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Incest, exogamy, and Jewishness on Roseanne.


This paper examines a narrative arc in the sitcom Roseanne involving Roseanne Conner's physically abusive father; a storyline that echoed Roseanne Barr's real life allegations regarding physical and sexual abuse by her father. I contend that the fictional Conner family's part Jewishness is overlooked in Roseanne scholarship, yet vital to an understanding of how the show depicts Ashkenazi Jewishness's complex relationship to whiteness, especially given the historical context of how sexual antisemitism associated Jews with incest and sexual predation in nineteenth-century discourse about Jews. Though this stereotype has largely receded, I argue that reading Roseanne as a liminally Jewish text about liminal Jewishness, and simultaneously dealing structurally with incest and exogamy, reveals that the very resistance towards identifying the Conners as part Jewish may stem from the taboo figure of the sexually abusive Jewish father. In exploring both the veiled vertical incest dynamic between Roseanne Conner and her father, and the lateral incest dynamic between Roseanne's daughter Darlene and pseudo-adoptive son David, the show advances a nuanced, and radical, incest narrative.


On the April 17, 1994 episode of 60 Minutes, Morley Safer reported on daytime television's fascination with confessions, recovered memories, and adult allegations of childhood abuse. As Safer put it, "the more bizarre the confession, the more airtime you get." (1) Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a central figure in the 1990s "memory wars," who consistently challenged the credibility of recovered memories of sexual abuse, framed the issue starkly: "People are remembering sexual abuse in ways that is [s/c] absolutely impossible; being abused in the womb, being abused in a prior life, being abused by, an alien ... on a UFO." (2) Safer also interviewed Roseanne Barr's siblings and her parents, Jerry and Helen Barr, whom she had accused of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in 1991. Then known as Roseanne Arnold, the actress and comedian disclosed her memories of abuse and her identification as a survivor at an incest survivor meeting at a church in Denver, Colorado, and in People Magazine. Barr stated, "My father molested me until I left home at age 17. He constantly put his hands all over me. He forced me to sit on his lap, to cuddle with him, to play with his penis in the bathtub." (3) Describing her difficulty in coming to terms with the trauma, Barr wrote, "I clung to my fantasy of our happy, quirky family, a bit off-kilter, but colorful, all-American, Jewish." (4)

The 60 Minutes interview allowed Jerry and Helen Barr, along with Roseanne's siblings Geraldine, Ben, and Stephanie, to publicly deny these (and other) allegations, as the sitcom Roseanne drew to the close of its sixth season. While the denials are forceful, Barr's parents and siblings also acknowledge some truths. When Safer brings up Barr's daughter's contention that her grandfather molested her at Barr's wedding (misattributing the accusation to Barr), Jerry Barr responds in an equivocal fashion: "And then my children asked me, 'Dad, did you pinch her on the tush?' And I said, 'I can't recall,' but knowing me? Probably, probably." Barr's sister Geraldine confirms this: "My parents are guilty of being tushy touchers. They are. And that, I believe, is the genesis of a lot of Roseanne's claims. And I think, however, as tushy touchers, the punishment should fit the crime." (5)

Geraldine Barr's allusion to punishment fitting the crime is more than idiom. In her second memoir, My Lives, Roseanne Barr divulged that her then husband, Tom Arnold, "filed police reports in three states" against Jerry Barr based on his granddaughter's allegations. (6) While Jerry Barr was never convicted of any crime, the tabloid and news media fascination surrounding Roseanne Barr's "crying incest" was enough for Safer to describe Jerry and Helen Barr as "the most famous accused molesters in the country." (7) While Safer presents Roseanne's words with skepticism, the Barr family--Jerry Barr in particular--is treated sympathetically. Yet only a hundred years earlier, nineteenth-century antisemitic stereotypes associated Jewish men with incest and sexual predation, especially in Europe. The historical context reveals an extraordinary transformation: a once prevalent stereotype has not only receded considerably, but white Jewish men now often benefit from white privilege in the face of such allegations.

