Tag Archives: Roseanne

Roseanne Barr

Laurie and Debbie are on a blogging vacation, because they’re both at WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin. Debbie will be back next week. In the meantime, have another post from the wonderful Lynne Murray:

Lynne Murray says:

I recently read a long New York Magazine interview with Roseanne Barr, which is accompanied by some stunningly beautiful photos.

artistic head shot of Roseanne Barr

I’ve long loved Roseanne, and the article offers a fascinating glimpse into her greatest achievement, and it is well worth reading, just for the blow-by-blow dissection of how hard Roseanne had to fight to get her own truth and her comic genius a fair showing, when after her show was number one in the ratings, and one would assume she would have some clout.

Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne 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. Nothing real or truthful makes its way to TV unless you are smart and know how to sneak it in, and I would tell you how I did it, but then I would have to kill you.

I’m not bitter. I’m really not. The fact that my fans have thanked and encouraged me for doing what I used to get in trouble for doing (shooting my big mouth off) has been very healing. And somewhere along the way, I realized that TV and our culture had changed because of a woman named Roseanne Conner, whom I am honored to have written jokes for.

I’ve read a couple of Roseanne’s autobiographies. The first one influenced me most in that it included pictures of her at various weights. It came out when I was writing Larger Than Death, and I included a sequence where the heroine finds an album of photos taken of Nina, her role model in size acceptance, “At different ages. Different sizes.” This scene was directly inspired by Roseanne’s book [I’ve cropped my quote a little].

Most fat people have such a sequence of pictures. The first picture in the book showed Nina as a teenager, with the glowing energy of youth. At that age she must have been around a size fourteen—the largest size on the rack in most women’s clothing stores. Of course she felt fat and everyone told her she was unacceptable.
. . . In the next photo I scarcely recognized my old friend. She had lost a substantial amount of weight. She was wearing a tight sweater, very short micro-mini skirt, and an expression of frenzied animation. I had seen enough desperately dieting women to understand the forced gaiety in her face.
“Well, here it is, the Holy Grail. I’m finally at a normal weight. Why do I feel so crazy? I’m always thinking about food. I’m terrified to eat. Men’s heads turn when I walk by, women see me as competition. I’m getting the attention I always wanted. Why do I feel so driven and hopeless? What will happen to me if I gain weight again?”
Over the next series of photos she did.
. . . Her body testified that normal for it was not the size of the Nina in the micro-mini. In the last few photos I thought she looked glorious. Glowing with health and confidence, wearing clothing she had designed to show off a body she had come to accept and even celebrate. This was the Nina I’d known and loved.
As I looked at the last picture I realized that every one of Stack’s clients would call it a “before” picture and would suffer any pain or indignity to get to the slender “after” mode, never facing the fact that for many of them it was unnatural, even damaging to their health, and impossible to maintain.

I realized I was crying without knowing when I had started. [Larger Than Death, Chapter 35]

Like a lot of fans who feel they “know” Roseanne, I’ve always felt affection for her even when I’ve been saddened by her struggles with self-esteem, including gastric bypass surgery. While each person’s health care decisions are that person’s business, Roseanne’s had the unfortunate effect of canceling out some of her size positive message. I must note that this also is also her business–she’s a human being, not a walking role model, and she’s entitled to do what she wants based on her own feelings. But the upshot is that sites pushing the surgery list her as a celebrity victim. They don’t call her a “success” as they note that she regained much of the weight she lost. The gastric bypass community blames her for this, following the conventional commercial delusion that any weight regained is always the fault of the fat person. Roseanne appears to blame herself as well, judging by her joke: “Since I had my gastric bypass surgery in 1998, I eat like a bird. Unfortunately, that bird is a California condor.” That sort of comment saddens me even more.

On a positive note, I’m glad to hear that Roseanne seems to have found happiness with a compatible mate, growing macadamia nuts in Hawaii. She has a web presence that links to video clips, a radio show and her many causes.

Fat Jokes and the Elephant in the Room

Lynne Murray says:

When I started to explore this topic I was going to discuss the CBS prime time comedy Mike & Molly, about a fat couple. I can’t recall another show where both partners are fat since Roseanne, 1988-1997.

I laughed at Roseanne, but Mike & Molly did not make me laugh. In fact I felt both angry and a bit nauseated at the underlying premise. I think there’s an elephant in the room on Mike & Molly and I don’t mean that as a fat joke.

