Television

Roseanne Conner, Trump Supporter?

The revival of Roseanne, which presented the title character as a Trump supporter was a ratings boon for ABC. Prior to the episode airing, I saw that some liberals on social media were calling for a ban on the show, while conservatives were tripping all over themselves praising the first episode. I understand that Trump himself called Roseanne to congratulate her. I am willing to bet that he didn’t actually view the episode and if he did, was not deft enough to pick up on the interesting nuances—which many conservatives and liberals failed to see!

Roseanne was one of the few shows I viewed from beginning to end during the 1980s and 1990s (I wasn’t the avid television watcher I am today). Even though the show depicted a blue-collar family, it was through a remarkably progressive lens. I remember when I read that it was being revived, I watched some of the original episodes again on Amazon Prime and was astounded by how much more relevant it was in 2017. The show tackled issues like domestic violence, LGBT rights, unemployment and even PMS with notable intelligence and humor. And while much the original run of the show is still relevant today, the world has changed significantly since 1997.

The most prominent change has been the bloody aftermath stemming from the loss of the Fairness Doctrine (a Federal Communications Commission policy that required news broadcasters to provide balanced views on controversial topics). The most polarizing destructive force on the nation has been Fox “news”, which was on its ascent around the time the original run of Roseanne was coming to an end. Interestingly, the Roseanne revival subtlety notes this when Rosanne yells at Jackie, “He was talking jobs. Shaking things up!”

At the moment, I don’t think that Roseanne the person has completely mutated into Charlton Heston (once an active supporter of the civil rights movement who later became an NRA gun nut). Like Trump, Roseanne is a master manipulator of garnering attention from the media (as I was writing this, some pictures surfaced of her baking gingerbread men while dressed like Hitler). I remember during the original run of the series, Roseanne always managed to spark some controversy, usually around sweeps week (like when she and her husband were going to marry their assistant…?) It became predictable and tedious. With the Roseanne revival, as with the actress, there is a disconnect with what she says and what she does or portrays (my standing recommendation with Trump is to watch what he does, and conjecture little on what he says).

We see an older and slimmer Dan and Roseanne Conner sharing medications because their insurance does not fully cover all that they need for their various ailments (e.g., Trump and his fellow Republicans have essentially killed any affordable healthcare for Americans). Darlene is now the single mother of two children who lost her job in Chicago and had to move back home (e.g., Carrier Air moving jobs south of the border to Mexico, leaving many Trump supporters unemployed). Darlene’s son, Mark, likes to wear girls’ clothes and Roseanne the Trump supporter is okay with it and supports it, while Dan tolerates it without ever being demeaning. DJ has served a tour in the Army and now has an African-American daughter named Mary (DJ’s wife is still serving abroad) whom Dan and Roseanne appear to adore (Trump’s inimical feelings toward African-Americans is well documented and long). Roseanne and Jackie haven’t spoken since the 2016 election (Jackie voted for Jill Stein) although they later reconcile. Jackie wears a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and a pussy hat while she and Roseanne yell “deplorable” and “snowflake” at each other.

Perhaps the most interesting change is with Becky—who has physically morphed into her mother-in-law, Barbara Healy! Is this some bizarre tribute to her late husband? It reminded me of Trump’s HAIRDOn’t, which is a bizarre, gender bending tribute to his late mother. Anyway, Becky has been financially struggling after Mark’s death and agrees to act as a surrogate mother for a woman named Andrea, who is played by Sarah Chalke the actress who took over the part of Becky when Lecy Goranson left to study at Vassar. In a nod to the two Darrins on Bewitched, the Goranson Becky vs. the Chalke Becky became a running gag on the series’ original run. My favorite moment on the first episode was when Becky noted how much they look alike and Andrea responded with, “Yes, you look exactly like me when I am not wearing make-up.” The shade!

becky-morphed

Is Becky honoring her late husband by morphing into her mother-in-law much like Trump honors his mother with that HAIRDOn’t?

Great comedy often springs from conflict. On Will and Grace, another recently revived series which I think owes part of its success to the way Roseanne first presented Gay and Lesbian characters, the Karen Walker character is a Trump supporter—and it makes great comedy! On a recent episode, Grace actually had to defend Karen’s right to have a bakery create a MAGA cake and the result was brilliant mirror for both liberal and conservative viewpoints. I think that this is what Roseanne is trying to do, hold up a mirror to the country so that we can take a look at and think for ourselves.

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“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Final Thoughts On Election 2016

The tweet detailed below embodies my feelings regarding this election. I am already seeing reports of violence against people of color; individuals dressed in KKK garb proudly marching around and general unrest.

I am going to point a finger at the DNC, The New York Times, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile for imposing Clinton on us. The hate train for Clinton has been at full steam since the 1990s and when you factor in her thin and flawed service record (e.g. in the Senate, she voted for the invasion of Iraq and for the Patriot Act as well as its re-authorization; as secretary of state, she was a very active in promoting fracking), she was always going to be a difficult sell.

I did vote for her, but we missed a real opportunity to elect a true progressive in Bernie Sanders. Poll after poll showed him easily beating Trump, while those same polls had Clinton in a close race (as we witnessed last night).

I’ve decided to limit my social media use for a while because it was the medium that gave rise to Trump. At the outset, he didn’t really spend a lot of money to promote himself: he had the media doing that and they likely based their reporting on what was trending. A Twitter joke that turned into a dark reality: the reality television “star” with zero experience as a statesman is now President. Instead, life imitates art as the world depicted in the dark comedy Idiocracy seems to be at its dawn.