This rare televised appearance of Barr's parents and siblings frames the ensuing reading of Barr's eponymous television show. Roseanne directly engaged issues of memory, abuse, and incest within the Conner family, a working-class white family whose representative qualities invite consideration next to Barr's assessment of her own working-class family as "all-American, Jewish." (8) The show's depictions of the fictional Roseanne and (her sister) Jackie's memories of physical abuse at the hands of their father dovetailed with ongoing media coverage of Barr's actual family allegations, blurring the lines between fiction and autobiographical fiction. While 60 Minutes cast doubt on Barr's assertions and credibility, Barr's television show can be read as a complex incest narrative with vertical and lateral co'mponents, offering a sophisticated rendering of how abuse (and memories of abuse) could affect siblings in different ways, and portraying the possibilities and limitations of reconciliation. Jewish signifiers and class politics also intersected in a charged fashion on the show around the issue of incest. The show's rare, but meaningful, depictions of Roseanne Conner's "part Jewishness," challenged contemporaneous normative depictions of Jewishness, and Jewish maleness in particular, by evoking the specter of the pedophilic, incestuous Jewish male. I hypothesize that resistance to identifying Roseanne Conner as even remotely Jewish stems not just from the Conner family's class status, but also from anxiety regarding the show's mobilization of a violent Jewish father figure, and implicit associations of that figure with Barr's allegedly sexually abusive father. Finally, I argue that a close reading of the lateral components of the incest narrative, involving the pseudo-siblings David Healy and Darlene Conner, reveals the displacement of Jewish incest anxiety onto white working-class Americans categorized by the show (affectionately) as "white trash."

Other episodes from the 1990s involving allegations or confessions of incest feature figures more widely associated with Jewishness than Barr. Woody Allen's daughter, Dylan, accused him of sexual abuse in 1992, shortly before he publicly professed his love for Soon-Yi Previn (his then partner Mia Farrow's daughter). Henry Roth's novel Mercy of a Rude Stream, published from 1994 to 1998, revealed an autobiographical protagonist having sex with his sister and raping his first cousin. Allen and Roth are more likely to register as Jewish icons. But something meaningful may account for the comparative reticence to recognize Barr's Jewishness, as well as the Jewish content in Roseanne. I contend that the show's problematization of conventional notions of Jewish ethnicity, and specific challenge to Jewish patriarchy, help explain its having been read out of Jewish American texthood.


I use the term "incest narrative" to refer to stories that involve not merely transgressive kinship relations, but a corresponding plot point featuring exogamy, or transgressive out-group relations. Werner Sollors's work on antebellum and post-bellum American literature identifies how incest and "miscegenation" were conflated, revealing the psychological rationalization involved in interracial incest. According to Sollors, "interracial alliances are often perceived to be the opposite of, or antidote to, closely endogamous ones"; incest is "too close," interracial is "too far." (9) While Sollors's analysis pertains to a black-white racial construct, "too close" and "too far" exist as points of confusion in Jewish American incest narratives as well. (10) In Jewish American art, numerous ambivalent depictions of exogamy (often, but not always, embodied through the figure of the shiksa) give voice to Jewish American anxiety about intermarriage. In Roseanne, the incest narrative involves the twin taboos of incest and intermarriage, both of which emerge structurally throughout the series.

While Sollors's work provides a distinctly American departure point for considering these issues, the Jewish community, transnationally and historically, brings its own discursive history to the subject. Karl Abraham's 1913 psychoanalytic essay, "Neurotic Exogamy," explicitly situates the incest anxiety as tied to exogamous impulses, and though his argument is presented as universally applicable, he focuses extensively on Jewish male patients." Literary historian Sander Gilman observes how European and American texts have cast even secular Jews as marked by incestuous longing in Thomas Mann's "Blood of the Walsungs" and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." (12) Gilman also establishes how sexual transgression involving child sexual violence came to be identified with Jews, noting how late nineteenth-century European discussions of child abuse "usually consisted of a female child victim (Christian) and a male child abuser (Jewish) who reenacted the sexual fantasy of the Jewish rapist/murder[er]." (13)

While other stereotypes, such as the blood libel, money-lending, and Christ-killing canard, are more infamous, incest and child sexual predation also existed as a mechanism for sexually othering Jews in the nineteenth century. (14) By the 1990s, though, Ashkenazi (Eastern European-descended) American Jews had been benefiting comprehensively from white privilege for decades. Matthew Jacobson and Karen Brodkin have explored this discursive shift in terms of the fluidity with which American racial categorizations mirrored changes in various state, institutional, and legal policies, along with popular cultural discourse. (15) In trying to understand how Jewish whiteness has helped construct modern conceptions of whiteness, Roseanne, especially because it has so rarely been seen as meaningfully engaging Jewishness, emerges as a compelling text.

