Gay Iconography: Is Roseanne An Icon?

 

Leon Comes Out: There are still a lot of folks in 2013 who wouldn’t be comfortable coming out to a poker table full of guy’s guys smoking cigars and drinking beer. Leon hardly blinks in this 1991 episode as he matter of factly tells the guys he’s gay.

Nancy’s News: Having previously been married to Arnie (Tom Arnold), Nancy’s coming out shocked her friends Roseanne and Jackie, but it made her character so much more interesting. 

 

Here Come the Grooms: When Roseanne plans Leon’s wedding to his partner Scott, she throws the most over-the-top, campy party. In a way, this sequence confronts the show’s own at times stereotypical portrayal of gay characters.

The Kiss: Perhaps the most controversial scene of the show’s history, guest star Mariel Hemingway plants one on a shocked Roseanne at gay bar. Laughably tame by today’s standards, the kiss heard ’round the world drummed up so much controversy, many wondered if it was a ratings ploy all along.

Bev’s Big News: More shocking than Nancy or Leon’s coming out was that of Roseanne and Jackie’s mom, Bev. 

Roseanne may always be a polarizing figure, but the characters she introduced on her show exposed huge audiences to LGBT men and women. Do you think Roseanne showcased positive portrayals, or were they too stereotypical and controversy-courting? Tell us why you think Roseanne is (or isn’t) a gay icon in the comments.

Comments

  1. Fenrox says

    Roseanne, with the exception of the last 2 seasons (Whenever it got CRAZY) is one of the most important shows in American history. It is a handful of shows that showed a realistic american family as well as american poverty. It was a vital show as it reflected the attitude, stress and means of the average in a way that no show has matched.

    The fact that it was also groundbreaking in it’s portrayal and execution of gays is astonishing. You can dislike her or the show all you want but it was and always will be amazing.

  2. James says

    Of course she is an Icon. I agree with the first comment that no other show has matched hers in it’s realistic depiction of Americans at that time.

    I remember being a young boy working in my family’s diner, and her show was on. It literally seemed like she was telling my family’s story, and the first time I ever saw anything gay on TV was her show.

    She is vastly underrated in her cultural impact.

  3. dommyluc says

    As far as I’m concerned, she’ll always be a gay icon just for this line she used to say in her stand-up comedy routine early in her career:
    “If it wasn’t for gay guys, us fat chicks wouldn’t have anybody to dance with.”

  4. Lucca says

    I would say Yes, indeed! Probably the first show to break out with positive gay and lesbian characters on prime time.

    Soap had Billy Crystal’s character Jodie, but it was such a cliche, as was the 2-D Steven Carrington (gay? bisexual? wtf?) on Dynasty.

    Roseanne gave us characters that were a lot more dynamic and not cliches.

    As much as Will & Grace gets all the attention and kudos, it was on Roseanne that a much more positive image of gays and lesbians was first portrayed on American tv.

  5. mac says

    You keep saying LGBT – but the only representation Roseanne gave was LG, maybe B. As usual T was ignored and Rosanne has since been exposed as a transphobe. We should be standing against her out-moded ideas in solidarity with the trans community, not nominating her as an icon.

  6. mac says

    You keep saying LGBT – but the only representation Roseanne gave was LG, maybe B. As usual T was ignored and Rosanne has since been exposed as a transphobe. We should be standing against her out-moded ideas in solidarity with the trans community, not nominating her as an icon.

  7. johnny says

    Watching her show – as a then still-partially-closeted gay man – I felt like the future was going to be better since she was showing gay people on her show who had standard issue lives. While it might have shocked some people, for my small group it was a real breakthrough and she won us over as fans FOR LIFE.

    In my eyes, the woman can do no wrong, even on her worst day.

  8. Profe Sancho Panza says

    I always liked her. But the word “icon” is as over-used, and abused, these days as “diva” and “porn star”. Superlative words stop being superlative when they don’t make distinctions.

  9. Zlick says

    Yeah, “ICON” might be overstating it – but her show was Amazing – and she pretty much continues to be. I’d forgotten how matter-of-factly gays were often presented on “Roseanne,” so thanks for the reminders.

  10. Rey says

    Mac, please. Roseanne is not a “transphobe”. Does she go off with her big yap sometimes? Yes, but she is absolutely no transphobe. Those who are trying to perpetuate this meme are doing themselves a disservice and alienating many.

    I remember watching “Roseanne” in the midwest during my coming out process. As the series progressed, I would watch it with my gay and ally friends and we would just HOWL at what she was able to get away with to show LGB people living out and openly.

    For those who were put off by the last season, I highly suggest watching the last two episodes which explains the kookiness of that last season in such a heartbreaking and poignant way. I now watch the last season episode repeats in a whole new light. They’re not stellar writing but knowing what she was going for is amazing.

    That, and the last season lets you get to see Roseanne and Jackie hanging out with Pats and Eddie.

  11. Stephen says

    Any actor that stands up for gays and lesbians, and stands her ground for what she believes in, is definitely a gay icon. She has earned that title many times over.

  12. says

    Yes her show truly was groundbreaking with it’s lesbian and gay characters but did not quite have the impact of later shows like W&G and Modern Family. But it certainly was a good start.

    Roseanne herself is a dichotomy. Kind of Gay Icon but… not really. She does not have the mystery, allure, or magnetism of a true gay icon. She is talented but her behavior is so out of left field. She is somewhat common in a way. Not a beautiful goddess (domestic goddess yes) like Liz and Marilyn or having massive emotional talent like early Barbra or Judy.

