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The Roseanne Reboot: When Nostalgia Goes Wrong

The Roseanne Reboot: When Nostalgia Goes Wrong

Roseanne Then and Now

Exploring the motivations of a Trump supporter is understandable, but not when it's tied to a beloved character known for doing the right thing.

I've been staring at a blinking cursor for almost a week trying to think of what I wanted my take on the Roseanne reboot to be. Each time I came up with an angle, I would find an article that took it and ran, leaving me writing something someone already said. I couldn't say that the show was funny, not funny, apologetic toward Donald Trump, or a heavy criticism of Trump because everyone had a take on that. Some people were calling for boycotts of the show because of Roseanne Barr's internet conduct; some were arguing that we needed to separate the artist from the art. I watched Twitter exchanges between top-tier comedians debating if the show deserved to stand on its own merits or if it could never be separated from Barr's politics. There were just so many different views on the show that it seemed impossible to say something unique; the show really is as divisive as our current culture is and is no longer what we remember it being.

Back when the original show debuted in 1988, it was an acclaimed look at a working-class family that struggled to make ends meet yet wasn't a caricature of middle America. Roseanne was a progressive sitcom that pushed back against racism and homophobia, and reflected more of what America was really like outside of California and New York. Now with the reboot, we see that progressive show tainted by the conspiracy theory-repeating, Trump-loving, transphobic, and honestly hateful comments of Roseanne Barr. Though gay actress Sara Gilbert returned to the show and serves as an executive producer, and her character even has a gender-fluid child, people are still leery. Divorcing Barr's love of Trump from what many critics say is a genuinely, insightful portrayal of gender variance is proving a bridge too far for many. Perhaps that's a bigger issue than the show could ever address.

In all honesty, I never really watched the show during its original run, so I don't have the same emotional attachment to it that others have to it. I've never been big on the whole "reboot" fad in Hollywood. To me, we should be exploring new voices and ideas with new shows and different characters. Now, that's not to say that I won't watch a reboot because I have, especially of one of my favorite shows from my youth, The X-Files. While I have watched all the new episodes of The X-Files, there's just something off about them. Mulder needs reading glasses, and Scully in her middle age laments never marrying or having a family. Much of the character development is about how they lost touch with the youthful wonder that kept them going through the original series. This breaks my heart; when I watch reruns of the old show, it teleports me back in time to my teenage years of the 1990s. I remember the clothes I wore, the shows I watched, and MTV's Buzzbin. The show evokes a legitimate sense of nostalgia for my youth, which as I push back against my middle age, I keep looking back on with a twist in my stomach.

While I sometimes daydream of what it would have been like to understand myself back in those days and not "lose time" by going down the wrong life path, those moments of wistful thinking run up against memories of the realities of that world my nostalgia wants to wash away. Our seemingly progressive President Clinton was signing the Defense of Marriage Act, Ellen DeGeneres lost her show after coming out, terrorists were blowing up government buildings, the black community was trying to recover from the crack cocaine epidemic, and so much more was happening then. The '90s were not a magical time, I realize when I stop to look back, and knowing who I really was would probably have made the already existing sense of being lost and alienated I felt then almost unbearable. But every time I listen to that trancy electronica theme to The X-Files, I just let it carry me back to an idealized time, ignoring all the absolutely terrible shit that happened in those days.

Yet for all hand-wringing over Clinton's impeachment, the neo-con revolution of Newt Gingrich, the Oklahoma bombing, Waco, the homophobia, trans people only existing in The Crying Game or The Jerry Springer Show, it really does seem better than today. We weren't tearing each other apart on social media, we weren't subjected to a new mass shooting every two weeks (and the NRA wasn't attacking the victims), and we didn't hear a new conspiracy theory every week. Perhaps that's why we are in such a nostalgia phase right now with our entertainment; 2018 just plain sucks.

We've rebooted everything from DuckTales to Will & Grace, Murphy Brown, Twin Peaks, Queer Eye, and now Roseanne. Yet for as much as we love revisiting these shows, they're not the same. The edgy feminism of Murphy Brown seems dated, the in-your-face gay existence of Will & Grace can appear blase, and with real conspiracies of shadowy government deals in the Trump administration, The X-Files feels quaint. With Roseanne trying to give voice to the white working-class Trump voter without addressing how the actress playing the titular character has behaved for the past 20 years, it seems to not recognize how much the politics and character of the country have changed.

We live in an era when our politics are so polarized, so tense, and so personal, it's no small wonder that the minor scuffles we've seen at Black Lives Matter protests and in Charlottesville have been the extent of the political violence in our country. We have ended the careers of entertainers for their personal conduct that just a few years ago wouldn't have been even a noticeable event. People are screaming at each other over Bernie and Hillary almost a year and a half after the election. TV shows and movies that haven't even been aired yet are already judged for their social and political messages, both overt and implied. Any attempt to make a show about a Trump voter would have been contentious to say the least, but to take a beloved character once seen as a symbol of the goodness of people and turn her into one that comes with a flaw so heinous -- supporting a lying, mean-spirited, racist, sexist transphobe -- is bad enough. But to validate a character whose views seem as irredeemably grotesque as Barr's is gasoline to the fire.

Yes, we could live with a rebooted show that hearkens back to a time that seems better and more ideal, and we could live with a show that centers on a Trump voter as a way to help bridge some of the divides in our country, but the addition of Barr's personal politics is too much for many of us. Nostalgia is fine and fun for a while, but you still have to break away from it eventually. Looking back on that sanitized view of the past only makes the flawed image of today worse. Sometimes it's better to leave the past alone, to quit wishing the present isn't what we want it to be, and accept that things have changed -- it may be the only way to propel us to the future we so desire.

AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based comedian and regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.

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