In accounting for Roseanne's depictions of the Conner family's ethnic and religious heritage, I draw attention to specific episodes, while conceding the nine-year television series' inconsistent approach to continuity. The show featured numerous writers, well-publicized battles regarding creative control, and two actors (both with good hair) playing the role of Becky Conner. In a move consistent with the series' humor, the show self-consciously drew attention to this bodily inconsistency. (16) In mining this territory for humor, Roseanne draws attention not to the lack of overarching consistency, but instead to the limits of the form, confidently invoking its concessions while asserting that Becky--played by Lecy Goranson or Sarah Chalke--always remains Becky. Similarly, my approach to the show's depiction of the Conners' ethnicity proceeds from a commitment to taking the show's fictional world building seriously: where others might see throwaway lines, inconsistent with the broader world of fictional, working-class Lanford, my intent is to examine a) why we might find these moments "inconsistent" and b) what they reveal about the world that Barr, along with a large staff of writers, producers, and actors, collaboratively created.


Season six's "I Pray the Lord My Stove to Keep," which aired on May 3, 1994, establishes the premise of the Conners as a part-Jewish family. DJ, the Conner's youngest son, rebels by secretly attending church. Roseanne and Dan intervene, and DJ asks a straightforward question:

DJ: "What religion are we?"

Roseanne: "I have no idea. Dan?"

Dan: "Well, my family's Pentecostal on my mom's side, Baptist on my dad's. Your mom's mom was Lutheran, her dad was Jewish."

DJ: "So what do we believe?"

R: "Well, we believe in uh, being good. So basically, we're good people."

D: "Yeah, but we're not practicing." (17)

This exchange occurred on the first episode of Roseanne to air after the 60 Minutes interview with Barr's parents and siblings, immediately reminding viewers of the fictional Roseanne's Jewish father just weeks after Barr's Jewish father was defended as nothing more than a "tushy toucher." The episode establishes Dan and Roseanne's parents' religious backgrounds explicitly, poking fun at the vague, not-quite-ecumenical religious world of the show. Roseanne's claim to have "no idea" of her family's religion mirrors what close viewers of the show might have concluded. Despite numerous Christmas-oriented episodes and extensive Christmas decorations, Roseanne was largely secular: Christmas, like Halloween and Thanksgiving, emerge as family holidays, but religion remains peripheral. For instance, one Christmas episode takes the opportunity to engage gender wage inequality, featuring Roseanne in drag as Santa (which paid more than playing Mrs. Santa). (18) Furthermore, a menorah appears as part of the Conner's self-consciously tacky Christmas decorations earlier in season 6. (19)

In "I Pray the Lord," though, the Conners dodge the question. Roseanne defers to Dan, who cites their parents' religions, but avoids identifying their religion. And for one grandparent, Dan cites a religion that doubles as an ethnic identity. The scene establishes Roseanne as a product of intermarriage. She may not identify as Jewish, but she grew up with a Jewish parent.

While Roseanne Conner had just one Jewish parent, Roseanne Barr frequently asserts her Jewish identity. Her first memoir declares itself a book "about being Jewish in America." (20) She cites the combination of being Jewish and from Salt Lake City in multiple stand-up routines, as early as the late 1980s. (21) Her engagement with Israel has ranged from hypercritical to hypersupportive over the past five years. While her ideology has shifted, her Jewishness has remained a loudly proclaimed piece of her public persona. Each of her three memoirs-Roseanne: My Life as a Woman (1989), My Lives (1994) and Roseannearchy (2011)--mobilizes Jewishness as a significant component of her life narrative. And her People feature's assessment of her family as "All American, Jewish," aligns Jewish Americanness with normativity. While the religious or ethnic self-identification of the many writers, performers, and creative talents working on the show over its nine seasons is impossible to completely--or accurately--report, or draw meaningful conclusions from, it bears mention that one writer, Mark Rosewater, claimed that nine of the thirteen writers were Jewish during his tenure. (22) And yet, midway through the first season, Walter Goodman wrote in the New York Times, "although Ms. Barr was wont to make quite a megillah in her stand-up routines about being Jewish, that, too, is an unmentionable on the tube." (23) The number of Jewish writers on Roseanne was not uncommon for sitcoms generally, but there's a meaningful tension between the number of Jewish creative forces behind the show, and assessments, like Goodman's, that explicitly Jewish content would be prohibitive.

