Roseanne, Trump, Twitter and the Age of Hate

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr could have helped heal the divide and for a minute there it looked like she or at least her writers were trying to. With her show “Roseanne” she had the ability to take the fears and misunderstandings that plague lots of people in the country and show them through laughter that their fear and ignorance was unwarranted. That’s what she did in 1990’s when she  tried to be a friend of the LGBT community when it was not fashionable to be one. Little did I know at the time it was just the ‘LGB’ and not the ‘T.’

The original run of the show featured one of the first gay weddings in a sitcom and a controversial same sex kiss, a first on primetime television. Roseanne Barr had to fight hard to maintain her vision of her show. She had to fight against the Hollywood elite who thought a television star should be a size zero. She fought for the equal rights that men in show business had enjoyed for decades. Roseanne Barr was a champion for women’s rights, so why on Earth would she support an egotistical womanizing megalomaniac like Donald Trump? I still can’t wrap my head around that, but Roseanne Barr has always been a contradiction and has lived in a storm of controversy.

Lots of us grew up in a blue collar families. Families in the Midwest that would get free cheese and milk from the government. Families who worked hard to make ends meet. That’s why old episodes of “Roseanne” would resonate with me. The show was art imitating working class life. Not everyone’s life but a lot of people’s. Watching the new season of “Roseanne” I saw an accurate portrayal of older former “liberals” or Democrats, working class Americans disillusioned with their economic status. John Goodman’s Dan Conner is still hanging dry wall and Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne Conner is driving for Uber, their characters well into their 60’s. Neither one able to afford proper heath care so they voted for a presidential candidate who promised to “shake things up” a presidential candidate who promised to help them. A presidential candidate that used their economic status and fears to con them. These characters reminded me of people that I know in real life who were also conned. Because of the people who voted for Donald Trump for whatever reason, this country has been pushed to the brink with pent up racism. Racism that Roseanne Barr’s Tweets seem to endorse.

As the season continues “Roseanne” the TV show tackles not only economic issues but social ones. From the Connors gender non-conforming grandson to having an interracial granddaughter. The subject of opioid addiction is tackled as is the subject of local jobs going to undocumented workers. In one episode Roseanne has to ask her Muslim neighbors to use their internet password. Thinking all Muslims are terrorists she goes to their front door with a bat and her sister Jackie as backup. She ends up getting schooled on what it’s like to be a Muslim family living in the Midwest in the age of hate. Roseanne Barr started using her platform to educate her over 18 million viewers in a cool and subliminal way. Again she could have helped heal a divide but instead for reasons known only to her she took to Twitter not to heal but to reopen old wounds that have not even begun to heal properly.

Roseanne Barr is not Roseanne Connor and the actor that plays the character is not a working class woman in her 60’s but a rich out of touch actor who embraces ridiculous conspiracy theories right out of “Info Wars”and Tweets things that embrace the ugly side of this country. From members of the transgender community to Marie Osmond, whose son committed suicide, anyone or anything is fair game to Roseanne. There doesn’t seem to be a conspiracy theory too small. On Tuesday May 29, 2018 those hateful anger filled Tweets got Roseanne Barr fired from her network ABC and 300 people through no fault of their own lost their jobs.

Classic episodes of “Roseanne” always seemed to mirror real life and Roseanne Barr held up that mirror so American’s could see themselves and find laughter and some comfort in their shared experiences. Somehow over the last 20 years Roseanne Barr started looking at life through a funhouse mirror and the only thing you can really see are distorted visions of a hateful paranoid America that lives in a distorted reality, a reality I don’t want to know. And the hate goes on….

And that’s my view from this other side of the lake.

Growing Older, Will and Gracefully

The cast of “Will & Grace,” from left to right, Megan Mullally, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, and Sean Hayes

Last Thursday four old friends dropped by our place. We haven’t seen each other in over a decade, and as with true friends who grow out of touch for a long period of time we managed to pick up right where we left off. They stayed for about 20 minutes more or less not counting commercial interruptions.

In the late 1990’s I had discovered a little TV show called Will & Grace very much by accident. I was channel surfing and stopped on the show because I thought Sean Hayes, who plays the character Jack McFarland was cute. Within five minutes I realized I was watching a sitcom that featured gay leading characters. This apparently was on purpose, color me impressed. At that time in my life I was in my 20’s. I knew I was gay but I didn’t know how to come out and live openly. As Jack said to Will when he was struggling to “come out” on the show, “You bought the short shorts but you’re afraid to wear them.” I not only bought the short shorts I bought the glittery disco ball shirt and matching jock strap, the hard part was putting them on. Eventually I put them on, then I changed into something more sensible.

To encourage people to vote in the 2016 general election the creators of Will & Grace Max Mutchnick and David Kohan brought the original cast back together for a YouTube election special simply titled “Vote Honey.”  That 10 minute video with over seven million views proved so successful that NBC ordered a ninth season of the show after it had been off the air for 11 years. On September 14, 2017, Brooks Barnes wrote for the The New York Times   “ Will & Grace Is Back. Will It’s Portrait of Gay Life Hold Up?” Barnes addresses the pros and cons of bringing back this often, at times, politically incorrect sit-com in what he calls “the age of hate.” Eric Marcus, a historian who helms the podcast “Making Gay History,” said of the revival that the “world had moved on” and goes on to say, “I’m left wondering what story lines these characters can possibly explore as middle-aged people that will seem as fresh as the original series.”

Let me answer that question by saying that there are lot’s of story lines that these characters can explore that are fresh and exciting. As a gay man in my 40’s my life is different then it was in my 20’s & 30’s but my life is still exciting and fun and as gay men who are aging with grace (one hopes) we have a whole new set of problems to explore. From the fears that some of us have about growing older to breaking up and finding oneself single and in mid-life. Then there’s the subject of dating much younger guys, that in itself is comedy gold. Or two gay men living in a actual marriage, something that’s either very comforting or very terrifying depending on the couple.

We find with being older and being married that it’s not so easy to break up with someone for shallow reasons or when they annoy us. Just because someone did something annoying like leaving their clipped toe nails in the bathroom sink or if you want to get it on with that twink you met while cruising him in the produce department of Meijer. You remember the one, you thought if you pretended to be vegan you might somehow magically end up back at his place and without your husband finding out. There is actual divorce now and real consequences for being an idiot in a relationship (believe me I know) like the splitting of assets. It’s terrifying to think who would get custody of the iTunes account. Would one of the ex-husbands have to re-purchase everything in it?  These are just some of the ridiculous scenarios that we face as older gay men and are perfect fodder for a sitcom.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Will & Grace showed those of us living in the mid-west that it was okay to be who and what we were, and they did it in prime-time on the night of the week when America was watching TV the most. I mean lets face it, Thursday’s were called “Must see TV” for a reason. They showed us we can be fun, flamboyant, laid back, and outrageous. Now 11 years later Will, Grace, Jack and Karen are still showing us that we can be all of those things no matter how old we are.

That my friends is my view from the other side of the lake, October 5th, 2017.

New episodes of ‘Will & Grace’ can be seen Thursday nights starting at 9 Eastern/8 Central Time on NBC. 

 

“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.