I have never been a Roseanne Barr fan — she reinforced my instincts on July 15, 1990, when she stood in the center of Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego and decided it would be funny to stick her fingers in her ears and grab her crotch while shrieking the national anthem before spitting to her right and exiting.
Not only was she treated to a hurl of boos and projectiles during the performance, then-President George H.W. Bush, on Air Force One, condemned her performance as “disgraceful.”
Twenty-eight years later, I still did not personally care for her, but I had to give her props for a singular stroke of brilliance. In the newest incarnation of her show “Roseanne,” she presented an honest — though not entirely sympathetic — American middle-class family who struggles not just economically but also with differing political views. It was spot-on.
Simply put, it did something no other television program has done in the modern era. Her two-episode premiere earned an astonishing 18.2 million viewers, overperforming in the media markets located in middle of America, with Tulsa, Okla., Cincinnati and Pittsburgh leading the numbers.
Cities like New York and Los Angeles, which almost always drive the No. 1 slot, didn’t even crack the top 20.
In a twist of irony, she — of all people — delivered.
What those numbers showed was a craving for simple respect, a genuine look at a family that had a Trump supporter as one of their own who was not the butt of all the jokes or incessantly mocked.
Critics, meanwhile, were unable to separate Roseanne the person from “Roseanne” the show.
But on TV, Roseanne is a mouthy, loving working-class mom.
The show’s only controversial moment was the time Roseanne and her husband, Dan, fell asleep in front of the TV, and they started talking about the shows “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
Dan goes, “Hey, we fell asleep. What did we miss?”
And Roseanne says, “You missed the show about the black family, and the Asian family.”
He goes, “Really?”
She goes, “Yeah, they just said they’re just like us. Now we’re caught up.”
In real life, Roseanne is a crass and vulgar provocateur. If you followed her career with even the slightest attention to detail, you could have predicted it was only a matter of time before she sparked fresh controversy.
Her tweet last week likening black former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape was disgraceful and was punished immediately — rightly so. Unfortunately moments after she was fired, Trump haters went for their usual target — Trump supporters — using their favorite weapon: the race card.
Pundits paraded through cable news programs, suggesting that because Roseanne portrayed a Trump supporter on her show and because Trump supporters loved her show, her real-life racism revealed their real-life racism, too.
Two years after Trump was elected and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary (a study by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group showed that 9.2 percent of Obama voters went for Trump, helping him seal his victory), people who hate Trump still fundamentally believe his supporters are bigots at heart.
To them, Roseanne’s demise offered proof once again that they are superior and correct while those voters were exactly who they thought they were.
If the lesson the left takes away from this is that all Trump voters are racist, they will be making the same mistake the Republican party made, the Democratic Party made, the national news media made and the NFL has made in misunderstanding this coalition of people. But if wisdom prevails, they will step back and realize there was a void in the market that even Roseanne Barr could fill — a person who conservatives have reviled for years.
If there was a hole that big in Hollywood, then we should take an honest look at our programing and how our entertainment industry treats Middle America. Plenty of lessons are coming out of this chapter of Roseanne Barr’s life. Most of them are obvious: Words matter and there are consequences for hateful behavior.
But people will miss two other very important lessons. The first is we have to stop leaping to the assumption that every person who voted for Donald Trump is a racist and everything they like has tinges of racism — from guns to how the NFL has handled their national-anthem controversy.
The second is that Hollywood hasn’t been serving a great big chunk of this country for a long time. As a result, a show no one predicted would be popular broke all the records. I sincerely hope ABC is able to revive some version of “Roseanne” under a different name with some of the characters, as has been reported.
Because, right now, a large swathe of the country is hungry for something that authentically reflects their lives. That’s where the story is.