Thursday, March 29, 2018

Commentary: 'Roseanne' is popular because it speaks for a forgotten America

Few television events in recent memory have attracted so much attention -- or garnered such high ratings -- as the debut of Roseanne's tenth season, which was broadcast on ABC this past Tuesday. It was the only network airing which I have anticipated for quite some time. As someone who watches very little television, what motivated me to tune in this week, and what is spurring me to do the same next Tuesday?

First and foremost, I am a great admirer of the original Roseanne. Missing out on its revival, then, would hardly make sense at all. Nonetheless, this does not tell the whole story. In a nutshell, it is this: Unlike any other sitcom since All in the Family -- which was before my time, though I grew up on its reruns -- Roseanne speaks to the very real dynamics of family life for what may be described as 'the silent majority.' 

Even for those of us who did not grow-up in blue-collar Midwestern households, the trials and tribulations experienced by the Conner family ring true. Whether plot points from certain episodes remind us of our own home life, the lives of those we know, or life as it often plays out in our community, they are instantly recognizable as, in one way or another, reflections of our own experiences.

This makes Roseanne truly unique. Most often, when folks watch sitcoms, they are searching for an escape from the comparatively downcast nature of their own lives. When I watch Roseanne, I often see a family in situations far more dire than anything I have ever had to deal with. Indeed, Roseanne is as far from an escape as I can imagine any network comedy being. Rather, it is an education whose curriculum is rooted in the hard knocks of an America where dreams do not necessarily become realities.

The fundamental honesty of Roseanne, superb as its comedy is, keeps me coming back time and again, year after year. Nowadays, nothing else like it exists on network television, and -- given the risks this program takes with its content -- it is easy to see why. Such edginess requires courage, which in turn merits appreciation. Seeing as so many Americans watched Roseanne's return, it is safe to say that appreciation has been given and then some!

At the same time, what does it say about the culture of television production that the lives of ordinary Americans, the same individuals who watch network programming, almost always go unnoticed? The 'silent majority' is not only quiet, but often invisible, and powerful interests seem intent on keeping things as-are. Why? Do executives fear that people will become antsy about seeing characters and situations they can relate to on the small screen?

Clearly, with the success of Roseanne, such fear is proven unnecessary. Kudos to ABC for being confident enough in the public to bring this show to us. 

Of course, immense credit is due Roseanne Barr, who not only pioneered network television when her show originally ran, but continues to prove that millions of Americans, generally forgotten about by the entertainment industry, are looking for a voice to their concerns. Roseanne's message on Roseanne is no less relevant today than it was thirty years ago. She, and an outstanding supporting cast, are not only providing quality entertainment, but giving voice to the voiceless.

This represents not only the best of an artistic vision brought to life, but America itself.


Joseph Ford Cotto, 1st Baron Cotto, GCCCR is the editor-in-chief of The San Francisco Review of Books. In the past, he covered current events and style for The Washington Times's Communities section, where he interviewed personalities ranging from Fmr. Ambassador John Bolton to Dionne Warwick. Cotto was also a writer for Blogcritics Magazine and Yahoo's contributor network, among other publications. In 2014, H.M. King Kigeli V of Rwanda bestowed a hereditary knighthood upon him, which was followed by a barony the next year.

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