Tag Archives: television

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.

Disabled Character: Able-Bodied (Emaciated) Actresses Only, Please

Laurie and Debbie say:
(cross blogged on Feministe)

We had our attention brought to this casting call for Stargate: Universe, a Stargate franchise TV show due to debut in October of this year as a movie, and then a regular TV show on the Syfy channel.

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy.sptv050769..Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).

How do we hate this? Let us count the ways:

1) Do you have any idea how much most disabled people hate the oh-so-familiar story where a disabled character (always in a wheelchair) gets to *drum roll* WALK AGAIN? To take that one apart a little bit, at least two things are wrong with this story.

It plays into the endlessly repeated cultural conviction that walking and being vertical are somehow essentially more fully human than sitting. This is why disabled children are often kept in painful and awkward braces much longer than they should be, and why it’s been necessary to create wheelchairs that bring people up to “eye level,” (whose eye level was that?). It’s so hard to be taken seriously if you’re not vertical.

It also plays into the able-bodied person’s myth that the only interesting story about disability is the one in which it is cured or magically redeemed in some way. This is a thing of our time and place–150 years ago, the only story about disability was about romantic wasting away. Our culture desperately tries to believe that if you take care of yourself, you will live a really long time and never get sick. Seeing disabled people makes us afraid that we might not live fit and forever. Wheelchairs and the people in them become the bogeyman, the goblin who will be you if you don’t watch your health. To fight the cultural fears, we build myths about people who “walk again.”

The “finally experience intimacy” line from the casting call is the clincher for this myth. Apparently, whoever wrote this believes that disabled people can’t “experience intimacy,” which wouldn’t be true even if the phrase was about love, friendship, deep connection, or true confessions. We all know that those three words aren’t about any of those things: they’re about sex. Of course, disabled people can’t/don’t have sex. Because we’re so afraid of what it’s like to be them, we don’t look at or imagine their bodies. When we have to talk to them, we look relentlessly above the neck, which is one reason we’re more comfortable when they’re at eye level.

News flash! People in wheelchairs have sex. People on respirators have sex. Sometimes they have great sex. And what’s more, they can have sex without being fetishized for their disability.

2) If you’re a disabled actor, the “walk again” story has an even nastier angle. It means that the studios “have to” cast able-bodied actors and actresses to play disabled people. They can’t be expected to cast someone who is quadriplegic, or has spina bifida, if the role requires that the character eventually get up and walk. This saves the director and the actors having to deal with all those scary, messy real disabled people. It saves the writers from having to learn anything about real disability. It is yet another factor in keeping disabled people unemployed. (In the last fifteen years or so, the disability activist community has done a great deal of work to get disabled actors into disabled roles, and we’ve seen somewhat fewer “God saved him! He can walk!” plots as a result. It’s not enough. Google Images has only five images for “disabled actresses.”)

3) Wonder why she has to be so thin? Callista Flockhart thin? We can tell you. It’s because if she has any weight on her at all, viewers can say her disability is her fault. People believe that unhealthy behavior, weight, and disability are inextricably linked. People look at a fat person in a wheelchair and think, “That person must not have taken care of herself.” But a thin person in a wheelchair is exempt from blame. She’s a victim, not a bum.

Here’s the casting call we’d like to see:

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite sexy. A brilliant quadriplegic scientist, who has used a wheelchair since childhood. She needs help with basic cleanliness and dressing tasks. Her scientific ability makes her the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation. She’s an excellent flirt, and will have an affair with at least one crew member during her tenure on the show. sptv050769..Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE A WHEELCHAIR USER.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the pointer.