This is a reading i did at the recent (and excellent) National Young Writers' Festival in Newcastle (yes i am very young thank you for wondering). I was petrified, having avoided doing public speaking for a very long time due to my highly irrational fear, and it was great to get the opportunity to write and read this in front of a very generous and supportive crowd, alongside some writers i am a fan of. The event was called 'My Favourite is Problematic'.
Hi everyone. My name is Rebecca, aka Brocklesnitch, aka someone who writes dumb jokes on a computer and never goes in front of crowds, aka the person with an internal monologue that is currently just a high-pitched scream of terror. The terror first started when I was thinking about what topic to discuss today, and I realized that it would be very difficult, not only because my taste in everything is so amazing, but also because I believe if we search deeply enough, we will be able to find everyone and everything problematic in some way. Even Beyonce. But I persevered, and narrowed it down until I found the perfect candidate. The woman I’m here to talk about today, because as a misandrist I only ever want to talk about women, is someone who I grew up with, whose work helped me become the person I am today, and whom I wish had become Amish and stopped using computers a few years ago. That person is..Roseanne Barr.
Obviously Roseanne’s greatest and most successful contribution, and the one that I love most deeply, is the TV show Roseanne. As you can see, I loved it so much that I’ve dedicated my life to obtaining the same body shape and dress sense as Dan Conner, and it was a LOT of work. Roseanne is like a family member who I both love and hate, but who I cannot ditch entirely because she’s been around my whole life and brought me a lot of joy. But she’s also someone with whom I disagree with strongly on some issues. It’s kind of like when your aunt who gives good hugs but smells like rum and vicks vapor rub updates her Facebook status every single December that this year is the year the government is definitely going to force everyone to start saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas because of Islam.
But there are many reasons why Roseanne Barr and her show are important to me. I grew up with three brothers, in regional Queensland. My mum was and still is a cleaner, my dad was and still is a butcher. One of my brothers left midway through the season and was replaced with a guy who looked nothing like him. So, pretty similar. Against trend at the time, Roseanne told a story of blue collar workers struggling to find stable employment, arguments over paying the bills, stories of the fight to hand your children a better life. But it also gave permission for these kinds of families to have a sense of humour about it all, as you have to. As mine did. To find a way to laugh when you have to get out of bed at 5:30 to push start your dad’s shitty car so he can get to work. It told us it was okay and healthy for parents to make fun of their children, as mine did and still do, every chance they get.
My mum, for example, loves to tell everyone about the 2001 incident when I fainted naked at the bottom of the stairs after stubbing my toe really hard while in the shower. Coincidentally, that is also my sexiest story. Roseanne brought me the amazing Darlene, who looking back now, I realise I was in love with, and who was the reason I didn’t say even one sentence that wasn’t sarcastic for the years 1997-1999. And it REALLY got me HEAPS of friends. Barr fought really hard to force her network to show an episode where she is kissed by a woman, where she actually SAYS the word lesbian (shock horror), where people’s uncomfortable feelings about homosexuals were confronted (years before I made everyone uncomfortable at parties by being so homosexual). As a young queer person, even HEARING these conversations on a show I loved, with characters I loved, was just mind blowing and SO reassuring. It meant I was real, there were others like me, and I would be okay. And I pretty much am, unless you ask Cory Bernardi.
Roseanne also showed me that you could be a strong, funny, fat woman, and be loved. That there would be a man (or hopefully a woman in my case) who would want to date you and EVEN have sex with you. And so far it’s actually worked out okay. And yet, still to this day there are only a handful of fat women on television. And she was an unapologetic fat woman, who didn’t hide away. She drew attention to it, she made jokes about it, but she didn’t apologise for being in her body. Roseanne also showed me that you could be a hard-arse feminist and take on the boys, and win. You could do what you want. These are all qualities that I think I have, or I hope to have one day when I am a grown up. And she helped establish them in me.
But sadly however, this isn’t the Roseanne No Issues Perfection Hour. It is alleged that she was a living human nightmare on the set of Roseanne. There are stories of her throwing tantrums and walking off stage and threatening to quit if her demands weren’t met (just like me at this festival). The set was reportedly the worst to work on in Hollywood, with Roseanne firing and hiring huge amounts of writers, and brutally, referring to them as numbers instead of their names. That is..pretty problematic. But the revolving door system did give opportunities to people like Joss Whedon, who went on to create Buffy (another very important show to me, in lesbian ways especially). But then on the OTHER side of that Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doors scenario, Roseanne was also the first stop of Chuck Lorre, who went on to create Two and a Half Men.
Speaking of “alleged” comedy, as someone who loves comedy more than anything, even tiny puppies with puppy breath, it is just about impossible to find a funny person with a large body of work who hasn’t at some point made a joke or said a satirical comment that could be taken out of context and be held up as problematic. But luckily, for the purposes of literally today only, social media and access to funny people’s NON-JOKE opinions, like Roseanne’s, was invented. Some of you might know that I love twitter, and I spend a lot of time sending terrible puns out into the universe. I love having access to famous people, like AT-Beyonce and AT-puppy breath. I don’t actually know if the latter is a real twitter, but it should be. However, in recent times I have wished upon a star, or the stars management teams, that celebrities I specifically love give up twitter forever, or at least stop using it to expose me to their terrible personal opinions.
Unfortunately Roseanne is one of these stars. In 2012 she become an enemy of the transgender community when she was running for president, which I guess is a thing? That happened? She used twitter to attack supporters of a bill that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing and public places. Conservatives and trans-exclusionary feminists harshly nicknamed it the ‘bathroom bill’ because, for example, a trans woman would be allowed to use a women’s bathroom, and apparently that would be the end of the world. I guess none of them saw Ally McBeal. Since then, Roseanne has also retweeted transphobic memes and tweets, and has generally been really disappointingly uncool about it all. There are a lot of things that happen on the internet that disappoint me, including every time I log into my internet banking and see the balance, but this was a big one.
So how to reconcile all of these different facets of people who are important to us within our tiny human brains? In this case, I think I have actually gotten pretty lucky, because Roseanne isn’t really making must-see TV anymore, even though yes I absolutely think she should be on True Detective Season Two, but I am not forced to make boycott (or girlcott) decisions. But I think it is important to keep in mind that people change, and it’s not always going to be for the better. I’m sure even Beyonce will change one day, probably in that she’ll sprout angel wings and fly us all to heaven. But most people are flawed. Every single one of us will have an opinion or stance that someone else will find problematic. For example, my only flaw is that one of my favourite songs is Jennifer Love Hewitt’s ‘How Do I Deal’ from the soundtrack of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
But the fact that everyone is flawed is not an excuse, and I think it’s really important not to defend something or someone you love or once loved, when they have done something that hurts other people. It’s important not to explain it away, or try to justify it. It’s important to call them out on their bullshit. Roseanne’s transphobia is, in my opinion, indefensible. But I think that I can watch repeats of a TV show from 20 years ago, that at the time was ground breaking, and progressive, and tolerant, and so important to me, without it meaning that I advocate what she has become, or support her now. However, unless there are apologies and retribution made, and the trans community accepts her, I think she deserves to be punished further. This could be anything from having to guest star on Two and a Half Men for free, or to watch an episode of Two and a Half Men, but most likely it will be the cruelest ultimate punishment of all:
I will never refollow her on twitter.