Friday, May 20, 2011

Don't Laugh

Roseanne Barr recently wrote an article for the New York Magazine (which can be found here), basically detailing the fact that her entire sitcom experience was one full of disgrace, heartache, and injustice. Barr has a bit of a reputation as a complainer--as per her appearance in this year's Superbowl Snickers ad with Richard Lewis--and also of being batshit crazy. Reading this article simply reminds me how out of touch Hollywood actors and actresses can be.

Barr casts herself as a feminist working-class heroine, single-handedly breaking down those awful artificial barriers men have spent decades constructing. Despite her admitted mental issues, everything horrible that happened was never her fault, and she scatters blame around like birdshot. The simple fact remains--as I brought up in my Tina Fey post a few months ago, where she had a much milder and more rational opinion than this one--in Hollywood, the rules are different. There are hundreds of people who are only a few degrees different than anyone else in ability and creativity; the system is unfair, but it's all creative and everyone knows the rules of the game going in. Crying about sexism or favoritism or the old-boy network has its place and can certainly be valid, but more often than not it's simply a crutch to use when you don't get your way.

First, she complains about not getting credit for her show, despite the promises of another woman--whose only qualification for being a "sister-in-arms" is that she is, um, a woman.
It didn’t take long for me to get a taste of the staggering sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of Roseanne god-awful. It was at the premiere party when I learned that my stories and ideas—and the ideas of my sister and my first husband, Bill—had been stolen. The pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party. Not one person noticed. 
Really? The sitcom is based on your standup act but you didn't get credit for "creating" the show? Boo hoo. A quick look confirms that Home Improvement, which if anything is even more of a direct lift of Tim Allen's hypermacho standup act--is credited to several people who are not, in fact, named Tim Allen. The same is true for Ellen and Everybody Loves Raymond. If you have the clout, you get the credit--like Seinfeld or The Cosby Show--but if you're just another circuit standup act, you're not getting credit. The fact that she signed a contract without looking at this piece of information shows now much of a neophyte she was at the time.

The first few episodes were apparently a non-stop torture for everyone involved. Instead of enjoying the fact that she landed the dream job of every comedian of a sitcom--no doubt there were a thousand hungry comediennes would would have gladly pushed her aside and took her place if she was that miserable--she spend it in a psychological hell, demanding throwaway lines be changed because they didn't fit her idea of a working-class feminist ideal. And when it came to the wardrobe--and pretty much everything else--she didn't do much to hide her disdain:

I grabbed a pair of wardrobe scissors and ran up to the big house to confront the producer...I walked into this woman’s office, held the scissors up to show her I meant business, and said, “Bitch, do you want me to cut you?” We stood there for a second or two, just so I could make sure she was receptive to my POV. I asked why she had told the wardrobe master to not listen to me, and she said, “Because we do not like the way you choose to portray this character.” I said, “This is no fucking character! This is my show, and I created it—not Matt, and not Carsey-Werner, and not ABC. You watch me. I will win this battle if I have to kill every last white bitch in high heels around here.”
Because if there's one way to break sexist stereotypes, it's to threaten people with scissors over what type of clothing they wear.

And she is shocked--shocked!--that the power level of celebrity waxes and wanes as your popularity fluctuates. With her show dropping out of the top ten for the first time, reservations at a trendy restaurant are denied--oh, the horrors like this the "working class women" she represents must face! And, all told, it boils down to the fact that we have to tear down the bourgeois:
Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.
Apparently, "enterprising" is a pejorative. Which tells you everything you need to know, I suppose.

I try very, very hard to be sympathetic concerning celebrities. The system sucks and is based much more on sex, luck, and who you know than actual talent. I do think that creativity is often stifled, and the suits take credit when there is a success and blame the talent when things go wrong. But this isn't any different than, you know, every other job in existence. So when celebrities bellyache about the creative process or the system in how television shows or movies are made, it's sometimes hard to not remind them that it's a system that actually has worked pretty well for decades, and just because they don't fit doesn't mean it's broken. And it's very hard to garner a whole lot of sympathy about pride and justice when the loudest complainers are pulling down a quarter million per episode. I've also heard the complaint many times--always from women--about the boorish writer's room full of testosterone and perceived bigotry, and yet that's part of the entire creative process--and, one hastens to point out, produces the types of jokes that often pay the bills.

So--no surprise here--I have very little sympathy for Roseanne Barr. I think she is yet another person who can't overcome the problems they create for themselves, then blame others for the miserable live thousands of others would love to have had a chance at.

1 comment:

  1. You have my respect for your reading of a Roseanne Barr interview. The sacrifices you make for your blog are legion.