really angry and mean, and those women didn’t do anything wrong, they didn’t like hit men or steal from them or do anything bad that you could see, but certain women were just hated, certain women were just not women that men could ever permit to exist. And you were like, “I don’t really get this, because I’m eight, but it is starting to make me sad and uncertain of my future, because what if I become one of those women without meaning to, what if I’m not pretty, what if I can’t make men like me, it seems like I would just be doomed, and also: I think that whole deal pisses me off?” And also your Mom made you watch that lady’s show, every week. There was an episode where one of the ladies on the show had a boyfriend, and he hit her, and it scared you and made you really sad, and then all of the women gathered around and talked about why you should leave your boyfriend if he hit you, because sometimes they did that, and it was wrong. Your Mom hugged you and said this was an important conversation they were having, and it was good they were having it on TV, and you should listen. So you said, “I think Roseanne is good,” sort of quietly. “I like Darlene,” is something you added. And one of your uncles said, “well, when you’re older, you’ll know better.”

Surprise: You are older now! And you know better! You have partaken of the joys of a futuristic invention known as “Netflix Instant,” whereupon you have streamed yourself some Roseanne, and (a) you were right to like Darlene. OH SO VERY RIGHT, but (b) holy crap, Roseanne starts talking about sexism within the first five seconds of the pilot. George Clooney shows up, and is vaguely sexist, and then Roseanne SYMBOLICALLY EATS HIS VERY SOUL. (It is a donut.) No WONDER dudes hated this stuff.

And maybe they will hate this NY Mag piece by Roseanne Barr. But dudes — as Roseanne would tell you — can be total wimps sometimes. Because seriously, this is the most hardcore thing you will read this week about making a TV show. For example: How do we deal with an inappropriate “created by” credit, Roseanne?

I confronted Marcy under the bleachers on the sound stage when we were shooting the next episode. I asked her how I could continue working for a woman who had let a man take credit for my work—who wouldn’t even share credit with me—after talking to me about sisterhood and all that bullshit. She started crying and said, “I guess I’m going to have to tell Brandon [Stoddard, then president of ABC Entertainment] that I can’t deliver this show.” I said, “Cry all you want to, but you figure out a way to put my name on the show I created, or kiss my ass good-bye.”

That’s right, Marcy. Cry. CRY YOUR PATRIARCHAL TEARS. Then put Roseanne in fucking charge. What else is going on in the world of TV, Roseanne?

To survive the truly hostile environment on set, I started to pray nonstop to my God, as working-class women often do, and to listen nonstop to Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” I read The Art of War and kept the idea “He that cares the most, wins” upmost in my mind. I knew I cared the most, since I had the most to lose. I made a chart of names and hung them on my dressing-room door; it listed every person who worked on the show, and I put a check next to those I intended to fire when Roseanne became No. 1, which I knew it would.

Okay. Can we please savor the mental image of Roseanne dealing with her inner pain by hanging out backstage and listening to Patti Smith? Granted: In my mental image, she is not listening to “People Have The Power,” because, oh, how well-meant and progressive of you, Patti, but also: That song is way too goopy. Roseanne is dealing with her inner pain by listening to “Piss Factory,” in my personal mental image of Roseanne. Or “Pissing In The River,” for no particular reason. Mostly I just want an excuse to listen to “Pissing in the River” again. Roseanne!

All right, Roseanne. Can you please illustrate for us further your hardcoreness?

This producer was a woman, a type I became acquainted with at the beginning of my stand-up career in Denver. I cared little for them: blondes in high heels who were so anxious to reach the professional level of the men they worshipped, fawned over, served, built up, and flattered that they would stab other women in the back. They are the ultimate weapon used by men against actual feminists who try to work in media, and they are never friends to other women, you can trust me on that.

DAMN RIGHT THEY’RE NOT. Fuck those ladies. Fuck those ladies, Roseanne! But also: How do we deal with them, in a professional yet assertive manner?

I walked into this woman’s office, held the scissors up to show her I meant business, and said, “Bitch, do you want me to cut you?” We stood there for a second or two, just so I could make sure she was receptive to my POV.

… oh. Oh, okay. That is a little TOO hardcore, Roseanne!

Still. Roseanne wrote a delightful essay, which illuminates her wonderful and complicated legacy, and you should read it. For no other reason than that it gives context to the following line:

I gave Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow their first writing jobs

MIND. BLOWN.

26 Comments

  1. Beth wrote:

    YES, Piss Factory is the jam I wished she’d been listening to.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Em wrote:

    Rosanne was one of the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch. Surprise, surprise.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  3. Laila wrote:

    Whoo! Don’t know why, but it feels like forever since I’ve gotten to read THE real, honest-to-goodness Sady on Tiger Beatdown. Thanks for this.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  4. Liza wrote:

    Let’s not forget at the very end:

    “Barr now lives in Hawaii, where she farms macadamia nuts.”