All of this is to contextualize my focus on Barr as the central figure behind the show's creative energy, alongside a suggestion that multiple figures involved in the show likely had some investment in the show's depictions of Jewishness, or part Jewishness. However, for the fictional Roseanne Conner this explicit expression of "part" Jewish identification--itself a refutation of an essentialist either-or approach--comes six years in. It is, however, not without precedents. Season 2 features Roseanne using Yiddish words on three occasions, and while these terms had largely crossed over into "Yinglish" by this time, the circumstance of their usage still merits attention. In the Halloween episode "BOO!" (aired October 31, 1989) she calls Dan a schmuck after he deliberately frightens her. (24) She also calls a muscle-bound hunk a mensch in a dream sequence on "Sweet Dreams" (aired November 7, 1989), and in that season's first episode ("Inherit the Wind," aired September 12, 1989) corrects her friend Crystal when they discuss an acquaintance, Edna. (25) Crystal knows Roseanne dislikes Edna because she's "a whining, complaining, sniveling kletch." Roseanne (misquoted) corrects Crystal: "Kvetch!" Each moment of linguistic "Jewishness" expressed through Yiddish occurs during a private moment: alone with her husband, in a dream sequence, and in a recounted, off-screen conversation. Despite the Roseanne character's bold, public, outspoken persona, Yiddish expression occurs privately. Chronologically, these were the first, seventh, and eight episodes of the second season; Yiddish on Roseanne disappears after "Sweet Dreams."

What do we do with these moments, especially given their apparently haphazard deployment--Yiddish early, a random menorah later on? Rosalin Krieger, discussing the Jewishness of Seinfeld, suggests that "Jewish-Yiddish symbols come in the form of historical and cultural references, names, foods, verbal and body language, phenotype, and religious rituals, all of which rely upon individual viewers to identify these clues that represent things Jewish and elements that can be read as possibly Jewish." (26) The menorah in the window in "White Trash Christmas" is as close as we get to religious Judaism--that is, not close. And using three lone Yiddish (or "Yinglish") words cannot be cited as incontrovertible evidence of a speaker's Jewishness. But how does Roseanne's use of language (verbal and body) contrast with her Jewish and non-Jewish contemporaries vis-a-vis Jewish performance?

A Saturday Night Live sketch from February, 1992 provides useful context for considering this question, and how Barr fit within that prescribed space. Barr and husband Tom Arnold hosted, and Barr appeared in the recurring, popular "Coffee Talk" sketch, alongside Madonna and Mike Myers. (27) Myers, who based Linda Richman on his Jewish mother-in-law, mixes actual Yiddish with made up words, continuously primping his wig and becoming momentarily overcome with emotion in his drag rendering of a specific form of stereotypical, well-to-do, New York-rooted Jewish femininity. (28) Madonna follows suit, while Barr, playing Madonna's character's Jewish mother, visiting from Arizona, occasionally breaks as she struggles with a Yiddish-inflected New York Jewish accent. The choice to make Barr's character from Arizona is itself an interesting reflection of Barr's own southwestern biography. But while Barr is the only Jewish performer during the sketch (prior to a cameo by Barbra Streisand), her performance of Jewishness is far milder than that of her non-Jewish collaborators.

We might infer that Barr made choices as a performer to temper, or counter, expectations regarding "Jewish" performance. This may provide useful context for considering Barr's performative choices on Roseanne, and adamant scholarly claims regarding the non-Jewishness of the Conners, despite Barr's Jewish identity. Scholarship on Roseanne has tended to foreground the show's Marxist content and feminist politics. However, Joyce Antler, Alessandra Senzani, David Marc, and Kathleen Rowe also mention the significance of Barr's Jewish upbringing. Antler and Marc touch on Barr's Jewishness extensively, making compelling arguments that Roseanne subverted antisemitic depictions of Jewish mothers. (29)

However, Antler also claims that "Roseanne Conner had no specific ethnicity and was never portrayed Jewishly." (30) Antler offers this observation directly after alluding to Barr's own contrary reading of her show, as Barr described Roseanne Conner as "actually a Jewish mother." (31) David Marc states, "Roseanne is a Jewish performer who ... self-consciously constructed an American--as opposed to a Jewish-American--persona" to build a "transdemographic audience." (32) Marc contends that Barr "created not only public masks, but also fictional domestic sitcom milieus that in no way indicated background, culture, or religion," noting that Barr never used "phonetic or phonemic Yiddishisms." (33) Senzani identifies the Conners as a "working-class white family," footnoting: "There is no other ethnic reference, though it is widely known that Roseanne comes from a poor Jewish family." (34) Rowe claims, "Roseanne leaves the issues of race, ethnicity, and its own whiteness unexamined," before noting that the show instead "mines the issues of class and gender." (35)

