How I learned to stop torturing myself in hopes of getting to “the good part” of bad entertainment
'Entertainment Masochism' is about convincing yourself that it was OK to have invested time in something as offensive as the Conner family.
By Briana Lawrence
Full disclosure: I used to love me some Roseanne back in the late 80s/90s. Like most fans, when ABC announced a new season, I wondered about what the Conners had been up to. At the time, I wasn’t in the know about Roseanne’s bigotry, but phew, did I get a crash course real quick during the weeks leading up to the first episode.
Part of me was morbidly curious to see how Trump supporter Rosey and Pussy Hat Wearing Jackie would play off each other (although technically, the names “Trump” and “Hillary” are never used in the show). Early reviews made it sound like Roseanne would have to deal with the consequences of who she voted for, and how it hadn’t been the best idea, and I thought that was worth checking out.
The other part of me? Knew it would be a blazing dumpster fire, the kind that causes billows of smoke to lift into the sky. A bigot with a platform getting the space to speak is gonna fill it with straight up, moldy garbage. But folks were chanting that “give it a chance” mantra, and I, legitimately, thought I had to in order to form a proper opinion. Because research, you know? It’s sorely needed before making your case. I know that as a writer.
So I sat down and gave it a shot.
I made it about fifteen minutes.
I posted on Facebook that I’d given the show the ol’ college try, but no, it wasn’t for me. Most folks applauded me, having decided to not give Roseanne their time to begin with because she’s a hateful woman who shouldn’t go near any kind of social media… or ambien? Nice try there, Rosey.
But there were a couple of folks who did something I wasn’t expecting: they told me to give it a second chance… even if they agreed that those first fifteen minutes were like stubbing your toe with each laugh track.
Ok, but… why?
According to them, the show got better by the second episode. Not in the, “I’m actually entertained,” sense, but in a social justice sense that was supposed to offset Roseanne’s ranting against liberals.
This is what I like to call “Entertainment Masochism.”
I’m reminded of a panel I sat on at a convention once. We were discussing whitewashing in Hollywood, and the hot topic was Scarlett “I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive… but I’m playing an offensive Asian character” Johansson whitewashing in Ghost In The Shell. One of the panelists talked about how they’d watched the movie to form an opinion on it, and someone in the audience said something along the lines of, “Do you really need to watch when you already know the casting was wrong?”
At the time, that was something that’d never occurred to me. If the problem was the whitewashing, and we knew from casting announcements that they gave the role to a white woman, then why did we need to see it to figure out if it was offensive?
I’d fallen into that same “give it a chance” narrative with Roseanne. Beyond my curiosity from a former fan sense, I thought I couldn’t speak on it until I saw it for myself, because I was speaking as a former fan and as someone disgusted with Roseanne’s tweets.
Look. I’m not gonna pretend like the first episode to a series is always a gem. Many a series has had a rough start. But listening to the grating commentary between the sisters, each one using the buzzwords we’ve been seeing on Twitter throughout this Twilight Zone of a presidency, was a nightmare, and folks commenting on my post agreed.
Technically, I’d given it a chance (even if, in hindsight, I should’ve done anything else that Tuesday night). So why were they telling me to keep going? Better yet… why did they keep going?
I thought it was because there was this need to make sure something is as bad as you think it is. But now I’d say “Entertainment Masochism” is more about convincing yourself that it was OK to have invested time in something as offensive as the Conner family. If others could convince me to give it a second chance, then it was worth the time they gave to it—and the time they continued to give to it as they tuned in on the following Tuesday. Especially since Roseanne, outside the show, kept effing up.
I imagine it was like that for everyone on board the sinking ship of the show too.
With news of the show’s cancellation, some folks are applauding ABC, some are showing respect toward those who left, and some are offering sympathetic words for those who were suddenly out of a job. Others are wondering what made this the tipping point when Lanford’s finest had been going off the rails about… everything for so long? The crusty ass foot-in-mouth served with a disjointed apology is a popular treat for Roseanne, so why now? The cast and crew scribbling out those quick “We don’t stan with Roseanne” posts are a little late to the party.
Were they all entertainment masochists as well? Albeit, masochists with a paycheck. Because they signed up for this gig and were eerily quiet during the title character’s previous bouts of hate speech. She even targeted a Parkland survivor, y’all. How do you stay quiet when your lead actress goes off on a teenage school shooting survivor?
The dollar signs, of course, were probably a great deal of comfort, but I dare say that, like viewers, they’d convinced themselves that there was a “good part” coming. After all, Rosey defended a genderfluid kid, that had to mean something, right? That was a good way to clear their conscience, I bet, especially the marginalized folks behind the scenes.
Roseanne Conner is a flawed character, but if you can just tolerate her for a bit longer, something good is coming. With enough mental gymnastics, they could separate themselves from the toxic actress even though they worked with her. They were creating a fictional person, after all. But here’s the deal: the show’s named after the actress. This wasn’t some instance of a nice, open-minded actress playing a part: it was a bigot injecting her views into a self-insert character.
I know there’s folks out there sticking up for Roseanne for whatever “freedom of speech” reason. This piece isn’t for them, though. There’s plenty of folks already putting in the work on why Roseanne shouldn’t be getting any passes. This is more of a cautionary tale of when a form of media—or celebrity whose part of it—makes you angry. You don’t have to wait to be proven right. If they do something so outrageously offensive that it makes your stomach turn, then you don’t have to “wait and see” what they do next.
Maybe it’s a show you’re excited for. Maybe it’s an actor or actress you like. Maybe it’s a show that was great in the past but has suddenly dropped the ball. Just remember, as the calls to excuse bad behavior build up, you don’t have to participate, you don’t need verification if someone’s already showed their entire ass to you.
Don’t be an entertainment masochist. It plays out the same way every time.
Briana Lawrence is a freelance writer and self-published author who’s trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series’, or the pieces she writes for various websites. When she’s not writing about diversity, she’s speaking about it at different geek-centric conventions across the country, as she’s a black, queer, nerd girl at heart. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of comics, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to JRPGs. Check out her website, her Facebook, and follow her Twitter adventures over @BrichibiTweets!