When a lot of the mainstream media talks about the working class, there is a tendency to romanticize, to idealize them as the most authentic Americans. They are “real” and their problems are “real” problems, as if everyone else is dealing with artificial obstacles. We see this in some of the breathless media coverage of Trump voters and in a lot of the online chatter about the “Roseanne” reboot. What often goes unsaid is that when the working class is defined in our cultural imagination, we are talking about white people, even though the real American working class is made up of people from many races and ethnicities.
During a Television Critics Association panel promoting the show, Ms. Barr said, “it was working-class people who elected Trump.”
This myth persists, but it is only a myth. Forty-one percent of voters earning less than $50,000 voted for Mr. Trump while 53 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. Forty-nine percent of voters earning between $50,000 and $100,000 voted for Mr. Trump while 47 percent voted for Mrs. Clinton. The median income of these voters was $72,000, while the median income of Hillary Clinton voters was $61,000. A significant number of middle-class and wealthy white people contributed to Trump’s election.
In the show, during an exchange about their political disagreement, Roseanne tells Jackie one of the reasons she voted for Mr. Trump is because he “talked about jobs.” And that was all the political ideology we got. If we are to believe the circumstances of this character’s life, a few vague words about “jobs” was more than enough to compel Roseanne, with inadequate health care, with vulnerable grandchildren, and struggling to make ends meet, to vote for Mr. Trump.
How do you reach people who make dangerous political choices grounded in self-interest? When Roseanne and Jackie finally reconcile, Roseanne never apologizes or concedes. She merely tells Jackie, “I forgive you,” and Jackie acknowledges how hard that was for Roseanne. Clearly, we cannot reach people who make dangerous, myopic political choices. We concede, as Jackie does, or we resist, as hopefully the rest of us will.
In my book “Bad Feminist,” published in 2014, I wrote about giving myself permission to be flawed but feminist. I wrote about how sometimes I consume problematic pop culture, knowing I shouldn’t, knowing how harmful that pop culture can be. I still believe there is room for that, for having principles and enjoying things that challenge those principles. But in the ensuing years, I’ve also been thinking about accountability and the repercussions of our choices. I’ve been thinking about how nothing will change if we keep consuming problematic pop culture without demanding anything better.
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.