These last two quotes from Senzani and Rowe illuminate one aspect of what may read so convincingly as non-Jewish about the Conners: they were contemporaneously working class. Popular depictions of Jewish American families are largely consistent in depicting Ashkenazi Jews as middle class, or at the very least, upwardly mobile. The Conners joke about being "white trash," and the harsh reality that their children will not have it as good as they have. These "white trash" riffs echoed jokes about Barr: her husband, Tom Arnold (who also has a complicated relationship to Jewishness) joked that he and Roseanne were "America's worst nightmare ... white trash with money." (36)

But the pejorative "white trash," which has its own anti-Black racist under-girding, is not often stereotypically associated with Jews. As the comedic/exclusionary website inquires on its Barr page, "Can Jews be trailer trash? Apparently so." (37) The entry reveals a problematic intersection between Jewish exceptionalism, classism, and assessment of secular Jewish "authenticity." This supposed incongruity, though, finds vivid expression in Barr's standup. In her first HBO special, The Roseanne Barr Show, Barr leaves the stage to tend to her kids' complaints about their father, played by Tom Arnold. The camera cuts to Barr in a trailer behind the theater, where she reprimands Arnold by berating him with Yiddish curses (including, delightfully, an imperative that Arnold should catch the cholera). (38) Years before jew or not jew's offensive question, Barr's comedy was emphatically challenging the notion of Jewish middle-class normativity. The same stand-up set also explicitly establishes her "domestic Goddess" persona as being part of an intermarried family: "We got like a mixed marriage, me and my husband, on account of like I'm Jewish and he ain't, and everything, so like at the wedding we each tried to please the other person's family, like for my family he crushed a beer can under his heel, and for his family I pretended I was a virgin, so that went really well." (39) Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis's study of The Cosby Show also helps delineate how class might function for white viewers of Roseanne. Jhally and Lewis reveal some middleclass white respondents expressing disgust at the Conners' class position, preferring the Huxtables' middle-class milieu. Said one respondent, "I just don't like the way they look." (40) Jhally and Lewis don't account for white ethnicity here, and so this is speculative, but taken alongside the jewornotjew website's expression of disdain for Jewish "trailer trash," we might ponder whether Jewish anxiety about class position and perception yields a particular form of Jewish exceptionalist classism resistant to Barr's attempts to collapse differences between Jews and working class non-Jewish whites.

None of this is meant to suggest working-class secular Jews are absent in Jewish American cultural production. But in the late twentieth century they tend towards existing in a nostalgic past, signifying upward mobility. Consider Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) and Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), films released just prior to Roseanne's run. Though Neil Simon and Woody Allen had notoriously difficult relationships with their parents, the films nostalgically portray sympathetic, working-class fathers. These sensitive, thoughtful souls are nothing at all like Al Harris, Roseanne Conner's fictional father, played by John Randolph.

Born Emmanuel Hirsh Cohen, John Randolph made only two appearances on Roseanne, though his character (in absence) would dominate an important storyline over several seasons. In his first appearance, though, Al greets Roseanne affectionately, calling her "kapushka" as he embraces her, in the episode "Dear Mom and Dad." The moment seems to immediately announce Al Harris as being, in some fashion, ethnic; "kapushka" is a dialectical variation of the Russian or Polish "babushka." Though the line is stepped on, he also seems to call Roseanne's sister Jackie "bubela." Roseanne and Jackie happily hug Al here, but later episodes portray a less idealized figure. They remember the razor strop he kept by the front door, with which he beat them. (41) They discuss how displaying the strop meant their friends saw it, publicizing their abuse, adding another layer of traumatization. Another episode finds Roseanne spanking and even kicking her son DJ after he steals the family car. In tears, Roseanne apologizes while eating cookies, explaining that her father hit her, but that she would not hit DJ again. (42) The distinctive, sobering scene invites the audience to connect abuse with eating habits as an emotional salve--Roseanne eats as she speaks, focusing her eyes on the cookies as much as on DJ. Sitcoms commonly feature performative eating, but Roseanne speaks while chewing and the clarity of the dialogue suffers. The scene meaningfully draws attention to the choice to eat cookies while discussing abuse, and in so doing, evokes Judith Herman's work on trauma theory, and sexual abuse in particular, which discusses eating disorders as a potential symptom of survivors of sexual abuse. (43) But what bears emphasis here is that the show's celebrated critique of patriarchy--which targets male politicians, male bosses, abusive husbands, and corporate entities--also targets Roseanne Conner's Jewish father, Al.

