The late 80s/early 90s sitcom Roseanne attempted to entertain while revealing tough truths about the life of America’s white working class. The show was canceled long ago, but its star is still up to the same tricks. In a hard-hitting piece for New York magazine called “And I Should Know,” Roseanne Barr dissects modern celebrity with a deliciously funny and critical eye. And though she makes fun of Charlie Sheen, she also empathizes with him.
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Referring to Sheen’s recent meltdown, Barr writes that “I have never smoked crack or taken too many drugs…But I do know what it’s like to be seized by bipolar thoughts that make one spout wise about Tiger Blood and brag about winning when one is actually losing.” But while Roseanne is sympathetic to the delusions that fame can engender—she recounts the incandescent fury that once accompanied a failure to get a last minute reservation at an LA eatery—she is also scathing about Sheen himself, and the culture of “staggering sexism” that could celebrate his lifestyle.
Based on Two and a Half Men’s success, it seems viewers now prefer their comedy dumb and sexist. Charlie Sheen was the world’s most famous john, and a sitcom was written around him. That just says it all. Doing tons of drugs, smacking prostitutes around, holding a knife up to the head of your wife—sure, that sounds like a dream come true for so many guys out there, but that doesn’t make it right! People do what they can get away with (or figure they can), and Sheen is, in fact, a product of what we call politely the “culture.” Where I can relate to the Charlie stuff is his undisguised contempt for certain people in his work environment and his unwillingness to play a role that’s expected of him on his own time.
Roseanne doesn’t come across entirely sympathetically—she recounts threatening staff of her show with scissors, and her delight in firing her perceived enemies once the show reached number one in the ratings. But she does write honestly about the gap she felt between Hollywood’s conception of working class life and reality. Near the end of the piece she writes, “Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Rosanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.”
So what is Roseanne up to now? She’s hardly returned to the traditional working class. She’s currently living in Hawaii where she farms macadamia nuts and is filming a reality TV show—Roseanne’s Nuts—about the experience. It’s an unorthodox afterlife for a TV star, but then again Roseanne’s always had her own metric for #winning.
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