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Roseanne: Harmless nostalgia or insidious normalization?

LGBT critics debate whether to watch or boycott as Barr returns to culture wars

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The original “Roseanne” series, which aired from 1988 to 1997, was a television breakthrough for its diverse gay storylines—who can forget that controversial episode in which the veteran comedian kisses Mariel Hemingway (and wipes it off in surprised disgust)?

Fast forward 20 years and the award-winning comedy series returned to ABC last week with a whopping 29 million viewers. President Trump even called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the show.

On the radio series, “Here & Now,” NPR TV critic Eric Deggans was asked why the show was so immensely popular again.

“The series appealed to people who don’t see themselves depicted authentically on television that much,” he said.

“There’s a lot of dynamics that came together to make this happen. ABC promoted the heck out of this, we saw ads for this during the “Oscars,” “American Idol.” We saw the stars everywhere, at NASCAR rallies, on “Howard Stern.” This is a beloved show that was the number one show on television at its height, when the show was on the air. And I think a lot of people were just curious about what did they come up with.”

Adam McNamara.

While the show has Sarah Gilbert (a lesbian) starring and exec producing, Wanda Sykes (also a lesbian) writing, Laurie Metcalf (a feminist) starring and a gender non-conforming child featured in the show, the LGBTQ community has been sharply divided on whether or not to watch a woman who continues to support President Trump and has made her own transphobic comments.

In the most recent episode (#3), Roseanne tries to be an equal opportunity offender. A shrill “Roseanne” managed to mock ABC’s “black and asian shows,” physically abused her grandkid and more. Meanwhile, her producers have already asked her to tone it down; a 2009 photoshoot of her posing as a Jewish-effigy-cookie baking Hitler began trending online after she tweeted about a greeting gesture by Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, calling it a Nazi salute.

Notably, ratings have fallen precipitously from the initial blowout.  The numbers for episode 3 were less that 15 million — still a strong showing but less than half that of the first two episodes.

The Los Angeles Blade talked to LGBTQ fans and critics about the show.

Frank DeCaro.

Frank DeCaro, Author/Comedian:
“I’m willing to give ‘Roseanne’ a chance” is the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. You SHOULD be estranged from EVERYONE in your life who voted for Donald Trump. Hollywood would renew “My Little Adolph” if the numbers were good enough.

Watching “Roseanne” put me in a foul mood. It was like watching a reboot of “Hogan’s Heroes,” but being told that Col. Klink is now the real hero.

The last thing this country needs is a loveable Trumper, which is exactly what we’re getting in Roseanne Conner. The liberal characters were portrayed as bubble-dwelling boobs. Life coaches? Placenta eating? A few of us are smarter than that.

The conservatives, on the other hand, were presented as unsophisticated, but loving and ultimately wise, and, worst of all, probably right in the end. I don’t buy it.

Roseanne Conner is not Archie Bunker, who was the fool of “All in the Family,” she’s the hero of this piece. We’re meant to understand her embrace of the worst political candidate our country has ever had foisted upon it.

“Roseanne” isn’t nostalgia. It’s normalization at its most insidious.

Bruce Vilanch, Writer/Songwriter/Actor:
Another distraction from what’s really happening in Washington. Resist.

Victoria Brito, MUSE Model:
I think it’s a missed opportunity for our community to check out a show that features diverse, interesting storylines rarely found on network TV. If we push a strict litmus test of political alignment on every form of entertainment, we lose out on a rich, layered world.

I hope LGBTQ viewers can give this show a chance, as it’s an amazing reflection of the variety of our whole country and we all benefit from breaking outside of the echo chamber of our opinions.

Jeff Rosenberg, Screenwriter:
As a gay man, I was a fan of Roseanne’s original sitcom. Yes, it represented middle America, and I am more of an East Coast guy, but it showed the best of the Midwest. Their inclusiveness. Their love, warmth. Her character in particular.

It showed “their” struggles, fears and hopes were the same as “ours.” She served as a bridge between the two worlds. We saw ourselves in her and her family. We laughed, and cried, along with them. Why? Because she was a friend, and her show was a safe place. A place we knew we were not only included, but welcome.

That changed when Roseanne abruptly did a political 180. She sided with, and remains steadfastly loyal, to the single most anti-LGBTQ administration in U.S. history. While she has heralded Trump’s false accomplishments and furthered ridiculous conspiracy theories, she has remained ominously silent as Trump and his cronies erode LGBTQ civil rights and try to make us second-class citizens.

Sad that she once again has the voice and platform, yet instead of bringing our country together, she is trying to divide us by making hate a “family value”. Sad. Bigly.