The underpinnings of so-called fat jokes are two assumptions that are shared by great masses of our citizenry:

First assumption: fat people are out of control around food, waving a piece of chocolate cake in front of the dieting heroine is tantamount to holding a wine-tasting party for an alcoholic

Second assumption: rescuing fat people from eating forbidden food is a noble act. In Mike & Molly, the hero’s buddy grabs a sandwich out of his hands and characterizes it as an “intervention” because his friend was committing “suicide by meatball sub.” That’s a quote from memory because life is too short for me to watch that dreary YouTube clip again.

In his very useful (and funny) book, The Comic Toolbox, John Vorhaus starts off with the statement “Comedy is truth and pain.” Actually he puts it in full caps, and gives several examples, one of which is: A man falls off a cliff. As he plummets, he’s heard to mutter, “So far, so good.” (p. 4)

Humor has a different set of rules than other fiction. The primary rule is simple and brutal–it has to make you laugh, or at the very least smile happily at a nimble turn of wit. That’s tricky because what makes one audience member laugh makes another break out the hate mail and death threats.

The line keeps moving and changing. Some of that has to do with the changing concept of Truth. What people believe may or may not be true, but the success or failure of a joke to wring a laugh out of an audience can hinge on what the audience thinks is true. Anyone who has ever risked telling a joke to just the wrong person (or worse yet in an inappropriate setting) will understand how jokes are rooted in a social landscape.

The outrageously funny Australian comedy writer/singer (and barefoot virtuoso pianist), Tim Minchin has a song called Prejudice

that begins by toying with expectations that he will say a word American audiences find extremely offensive. He does not. However, at least one commenter to the YouTube clip even says, “I was expecting him to say n_____.” The joke is slightly spoiled in that some of insults he does play with in the last part of the song may be obscure for many American listeners.

Jokes that directly embrace prejudice can now get a joker fired, picketed or targeted as a blatant bigot. Yet these jokes were common coin when racism, sexism and anti-Semitism were in more publicly acceptable full flower. And many groups are still fair game.

As Marlene pointed out last week in a post entitled No Surprises, transgender jokes are alive and well in the mass media and protests about them get limited media attention.

I personally can testify from as much of a sampling of the field as I can endure, fat jokes in all formats seem to be going through a kind of boom right now. Ironically I think this may be a reaction to the increasing visibility of the fat acceptance movement.

(I went looking for the source of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi statement: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” and found that it’s a disputed quote that may have originally come from a 1914 Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.)

In 2009, The Big Fat Blog considered the topic of fat jokes, responding to a Dawn French quote:

“It is no more acceptable to make a fat joke than it is to make a gay joke,” she told Mandrake at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, at the Royal Opera House. “People need to learn to take everyone as they are.”

French said her weight had not helped her career, but added: “It certainly hasn’t hindered me. It’s about teaching people how to take you, how to accept you. You have to open people’s minds.”

Many Big Fat Blog commenters brought up the point that seems most glaring to me–the laziness of picking fat or dieting as a target.

Fat jokes are usually not well-honed, and that’s partly because they often are “easy” jokes, simply pointing out that someone is fat and suggesting they must be out of control. Often that observation is the entire joke.

On a deeper level I think fat jokes fail because they are based on a very unstable pile of horse manure, the lie that fat people are out of control and could become thin by dieting. It’s a lie that people believe, and can’t examine very carefully because their belief is so entrenched and dearly beloved. Exploding that lie would lead many fat people to deal with the reality that this is the body you’ll be living in, just as it is now. Better to live in the lie and point fingers at “those people” who can’t control their appetites than to give up hope of ever joining the few, the happy few (about 5 percent of dieters) who manage to attain and sustain weight loss

In a recent New Yorker, writing about Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike & Molly, Tom Bissell says of TV sitcoms:

NOTE: Paid content at the link. I took the quotation from a friend’s paper copy.

Films, perhaps, show us who we want to be, and literature shows us who we actually are. Sitcoms, if they show us anything, show us people we might like to know. Because of this, the sitcom is a medium designed to reassure. The more reassuring the sitcom, the better its chances become of winding up in the financial promised land of syndication.

A lot of sitcoms are, in fact, darker than you realize. At its core, Two and a Half Men is about loneliness. The Big Bang Theory is about alienation. Mike & Molly is about self-hatred.

I’m not sure I agree about Two and a Half Men being about loneliness, to me it looks more like the story of a substance-abusing sex-addict older brother and the younger brother who yearns to be him (one of the reasons I stopped watching it). The Big Bang Theory is my absolute favorite show, but that may reflect on my own self as a woman who loves nerds too much.

I don’t believe that Mike & Molly really is about self-hatred. I contend that the “elephant in the room” on this show is fat-hatred, and tiptoeing around and pretending that it’s acceptable damages the humor. Maybe the show could be funny if it had the courage to face its own prejudice.

But that would be bad for business. And yes I mean the diet business