Comedian In Chief
Public Policy Polling has been a boon for political journalists over the past few years, partially for their extensive and accurate numbers—they were the only ones noting the rise of Rick Santorum in Minnesota last week—but also for their sense of humor. In addition to surveying the major political races, PPP tackles the all-important topics such as which NFL player is more popular than all of the presidential candidates (Tim Tebow of course) or how Stephen Colbert would perform in the South Carolina Republican primary. When the latter question produced a 5 percent result for Colbert—putting the comedian ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman—he rolled out a joke candidacy that culminated with a joint rally with Herman Cain in Charleston.
Now it seems that PPP has found another celebrity who registers a solid base of support. Rosanne Barr, who recently announced that she would be seeking the nomination of the Green Party, drew 6 percent of the vote when PPP polled the national presidential race (oh, and in the actual campaign that matters, Barack Obama beats Mitt Romney 47-42). Barr's net favorability is incredibly low however, at just a 14 percent positive to 63 percent who hold negative views of the former TV star. But as Alyssa Rosenberg notes, there's a bit of a generational divide at work, with 19 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 breaking for Barr in a Romney-Obama-Barr matchup.
That's notable since most of those voters weren't of primetime TV viewing age during Roseanne's sitcom years. The oldest from that cohort were 14-years-old when Roseanne went off the air in 1997, while the youngest were just out of their diapers. Speaking as someone on the upper end of this age bracket, I share their appreciation for Barr's place in TV history, if not our upcoming election. When the show came out, Roseanne was viewed as a crass typical sitcom. Despite consistently rating among the top TV shows at the time, Barr's only Emmy win didn't come until 1993, well into the shows' run, and the series itself was never nominated for Best Comedy. Instead, Murphy Brown and then Frasier dominated the category during that era. The latter couldn't have been a further departure in tone or topic from the blue-collar sensibilities of Roseanne, it stood as the preeminence of elite liberal wit during the '90s.
Roseanne has since found appreciation among younger progressive circles. A host of today's revered comic writers got their start on the show, including Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow. Liberals of my generation look back fondly on the show, both for its respectful treatment of working class Americans—still a rarity on network TV—as well as its importance in feminism. Last year New York Magazine ran a fascinating feature written by Barr detailing her travails getting ABC to accept a women at the helm of producing a TV series. "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," she wrote.
Her presidential bid is probably going nowhere; as PPP notes, "it's highly unlikely she would really end up getting anywhere close to 6 percent of the vote." But Barr is slated to return to network TV later this fall with a sitcom titled Downwardly Mobile. Based on the title, I'm hopeful Barr will once again do what she does best: highlight the struggles of those left behind by our income gap.
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