Jasper Cole, Actor:
I was never a fan of “Roseanne” in the ’90s for the same reason I’m not today: she created a volatile work environment and treats people horrifically. Roseanne had no TV experience and was given a show much like Trump himself, and she ruled the set like a tyrant as well. She was and still is hate-filled, but was fortunate to surround herself with talented actors and writers who do the best they can to make her look good.

Her off-screen “antics” have always revealed who she really is and sadly, via her undying support for Trump, just how crazy she really is. That said, I’m most disappointed in the so-called progressive women who have chosen to work with her on the reboot: Sara Gilbert, Wanda Sykes, Whitney Cummings, Laurie Metcalf, and Sandra Bernhard. Most of them, with the exception of Gilbert — who rarely seems to have an opinion of her own that isn’t scripted by either a writer on “The Talk” or the “Roseanne” reboot — have been die-hard anti-Trumpsters.

In my opinion, choosing to work with Roseanne cannot be justified by saying, “we don’t agree with all the hate she spews.” I don’t care how well-written or well-acted the show is, Archie Bunker was a bigot, Carroll O’Connor wasn’t. Roseanne Barr is just pretending to hide behind Roseanne Conner, but they are one and the same. Both are hate-filled, egomaniacs like Trump.

I admire people who actually have morals and convictions and stick to them regardless of the paychecks. Ironically, none of the women I mentioned working on the reboot seem to be hurting for money allegedly. But who am I to judge?!

Jeff Hollingsworth, Publicist:
I’m with Roxane Gay, who wrote the recent op-ed in the New York Times. I watched and laughed and I adore the gender fluid grandson character, but I can’t overlook the feeling that Roseanne, the person, is a calculated, cheap shot provocateur not to be taken seriously.

I loved “All in the Family” and think comparing Carroll O’Connor to Barr or his show to hers is a false equivalence. If you read Gay’s opinion piece it doesn’t much quibble with the show’s humor. “All in the Family” and Norman Lear never wanted to normalize bigotry or proselytize or romanticize “real people” (Trump voters in the current show) — he cleverly and bitingly satirized these things. This show seems to be all about bait and switch politics of culture.

Jeff Olde.

Jeff Olde, Longtime Television Programming Executive:
I think Trump is repugnant as a person and certainly as a president, but I have to say I really loved the first two episodes of “Roseanne.” It is an equal offender on all political sides and I found it funny, full of heart, and full of potential.

From what I have seen so far, I think you really see the influence of lesbians Sara Gilbert, as both a star and an executive producer and certainly, in the sharp writing of Wanda Sykes. And actress Laurie Metcalf is basically saying everything I’m thinking when I get into social media screaming battles with conservatives.

If millions of people in middle America are seeing positive storylines about the LGBTQ community and specifically about a gender-fluid kid, I’m good with that.

It is very early in this journey and we will see how it goes. Roseanne and her bat shit crazy right-wing conspiracy theories could push me over into the boycott zone. I would not want to support any platform she has if she continues to publicly fan those divisive (not to mention insane) flames.

But for now, if I step back from her politics, dare I say that I think “Roseanne” has the potential to become an important show in perilous times like “All In The Family” was back in the ‘70s. We’ve all got to find a way to talk to each other again, and maybe laughing at (and with) each other is a start. For me, this gay is willing to give it a shot. But of course the thing that could immediately blow that is Roseanne herself. I hope she doesn’t, as the work on screen is good, needed and potentially a powerful pop culture moment for the LGBTQ community.

Michael Kape, Theatre Blogger:
I do not understand why the LGBT community would not watch. True, Roseanne’s politics suck. But I think the show did a good job of balancing her views with an opposing opinion. And having a grandchild who likes to dress like a girl has brought back the very heart of the original show. There was a lot to really like and admire.

David Jay Lasky, Film Producer and Screenwriter:
The two episodes were sardonic, hilarious, and smartly written. Roseanne Barr, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert and John Goodman were all terrific.

I’m a registered Republican. I would never boycott a show. I like listening to all sides and all ideas from every American patriot in our country. God Bless America. This is a step in the right direction. President Trump is our president and I respect our commander-in-chief.

Greg Padovan.

Greg Padovan, President, Insurance Sales:
Although I find her acting atrocious, her support of Trump in the show I HOPE can only be seen as educational, for what can happen in a family dynamic when a family is split in a political support situation.
I think her character is a perfect match for a Trump supporter and will develop into how bad a mistake people made in November, thinking this man was in their best interest for changing America for the better as opposed to listening to who the man made clear he was and continues to be.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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