This may constitute a reason why some viewers might have been quick to read the Conner family as decisively non-Jewish. The relationship between feminist critique of white patriarchy and Jewish feminist critique of Jewish male patriarchy is fraught with tension. In 1977, Florence Rush published "The Freudian Cover-Up," accusing Freud of abandoning his "seduction theory" to protect his male class interests. Alys Eve Weinbaum's discussion of Freud's "Aetiology of Hysteria" helps contextualize the numerous factors that informed Freud's "abandonment" by drawing attention to Freud's Jewishness and the rampant antisemitism of Freud's era. As Weinbaum demonstrates, Freud's incorporation of Yiddish-inflected German and genealogic metaphor implicated Jewishness, and might have been used to further demonize Jewish males in a nineteenth-century European context. (44) In the 1970s and 1980s, second-wave feminist critique of Freud featured numerous Jewish American feminists who criticized Freud's "abandonment" of the seduction theory. Many of these figures cast Freud as a universal, and thus white, patriarchal figure--Freud's Jewishness was unmentioned, for instance, in both Rush's 1977 article as well as her 1980 book, The Best Kept Secret, despite Rush's willingness to identify her own Jewishness. (45) The result is a critique of patriarchy that accommodates Jewish community protective impulses surrounding the Jewish father figure, while simultaneously whitening Jews. If discussing a Jewish child molester as a Jewish child molester reeks of antisemitism, rhetorically, the community protective impulse demands the figure either not be identified as Jewish or be innocent.

Reading Roseanne as unengaged with Jewishness permits celebration of Barr as a Jewish artist without her art being considered at cross-purposes with Jewish respectability politics. Consider Jonathan Freedman's observation regarding how Philip Roth and Tony Kushner challenged sexual antisemitism in their "triumphant transformation of the culturally loaded figure of the Jewish pervert into a culture hero." (46) In assigning her eponymous hero the status of "culture hero," Barr withholds that status from the one Jewish recurring character depicted on her show, and provides her audience with the choice of either reconciling the loaded associations with the Jewish assignation, or--perhaps easier--choosing to ignore the Jewish component altogether. Withholding Al Harris's Jewish significance equates to removing a nonheroic instance of the problematic "culturally loaded figure of the Jewish pervert."

The obvious danger here is collapsing the fictional world of the show--which only mentioned physical abuse--into the real world. But the show always played with the boundaries of real and fiction. Not only did the show playfully draw attention to its two Beckies, it also relied on audience awareness of Barr's love life, which was covered extensively in the tabloids. One post-credit 1992 scene features Tom Arnold approaching John Goodman about Dan Conner having kissed Roseanne passionately earlier in the episode (47) The brief sketch requires the audience to know that Barr and Arnold were married, and furthermore, to know something about Arnold's tabloid persona--otherwise, Arnold's self-deprecating performance--clueless, jealous, powerless, yet convinced of his own importance--would not hit the same comic notes. The fact that The Roseanne Show had already established Arnold as a non-Jewish marital foil to the Yiddish-speaking Barr in her HBO stand-up special also suggests that the alluded-to Arnold-Barr romance registered as an intermarriage plot; perhaps one that mirrored the Roseanne Conner-Dan Conner marriage (48) The autobiographical tensions saturate the show, informing the viewing experience all the way up to the two-part series finale, which aired on May 20, 1997, and reveals the entirety of the series to have been conjured by the fictional Roseanne (Conner), who was writing a book about her family. The meta aspects of the show compound here, as Roseanne reveals that Jackie (not Bev) was gay, and that she had essentially husband-swapped her daughters' partners. As the fictional Roseanne puts it, "As I wrote about my life I relived it, and whatever I didn't like I rearranged." (49) The fictional Roseanne speaks to her autonomy in utilizing creative license in telling what she still maintains to be her, ostensibly nonfiction, story; the rhetorical move also creates space for understanding Barr's assessment of her ownership of the show, despite its collaborative authorship and its fictional construct.

