When Rosanne Barr’s first television series aired in the United States in 1988, I tried very hard to ignore it…and her. I was in a fashion business and supplied exquisite fabrics to television and film for their costumes. Roseanne’s television “family” wore plaid cotton flannel work shirts and Levi jeans. There was nothing “Dynasty” about this show. This was a very bad fashion indicator for our business. Perhaps if I ignored her, she would go away. But she did not. She wrote 221 episodes for her series over seven years (1988-1997) and it connected with the American people. It came about the same time as the U.S. recession made its way from the East to the West coast. Wearing oversized clothes to hide her girth, she spoke to the average American, and she wrote a situation-comedy series that connected with them.
She came back into my consciousness when she began attending the Beverly Hills “Kabbalah Center” headed by good friends of ours. Madonna and Roseanne epitomized a fascination growing among those searching for spirituality with a Jewish “twist.” Roseanne was a visible reflection of a “lack” among many unaffiliated Jews… and non-Jews alike who found their way to the Kabbalah Center doors on Robertson boulevard in Beverly Hills.
We did not hear much from Roseanne after her series ended in 1997 but suddenly she appeared on cable television on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s 2006 one year show “Shalom in the Home,” asking him to find a shidduch for one of her daughters. It seemed very strange indeed. I recalled that she had been one of Hollywood’s liberal critics of Israel, but somehow she seemed to be inching toward her roots.
When I received the invitation to a Jerusalem “Stop BDS” conference in April 2016 and saw that Roseanne was a featured speaker, my gut instinct was not to bother with that segment of an otherwise erudite list. What could Roseanne have to say that might interest me? But, I stayed — and I did find her inspiring in spite of myself. She spoke of her journey from that of a non-involved classic left-wing Hollywood type, to someone who came to respect Israel and was prepared to stand up and be counted on its behalf. What impressed me most was her vulnerability. She read her very long speech, visibly very nervous. It was an important moment for her. She was no longer a superstar but was looking for a new kind of respect for both herself and the State of Israel. When I published my Jerusalem Post article entitled” BDS-Truth and Fiction” reviewing that conference, it included the following paragraph about Ms. Barr’s presentation;
”Actress Roseanne Barr spoke brilliantly of the reason that anti-Semitism has returned century after century. It has always been a diversionary tactic by despots and elected officials to distract the masses from their own governmental failures. Blaming the Jews became a successful tool. Divert the public attention from the funds you are stealing from them – from their hunger and poverty. Give them religious fervor and they will ask nothing of you. Stash the funds given to you by the EU into your private accounts and encourage suicide bombings and stabbings. Keep the masses focused on the Jews and they need be provided only with the barest essentials along the way. I never expected Barr would inspire me… but she did. When asked in an interview why she has become outspoken against the BDS movement, she responded humbly that, at her age, it is life-affirming ‘to be of service.’”
Now this complicated, sometimes crass woman has found another change in society which opens up a world of comedy to be written. For most of us, the political climate between left and right across the globe is no laughing matter. But that is because we are each immersed in our own ideology and see little humor therein. Roseanne on the other-hand, is first and foremost a comedienne. Cleverly she saw an opportunity to capitalize on the current situation with her dry, raw sense of humor. The new Roseanne show which I have not yet seen, reportedly, is written through the conflicting political ideologies of two sisters who are diametrically opposed. It is doubtlessly a source for endless humor and the poking of fun…each at the other’s intransigence. What is more important is that it will be an opportunity to see right and left do battle in a non-threatening arena. Knowing Ms. Barr’s attitudes towards Israel, I feel confident that she will handle relevant issues with aplomb.
The opening show’s viewing statistics of 18.2 million viewers have stunned the analysts. Her second show recorded 15.2 million. She speaks to the average American who may just be tired of superficial Hollywood pseudo-glamour exemplified by the successful Kardashian family. Perhaps America has tired of the plethora of female “stars” with perfect toned bodies after plastic surgery, lifts and implants… their diets, daily workouts with their personal trainers and their superficiality. Perhaps people are looking for a dose of reality which is not an illusion and not pain-filled.
In many ways, I see Ms. Barr, who truly looks quite ordinary without all the makeup and hair stylists preparing her for camera…to be an extraordinarily observant and interesting measure of the current political times. I look forward to seeing how she will deal with all the issues in segments to come. I am quite sure she will leave no stone unturned and that we will be discussing her “chutzpah” for the entire run of her new series. There is nothing better than humor to help reduce our anger and ultimately begin to heal the wounds.
Welcome back Roseanne.