    Gay Icons often reinvent themselves too and I don’t think Roseanne has done that.

  13. says

    Absolutely. I watched her show as a kid, and loved loved loved it. The Gay Issues started to come into storylines when I was still a ‘tween, and I remember watching them, vividly. Again, all part of the growing culture that helped and inspired me to come out when I was in my teens. SO yes. Icon status assured.

  14. Rey says

    Pierre: The trans* community would be well-served to not model themselves after stereotypical emotional, shrill women. Look to the stronger women who are able to engage in debate and education instead of screaming, “TRANSPHOBE! TRAAAAAAAANSSSSPHOBE!” at people.

    Roseanne, just like Cher and many of us, can grow with understanding but this current approach is doomed to fail and set back the trans* community.

  15. Fenrox says

    She is transphobic (Well maybe, people change and she is QUITE mad) but at the time she wasn’t in her show. She can still be an icon and an important piece of history AND a bigot.

    But yeah, if it was still on and a problem then it would and should tarnish any icon status.

  16. Pierre says

    @Rey If you think my post was shrill then perhaps you might consider some classes in reading comprehension. It’s always important to keep growing and learning – I have faith in you.

    Note to Rey: This is called sarcasm.

  17. emjayay says

    Thanks for posting these clips and reminding me. It was an awesome show. Estelle Parsons, who was in Bonnie and Clyde, is around 85. I’ve seen her in two plays in the past few years. She was in charge of the Actor’s Studio and is a national effing treasure. Actually, everyone in that show is an icon. Amazing cast. Great show.

  18. emjayay says

    Thanks for posting these clips and reminding me. It was an awesome show. Estelle Parsons, who was in Bonnie and Clyde, is around 85. I’ve seen her in two plays in the past few years. She was in charge of the Actor’s Studio and is a national effing treasure. Actually, everyone in that show is an icon. Amazing cast. Great show.

  19. Knock says

    This conversation further exposes the problem with lumping everyone-who-isn’t-straight under one umbrella. Roseanne was incredibly progressive in terms of out gay/lesbian characters, but here we have people tearing it down because transsexuals were left out and the actor said some mean things about them. Being pro-gay and trans-indifferent (or even intolerant) are not contradictions. You’d do a doubletake if someone said everyone who isn’t white is the same race (and imagine how they’d feel, denied their own separate identity).

  20. greenfuzz says

    From bringing gay charactors to the forefront in the early 90’s to advocating for legalisation of marijuana Roseanne has always been a true soul sister. I still remember the big night of the kiss and how they put a warning before it aired.

  21. Endoritos says

    Roseanne’s signature was that somehow she got to say what she wanted to say and anyone who didn’t like it could kiss her behind. Did I like her character as a person? No. She was a bit ch , a domineering borderline manhater, a liar, a thief, and a whole bunch of things that we are supposed to accept that we “all do but won’t admit to it”. Well, I don’t think that’s true.

    Even so, with all her faults on and off the set- I like her. I like COnchita Farrell better, but I like Roseanne. The woman hosted her talk show in a nightgown and curlers.

  22. Tristram says

    She’s not a nice person – or just very mentally Ill – but then it makes sense for her shocking childhood and the male dominated industries she worked in. I’d say she’s more of a feminist icon than a gay one.

  23. JT says

    The middle class may still be around, even if some are only hanging on by a thread. But on TV, shows portraying the middle class have virtually disappeared. Today, we are bombarded by reality shows about the rich and famous showcasing people who are nothing like the typical American family.

    But Roseanne gave us a weekly dose of reality mixed with humor, and I think we were better off for it. Her show grounded us and, for many, made our lives actually look pretty good compared to hers.

    For instance, in the show’s pilot, the oldest daughter Becky is taking cans of food to school for a food drive and says it’s for “poor people,” and Roseanne quips back, “Well tell ‘em to drive some of that food over here!”
    Unfortunately, Roseanne probably has more relevance and “realism” in today’s economy than back when the show first aired. Roseanne was recently quoted in Entertainment Weekly saying, “I’m very proud of it’s timelessness and, you know, the fact that it has a political edge; that it is even more relevant now than it was then.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Families like the Conner’s who live paycheck to paycheck are rarely, if ever, seen on television today. The ironic thing is her sitcom is probably more realistic than half of the “reality” shows dominating television right now.

    Roseanne dealt with every day, real issues that were taboo for television. Some of the topics included financial difficulties, substance abuse, mental and physical abuse, abortion, depression, and feminism. Roseanne was also the first family sitcom to show a woman, not a man, in charge of the household. In addition, Roseanne brought gay characters to the forefront of American television and paved the way for them on TV. It was a groundbreaking show that was truly ahead of its time. It remains timeless, even to this very day.

    Roseanne also benefited from having a phenomenal cast, which included John Goodman as Dan Conner, Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, and my personal favorite, the ever-so fabulous Laurie Metcalf as Aunt Jackie (Laurie won 4 Emmys and was nominated a total of 7 times). Roseanne Barr also won an Emmy for her role as Roseanne Conner.

    So although the last two seasons were (for the most part) lackluster; at Roseanne’s peak (seasons 4 & 5), it was the funniest, most well-written, socially relevant sitcom of all-time.

    Roseanne Barr sums it up best in her A&E television biography saying, “I was televisions probably first, last, and only woman whoever did exactly what I wanted to do, week after week, despite everybody being alarmed, pissed off, and against. I still did it!”

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