It is precisely this deliberate mixing of fiction, real life, and metafiction that helps account for why Al Harris's stature in the show is so charged. Tabloid and mainstream news coverage of Barr's abuse allegations regarding her father (covered in TV Guide, USA Today, 60 Minutes, Sally Jesse Raphael, and People, among other print and television outlets) was widespread. Undoubtedly, many viewers watched the Al Harris storyline on Roseanne knowing that Barr herself alleged that her father had been sexually abusive; viewers of Roseanne that watched the 60 Minutes segment would have been reminded of Al Harris's Jewishness on the subsequent episode. Barr herself has indicated how carefully she and the show writers chose what issues would be addressed. (50) Television programming addressing issues of abuse was not unusual at the time; Jane Feuer writes about the market that developed for "Trauma Drama" in the 1980s, and Joshua Gamson has shown how talk shows' increased democratization revolved around more open discussions of abuse, alongside other themes. (51) But Roseanne moved that conversation from the comparative periphery of TV specials to the heart of a highly rated primetime network sitcom. Given the extensive coverage of Barr's sexual abuse allegations by mainstream media, the real life allegations of sexual abuse very plausibly informed how segments of the audience viewed the Al Harris storyline, especially considering the fine line the show flaunted separating Barr the actress from Roseanne the character. Some of the textual references to abuse were very general. In the episode where Al dies, Roseanne confronts his mistress, who assumes Roseanne is angry at Al for having cheated on her mother. Roseanne says, "You think this is about the affair? You don't know nothing. You don't know nothing about my childhood. I could tell you stuff about my dad that you couldn't even handle." (52) The scene draws attention to what is left unsaid, and like the apology scene with DJ, possesses what Ien Ang calls "emotional realism." (53) Despite the sitcom format, the scene speaks to Roseanne's anger at her father (and those who protect or idealize him). The show's autobiographical elements consistently intersect with what many Barr's fans would have recognized as an intensely personal matter involving the star's actual life and contested memories.


To fully appreciate the complexity of Roseanne's incest narrative, though, consider that the Al Harris storyline (with its layered depiction of physical abuse, memory, and trauma, and extratextual resonances with sexual abuse) represents only one vector of the show's exploration of incestuous themes. The romance between Roseanne and Dan's daughter Darlene Conner and her boyfriend David provides material for numerous sibling incest jokes. In season 4, David Healey (played by Jonathan Galecki) is introduced as Becky's boyfriend Mark's younger brother. Darlene and David begin dating shortly prior to Becky and Mark eloping; when Mark sees David, and asks how he is, David replies, "Pretty good, except thanks to you now I'm related to my girlfriend." (54) The Conners invite David to move in with them after Roseanne witnesses David's mother subject him to emotional abuse. At the episode's conclusion, Darlene and David share an affectionate moment that Roseanne observes, commenting to Dan, "Oh, look, Honey. Our kids are necking." (55)

The Conners welcome David into their home in the same season, 19921993, that Al Harris dies. The humor mined from the laterally incestuous dynamic of Darlene and David sits against the drama of the vertical (father-daughter) dynamic of the Al Harris storyline. Certainly, the lack of consanguineous relation between David and Darlene might be said to establish the pairing as merely pseudo-incestuous, but the show works towards establishing David as a son to the Conners independent of his relationship with Darlene. Incorporated as family, David is representative of how Roseanne articulated family possibilities involving nontraditional kinship. (56) But while the lateral incest dynamic is positively charged, and the vertical one with Roseanne's father is negatively charged, they are ethnically charged in contrasting ways. Al Harris's Jewishness is established, yet never explicitly centered alongside the negative revelations about his character. David and Darlene's relationship, though, is utilized as fodder for "white trash" jokes.

Nowhere is the intersection of lateral incest and "white trash" identification more explicit than when Darlene announces that she is pregnant by David, and that they will get married. This episode ends with Roseanne soothing a furious Dan, finally making him laugh by declaring: "Check this out. Not only ... are we going to have a grandchild who is roughly the same age as our own child, but our daughter is marrying the boy we considered to be our son. I think that means we are now officially the white-trashiest family in all the land!" (57) If the Al Harris storyline ran the risk of associating abuse with a Jewish patriarch, especially for the viewers who were aware of Barr's allegations regarding her father, the lateral dynamic between David and Darlene subsumed this tension by explicitly associating incest with a "white trash" ethnic identity. Barr's memoirs, however, reveal a more nuanced and historic conception of lateral incest as having particular resonances in Jewish communities. Writing about her daughter marrying a close family friend (not unlike the Darlene-David romance), Barr wrote:
   It was a little too European shtetl for my liking, like marrying
   your cousin or something, as every one of my overly hairy relatives
   indeed did. My mother's aunt was married to her own uncle (and by
   the way, I'm my own grandpa!). Two of my sisters are married to a
   brother and sister, and both of my sisters last names are
   Epstein-Barr. You can't make this shit up, folks! (58)