    My idol.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  5. Carol the Long Winde wrote:

    And she has another show going to be shown on the Lifetime network…imagine the women she will be reaching!
    Love Roseanne. Role model.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  6. zan wrote:

    Honest to goodness this made my ever-loving day.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  7. MM wrote:

    “No WONDER dudes hated this stuff.”

    Roseanne was one of the most popular shows on TV in its day. I guess men had a strange way of showing their discomfort with it.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  8. Matarij wrote:

    Yay – Rosanne! Best sitcom ever – watched nearly every episode and thought it was hilarious and serious at the same time. Good to see her again. Great post.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink
  9. Casie wrote:

    i totally just started watching roseanne on netflix a couple weeks ago, so it was so cool to read her article today. while re-watching it, i remembered men always talking about how annoying and obnoxious and fat and ugly she was, but i was 9 and i wanted to be obnoxious and loud just like her. and now i am, fuck yeah! thank you roseanne and sady and all the ladies who run their mouths off!

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 4:03 am | Permalink
  10. samanthab wrote:

    MM, it was continually referred to as a show written for a female audience. In some homes, women are allowed access to a remote control! I don’t know the percentage of women vs. men in Roseanne’s audience, but I’m not clear on why it’s impossible for a largely female audience to make a show number one.
    It did for “Dallas.” I also don’t think that men are necessarily consistent. People often aren’t! They could have found the show funny as hell- it is!- and still made problematic cracks about its star. I heard many; I read many. If you want to refute Sady’s point, you are going to have to, say, refute Sady’s point; a red herring doesn’t so much do that. I remember the cracks really vividly because they were painful to me in just the way Sady describes.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  11. KBO wrote:

    Amen, sister.

    Someone linked to this on Twitter and now I found this blog and now I am in love with you all. Today is now full of sunshine and unicorns. Ladybusiness, indeed.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  12. Paula wrote:

    I watched the show when it was on originally and watch it whenever I can find it (usually late at night, funny) and I still think it is one of the best shows ever. Roseanne took no prisoners.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  13. KatherineSpins wrote:

    THANK YOU. I would never have seen the article without you, and that first picture of her? Is completely awesome.

    Her show started the same year I had my son. Early marriage, things weren’t always easy, and the stresses of a baby just added to it. She showed me a working family, with family issues and financial challenges; she showed me a married couple that fought hard in spite of (because of?) loving each other hard. And they looked like people I knew. I’ve never been small – and here was this incredibly funny woman, with her own show, and she looked like ME.

    I’d like to say that she was ahead of her time… except that in the time we’re in now, there is no WAY a show like hers would make it onto the air.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  14. MM wrote:

    Samanatha, I don’t think I agree that it was primarily a show for a female audience. I remember it primarily as a show for a working class audience. John Goodman’s role as Dan launched his career, and he got plenty of recognition from it.

    And I’m not trying to “refute Sady’s point” – I just think she plays up the discomfort men had with Roseanne, possibly beyond its actual importance.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  15. blondie wrote:

    I have heard many men make negative comments about Roseanne Barr, similar to those described by Sady. I have heard similar negative comments about Rosie O’Donnell. I have not heard anywhere near a balancing amount or type of positive comments about either Rosie from men. I’m not sure what about the Rosies brings out do many men’s daggers. I suspect they understand the Rosies do not respect or need them, but the Rosies are smart, possibly smarter than them, and fun-nae.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  16. ferricide wrote:

    the roseanne article blew my mind and i just want to hug this blog post.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  17. Bethany wrote:

    I am just having a really hard time getting past her characterization of other women as bitches and whores and would kind of like to see that addressed by you?

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink
  18. Br wrote:

    That show was insanely progressive even from the point of showing a struggling blue-collar white family on TV dealing with shit in a decidedly un-Archie Bunker way. Not that I knew this at the time. I was probably about 7 and stupidly thought “boy I wish the colors wasn’t so drab with its earthtones and plaids and was more like Step by Step” (my grammar was awful until about 21). We all learn! I’ve heard Roseanne only a little bit since I became a Breathing, Thinking Adult and I’m always simultaneously impressed/repulsed because she says some awesome things but then also says some seriously heinous shit (although now that I am looking it up I cannot find any evidence, so I cop to that: I thought she made some ugly gay jokes but pretend I never said that because I may have conflated her with an actual bad person).