I want to encourage you from this point forward to use social media responsibly. Allowing Trump to trend planted the seeds of his victory. Don’t just post something because you agree with it. Make sure it is valid and don’t just go by the headline. Make sure it is the truth. Otherwise you are just as bad as Fox “News.”

The Architecture of American Horror Story.

Last year someone recommended that I take a look at the hit television series, Modern Family.  While I found the one episode I viewed amusing, I was severely underwhelmed with the production of the show — the sets were generic with no real feeling for architecture and place. It looked as if one could take the characters of Modern Family and drop them into Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives) without anyone noticing. The homes in both those shows look like a real estate staging.

Visuals should play a large part in the visual story-telling mediums of television and film. Authenticity is vital. One of my favorite childhood shows was Little House on the Prairie, but I can recall questioning why Walnut Grove was so desert dusty like a Western (from what I had learned in school up to that time, Minnesota was supposed to be greener). Friends, a show I never liked, further annoyed me with the bogus, vanilla depiction of 1990’s New York City (they didn’t even film the corny opening credits in New York City!) In contrast to Friends and Little House is Breaking Bad, which had a very deep feeling for time and place: New Mexico was one of the stars of the show (every time I saw the Sandia Mountains, I smiled)! The same is true of American Horror Story.

American Horror Story follows a distinct set of characters and settings each year with a repertory cast that includes Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Frances Conroy in dissimilar roles. While each season has presented very different stories, outstanding architecture (and production) is ubiquitous.

The first season, titled American Horror Story: Murder House, follows the story of a nearly broken family that moves into a home haunted by individuals who died there, often in very brutal ways. The exterior of the “murder house” is a real Collegiate Gothic-style mansion built in Los Angeles by Architect Alfred Rosenheim in 1908. Collegiate Gothic stems from Gothic Revival, an architectural style inspired by medieval Gothic architecture.  Gothic Revival was a heavily used building style during the 1800’s because of its moral overtones for academic and religious buildings.

Filming for the interiors were done on a sound stage with near accurate re-creations of the real interior. Real or re-creation, what a visual feast for the eyes: the sumptuous Stickley (or Greene and Greene) inspired interior, accented with Tiffany windows and fixtures.  The distinct sprawling staircase was a Crafts movement masterpiece. Not unlike the Enterprise from Star Trek, the “murder house” is a star of the show, integral to telling the story. The gorgeous house stands in bleak contrast to the horrible experiences of the people who once lived there and the awful things they did, which were hardly academic, religious or even harmonious with the concept of home.

The second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum, takes place in the 1960’s and follows the stories of patients in an asylum for the criminally insane. I must note that I found this visual portrayal of the 1960’s to be more accurate than Mad Men (another favorite show of mine). The most glaring visual inaccuracy in Mad Men is the contemporary hanging ceilings in the offices. Here is an example of a hanging ceiling from the 1960’s: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000S1oPAPSQ.Y8/s/880/704/Petro-Philadelphia-1960s-Office.jpg. Because Mad Men employs low angle shots so often, one can’t help but notice those flawed ceilings.

Exterior filming for Asylum was completed at the Orange County courthouse in California, a Romanesque style building. Interiors were created on a soundstage.  Unlike the ‘murder house’, the ‘asylum’ was not as prominent a star except for one aspect, the stairs. Complex, slightly disjointed, reaching upward toward a skylight that was always dark, the stairs formed an amphitheatre of sorts. I couldn’t help but recall Dante’s Inferno where paradise has the shape of an amphitheater with an endless series of stairs: “..it is by such stairs/that we must take our leave of so much evil.” In Asylum, the opposite is true. Instead of ascending to heaven, one actually ascends to hell. Unlike Murder House, setting and story were congruent.

The most recent season, titled American Horror Story: Coven, follows the clash between witches and voodoo practitioners. Set and filmed in New Orleans, Coven beautifully depicts French Creole architecture while paying homage to female power as depicted in classic cinema.

French Creole architecture borrows traditions from France, the Caribbean, and Africa—-places that are part of the storyline of Coven at various points.  French Creole architecture heavily employed the use of decorative wrought iron. Wrought iron is tough and beautiful, much like the characters of Coven. The nearly colorless, but finely appointed, witch mansion complements the distinct fashions of each character. Watching the final episode of Coven, I realized that each incarnation of the series shared one common visual architectural motif: stairs.

The stairs in Murder House are where Ben takes his life, a major turning point in the story. Promotional ads for Asylum and Coven both prominently feature stairs (see picture below). The stairs in the Coven witch mansion are reminiscent of those seen in the Joan Crawford classic, Queen Bee (also set in the South). Queen Bee is a story about a family dominated by ruthless and strong women — not unlike the characters of Coven.Image

Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose: in the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Is American Horror Story bringing us up or plunging us down? The last shot of Coven is of the new supreme standing glowingly on those Queen Bee stairs. She is the new, modern supreme—one who encourages witches to come out of hiding and stand together in community. Hiding fosters fear, while visibility gives strength.  Note that she was only able to become supreme and achieve this new age  after the old witches, who were filled with hatred and stuck in their old ways of thinking, were eliminated one way or another. Perhaps this is the central theme of American Horror Story: we can only bring ourselves up when we let go of the things, like fear and hatred, that plunge us down.