Roseanne and the Art of the Con

The recent Twitter storm involving Roseanne Barr’s latest racist tweet is nothing new from the actress. In fact, for those paying attention it seems rather strange that she was called out on this now. After all, ever since she abandoned the left (she ran for POTUS for the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party) she quickly allied herself with some of the most reactionary and racist elements of the so-called “alt-right.”

She has called people Nazis for supporting Palestinian human rights, tweeted blatantly racist tirades, memes and bizarre conspiracy theories all of which have largely been ignored by a corporate media ever in search of profits. But what’s perhaps more interesting is how Roseanne herself is framed by this same media. Thanks to her sitcom portrayal of a blue collar, working class woman in Middle America, she is almost always cast in this light.

Of course the notion that Roseanne Barr represents the working class has always been problematic. While her sitcom had its merits and attempted to humanize a segment of society egregiously ignored or maliciously ridiculed by coastal elites, it predictably failed in addressing the systemic sources of misery for her working class family. Yes, it was just a comedy; but historically such mediums have often proven to be a powerful voice for transformative politics. The Roseanne show failed to measure up to even All in the Family standards in this regard.

And since this is the US where glaring contradictions are seldom addressed, it is worth noting that in real life the actress has an enormous macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, lucrative book deals, gets millions of dollars in royalties from reruns of the original Roseanne show, and her net worth is estimated at 80 million dollars. It shouldn’t be any wonder, then, that a billionaire conman like Donald Trump is one of her biggest fans. He became President by pulling off the con that he is blue collar and promised to “drain the swamp,” even while he fills it in plain view with snake oil salesmen and women like himself. Both of them have so far been able to brand themselves as something they are clearly not.

The Canadian author Ronald Wright said: “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” His assessment might lay too much blame on working people in the US, but there is a painful truth to this. Too many Americans have been bamboozled by the corporate capitalist con game. They continue to be enthralled by the gilded towers of the wealth owning class and still think it is justified, even as they languish under crushing debt, poor or no healthcare, nonliving or stagnant wages and scarce economic opportunities. Many see the excess and bling of the rich as a just reward for hard work, failing to take into account the power of class and privilege, or the institutional injustices that cause the gap between the ultra-rich and desperately poor to grow exponentially year after year.

While Roseanne Barr’s wealth may not have been handed to her through an inheritance like Trump, her ascendancy in the American wealth class is indicative of how certain qualities are rewarded. Roseanne has been a master at maintaining her brand through endless, manufactured outrage, extremes and media manipulation. One year she joins the Occupy Movement, the next she is tweeting Islamophobic memes. You can call it a kind of lunacy, but it appears to be a profitable one.

It remains to be seen whether some of those who have swallowed the lies will begin to see that like Trump, Roseanne is not one of them. Despite her humble beginnings or the elaborate persona which mimics working class angst, she is a con. She is a product of American capital and the corporate media, through and through. And despite this recent setback, she will still be laughing all the way to the banks she once claimed she hates.


Kenn Orphan, May 2018

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