It makes us uncomfortable to face the reality

Edward Burmila at The Nation says we should be looking at why ABC decided to resurrect Roseanne in the first place.

The simplest, least satisfying explanation of why this happened is money. An industry reduced to mining nostalgia for an endless parade of reboots, remakes, and sequels could not resist reviving one of the essential, culture-defining sitcoms of the nineties. In this light, ABC saw the new Roseanne as no different than Fuller House—mindless, derivative, easy to churn out, and profitable.

The more complicated answer involves the media’s drive to “humanize” and explain those who see Trump as their long-awaited salvation. Like the endless journalistic forays into the Rust Belt to profile Trumpers with shuttered steel mills as a photo backdrop, the Roseanne reboot intended to show what the media kept calling the “white working class” sympathetically. The latest iteration of Roseanne Conner would demonstrate that the real-life people her character represents are not racist caricatures. This is, after all, what we would like to think about our fellow Americans—that we have differences, but we can still come together as one nation.

We would like to think that if it were true – but having differences is one thing, and being a fan of Trump is another. That’s not some little difference you can just overlook by talking about baseball instead.

But so often the actual Trump supporters ruin that narrative. Journalists and researchers are now finding that the veneer of “economic anxiety” among Trump supporters is built on a foundation of hate. Fans of Trump say little about the president’s Gilded Age economic policies, but boy do they fume over kneeling NFL players. And because this racism, xenophobia, and paranoia is not what we want to find, we go looking again and again until we find an answer that is more comforting.

Exactly. It’s not about misogyny and racism, it’s about elitism, the story goes. I wrote a Free Inquiry column about it last year:

What do we talk about when we talk about elites?

We should talk about power and money, but too much of the time we talk about snobbery, speaking French, flavored coffee drinks and similar social markers that may be psychologically wounding but do not, say, keep millions of children in inferior schools or workers in minimum wage jobs with no benefits.

In July 2016 Rod Dreher at The American Conservative asked J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a leading question about this more touchy-feely version of elitism:

I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite[s], most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today?

It’s obvious to Rod Dreher but then he’s been primed to find it obvious, hasn’t he. We all have. It’s been a cliché of political campaigns for decades that liberals are effete snobs while conservatives are salt of the earth workin’ folks constantly wounded by the scorn of the pointy-headed intellectuals (aka the Jews). We hear about snooty consumer choices, instead of policies on unions and worker protections. Given that background I have to wonder how much Dreher really does experience professional class urbanites displaying obvious contempt for poor white people, and how much he just imagines he does because we’ve all heard about it a million times.

Back to Burmila:

Roseanne is inseparable from this quest to find evidence that Trumpers are ultimately good, kindhearted people whose fears and economic insecurity are being exploited by a charlatan. It makes us uncomfortable to face the reality that tens of millions of Americans need no encouragement at all to support authoritarian and racist politics. Try as we may to tell ourselves that the masses are tricked into supporting far-right regimes in the United States or Europe, the uncomfortable reality is that many are willing, even eager.

It worked briefly. The show was lauded initially for being “incredibly honest” about who Trump voters are. Conservatives loved the ratings success of a show they saw as a rebuke of leftist Hollywood. After the initial surge of interest, the show appeared to settle into a consistent ratings generator for ABC.

Ultimately, the real Roseanne undermined the fictional one. Roseanne the character could humanize the show’s white, Midwestern, salt-of-the-earth types only if Barr kept up appearances, at least well enough for viewers to suspend disbelief. She could not. Rather than celebrate the network and the show’s famous co-stars for speaking out now, it is better to reconsider their initial motives. If they did this simply for the money, they are unprincipled. If they did it to show audiences relatable and “normal” Trump-loving Americans, they are misguided.

Barr may have wanted to use a fictional version of herself to prove that white people who love Donald Trump—people like her, in short—are not racists who traffic in ludicrous conspiracy theories and detest anyone who isn’t like them. She failed because that is exactly what she is. ABC, in abetting this mess, found that even Hollywood magic can’t make sympathetic characters out of such people, although I suspect it will keep trying. The alternative is confronting the fact that the beliefs of a substantial number of Americans are malevolent and dangerous, not mere differences of opinion that can be resolved in 20 minutes, with a hug.

And it’s nothing to do with coffee.

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