    Anyway, the thing that made me want to comment was the fact that I was bummed about one of the few lame things about Canada: our Netflix is hamstrung. As such, you mentioned watching Roseanne on Netflix, and the I thought, “Hey, Netflix! I got that recently! Because Canada!” — and then I looked on Netflix, and I remembered that we have about eight tv comedies. And I’ve watched seven of them. And one of the eight is “18 to Life.” (Which, by the way, is the first time I’ve ever seen Netflix LEGIT EXPECT me to rate something ONE STAR. SHOULD I WATCH THIS Y/N)

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 3:20 am | Permalink
  19. Sady wrote:

    @Bethany: Yeah, that took me aback a little too. And bothered me. I guess I chalk it up to perspective: I don’t honestly EXPECT a “feminist” TV star to talk like a “feminist” blogger, you know? Like, I do not think Roseanne is on Tumblr every day, checking in on the language debates. And I’ve read some people saying that Roseanne’s feminism and working-class politics are sort of tied together in that she REFUSES to use PC or academic language, and instead speaks very much in a direct, colloquial, forceful way. (Also: Tina Fey has been calling women “whores” and “bitches” forever, even as her character in “Mean Girls” pronounces this un-OK and un-feminist, and you really don’t see a whole lot of people calling her out on that. Which might have another thing to do with class, and the different class aesthetics and identities expressed by Tina Fey, Feminist Comic and Roseanne Barr, Feminist Comic.) Which: You can take that or leave that, but it ties into the whole language-as-privilege thing we were talking about in Flavia’s post last week. But I think she just hated those ladies and reached for the most hurtful, visceral words she could. And given the way society is structured, the most hurtful words for women are misogynist. Which is a problem, no doubt. I don’t dispute that. I just think there’s a lot else that’s awesome about the piece, and about her legacy.

    ETA: I actually just read that lengthy New Yorker profile of her from 1995 that somebody recommended, and there’s a bit in there that talks about her early activism, and involvement in feminist organizing, and her conscious choice not to use academic language, because she felt it left people out. She also says at one point that she’d rather be called a “killer bitch” than a feminist. So there we are.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  20. samanthab wrote:

    @Blondie, well, there was a diary by Adam Bink, noted pro- (/faux-)gressive strategist, up at Daily Kos yesterday on the Barr piece. He excerpted the precise passage where she describes how she was denied creator credits on the show. And underneath that passage, he refers to the piece as being about her “time as an actress” on “Roseanne.” Um, no, dude!! Not so much. There’s one passage about her experience as an actress, and even that related back to her role as creator and writer for the show.

    But the dude wanted to share the piece, he wrote, because he thought all progressives should take a lesson from her in how to resist authority. Well, I’m for that! I’m also for acknowledging the specific terms of her resistance. And for not perpetuating them!

    Anyhow, it made me think that a lot of the appeal of her show for men might have been that the characters resisted authority in ways most men don’t feel comfortable doing in their lives. They’d get fired, marginalized, and so on. And even in the unlikely scenario that they did resist, it wouldn’t be nearly as sharp and funny and captivating.

    So men could live vicariously through her resistance even while they actively objected to the underlying feminist message. I think! It’s maybe an instructive lesson in how stuff gets co-opted.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  21. Roving Thundercloud wrote:

    MM, the *only* man I’ve ever met who actually admitted that he loves Roseanne (not just the show, but her standup too) would have liked to have watched its original run, but his dad forbade the family to watch her show, and criticized her any time her name came up. I think there were plenty of boys at the time who would have loved the show and grown up to be butt-kickin’ feminists, but their dads were gatekeeping.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  22. witless chum wrote:

    I remember relating to “Roseanne” because they had a messy house, like my family. (Even though we were richer than the Connors.) It seemed very real, plus my folks were pretty feminist for the time, so it didn’t occur to me that I should dislike Roseanne. Also, being a younger teen boy watching the show, I had a crush on Darlene.

    There really hasn’t been a show like it as far as dealing with class and feminism, while never seeming like preaching.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  23. rebekah wrote:

    sady,
    Barr is a blogger. You can find her blogging here:
    http://www.roseanneworld.com/blog/
    I personally do not have a problem with women referring to that specific type of woman as a bitch, but that’s just me.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  24. serah-marie wrote:

    Hells yes.

    Friday, May 20, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  25. Orodemniades wrote:

    “CRY YOUR PATRIARCHAL TEARS”

    Made me laugh my ass off. Also? I loved the Roseanne show. And I think I love her even more after this.

    Friday, May 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  26. Ali wrote:

    ‘MIND. BLOWN.’ was exactly my response to that line too!

    A whole bunch of the people I follow on twitter linked to Roseanne’s article and it made me so happy that all these people’s reaction to someone being so feminist and a lady and opinionated was ‘this is awesome’ and not [insert dismissive misogynistic remark here].

    Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink