A couple days ago Allahpundit asked if the blockbuster ratings for the return of the Roseanne show was a new data point in the culture war. Wherever you come down on the question personally, there’s no doubt a lot of people in the media seem to be taking it that way. Yesterday an opinion writer for the NY Times published a piece saying the show was funny and well made but also politically dangerous enough that she won’t watch it again:
As I watched the first two episodes of the “Roseanne” reboot, I thought again about accountability. I laughed, yes, and enjoyed seeing the Conner family back on my screen. My first reaction was that the show was excellent. But I could not set aside what I know of Roseanne Barr and how toxic and dangerous her current public persona is. I could not overlook how the Conner family came together to support Mark as he was bullied at school for his gender presentation, after voting for a president who actively works against the transgender community. They voted for a president who doesn’t think the black life of their granddaughter matters. They act as if love can protect the most vulnerable members of their family from the repercussions of their political choices. It cannot.
This fictional family, and the show’s very real creator, are further normalizing Trump and his warped, harmful political ideologies. There are times when we can consume problematic pop culture, but this is not one of those times. I saw the first two episodes of the “Roseanne” reboot, but that’s all I am going to watch. It’s a small line to draw, but it’s a start.
I never watched Roseanne when it was popular and I didn’t watch the reboot this week, so I won’t comment on the quality of the show. But I can comment on the experience of having someone else’s awkward politics jammed into what is supposed to be popular entertainment.
Take for example “The Shape of Water” which won the Oscar for Best Picture this year. I’m generally a fan of director Guillermo del Toro’s work. I like, for instance, his light but fun giant robot movie Pacific Rim and his mutant bug movie Mimic. I appreciate the art design of his film Pan’s Labyrinth and even liked Blade II for what it was. He makes visually striking films even if the material isn’t serious and important.
But Shape of Water saw him really come up in the world. Not, I think, because it’s so much better than his other films but because it had a theme Hollywood felt like celebrating. Ed wrote a solid review before it won the Oscar which I largely agree with. The plot of the film is a variation on Splash but the real point of all the action is that outsiders (the mute woman, her black friend, her gay neighbor, even the Soviet spy) are good, while the military and middle-class (white) America are very bad.
I had a reaction to the film similar to the NY Times’ author’s reaction to Roseanne. On the one hand, it’s well made and visually striking (though a little slow at times). On the other hand, I feel like I’m being beaten over the head with the message. And it’s not a good message. The good vs. evil nature of the story is so heavily stacked to make a point, it has little to do with the real world where good and bad qualities are more evenly distributed among all kinds of people.
If you’re someone on the right, you become used to having every other TV show or movie offer an occasional slap in the face (on any number of issues) in the midst of what is ostensibly entertainment. It happens so frequently that you probably can’t keep track. What’s unique about Roseanne is that, to a small degree (as Ben Shapiro pointed out), it put the left on the defensive for once.
And it turns out people like the NY Times author don’t like having to choose between a mild laugh after work and sending the wrong message. So she’s going to do a personal boycott of the show (and broadcast that fact) because political purity is more important. Conservatives really don’t have that option, not unless they cut themselves off from most of the top TV shows and movies. Some do make that choice. Speaking for myself, I wish those on the other side of the aisle had to think about this sort of thing a bit more often. Maybe then the left’s desire to politicize everything wouldn’t be quite so intense.