A parallel emerges: ethnic Jewishness is invoked in Barr's memoir in a similar fashion to how "white trash" identity is invoked on "Another Mouth": both examples use self-deprecating humor to negotiate close endogamy. While contemporary incest can exist in a purportedly nonethnic, working-class "white trash" household on Roseanne, Barr's memoir casts the incestuous undertones of her daughter's relationship as akin to the Jewish past intruding upon the present. But the nostalgia of contemporary economically privileged Jews for a working-class past also features an ambivalence towards the close endogamies that mark that working-class past as pseudo-incestuous.

Taken together, Barr's writing and show might be said to speak to a cultural logic that locates white incest as conceivable only in working-class families. As such, the tendency to view the Conners as decisively non-Jewish may hinge not on the separate points of incest and class, but on these two points' crucial linkedness. Essentially, white incest finds itself divorced from middle-class normativity; contemporarily or otherwise. Kirstine Taylor observes that in the past two decades, following progress for nonwhites in antidiscrimination laws during the 1970s and amidst a rise in neoliberal governance, some poor whites have chosen to "positively inhabit" a "white trash identity." (59) The Conners reveal a consistently playful attitude towards this identity, but Barr's show also indicates that ethnic Jewish and white trash identity could--and did--intersect in meaningful ways. Chronologically, this post-Civil Rights timeline also overlaps with the eras discussed by those scholars who trace Jews "becoming" white. Regarding the show's incest narrative, one dynamic could hold more "charge" than the other: the white trash lateral incest dynamic, which draws attention away from the negatively charged vertical dynamic involving Al Harris, is ethnically reoriented despite striking biographical consistency with Barr's familial close endogamies (both her siblings and children). Meanwhile, Barr's real-life anxiety about close endogamy seems eclipsed by David and Darlene's almost uncomfortably saccharine wedding vows, in which Darlene states that the "best way we can make it" is to "rely on each other the way our parents, Dan and Roseanne Conner, have." (60) Not only do they marry to begin their own family, but their vows also reveal a continued effort to normalize the nontraditional family in which David was taken in as an authentic sibling. The resultant wedding vows, in which a bride and groom discuss their affection for "our" parents, is not played for comic effect at all, but rather as a deeply touching tribute from sibling lovers to their parents.

None of this works out well for Dan, who has a heart attack at the wedding. Here, anxiety about lateral endogamies explodes into the storyline. The idea of a daughter's marriage resulting in the symbolic (or literal) replacement of a father reads as deeply Freudian, but this narrative arc merits consideration alongside Juliet Mitchell's Siblings, which helps to re-center the lateral dynamics of the incest taboo. (61) Mitchell's theory counters generations of psychoanalytic and Freudian theory that have reinforced the incest taboo as being vertically enforced by parents. If, as Mitchell argues, siblings themselves enforce the incest taboo in order to maintain societal conventions and preserve family connections, the David-Darlene-Dan dynamic takes on added nuance. Darlene and David's marriage reveals a defiant rejection of the notion that siblings themselves enforce the incest taboo, as only Dan seems especially troubled by the marriage (albeit, more for the opportunities it may foreclose for Darlene than for her marrying a brother figure). Sure enough, seeing his daughter and son wed gives Dan a heart attack, as he collapses at the reception. But while the subsequent episodes show his convalescence, the series finale, revealing the entire series to have been written by the fictional Roseanne Conner, asserts that Dan's surviving the heart attack was merely a fictional departure from the "real," to help Roseanne process her grief. Barr commented that this narrative mechanism provided "another dimension, another layer, when you watched the entire thing again." (62) Dan's death does help account for various ninth-season plotlines, where Roseanne's processing of grief through writing accounts for the series' simultaneous and sudden incorporation of extreme escapism alongside melodrama.

However, the notion of a wedding killing or replacing a father is not, by itself, an especially unique narrative. Any marriage, accompanied by a Freudian reading, features a daughter replacing a father with a substitute. Instead, it's the subsequent pregnancy scare, alongside the specter of Dan's death/non-death according to the season's narrative conceit, which complexly renders the linkedness of vertical and lateral incest. First, the marriage of David and Darlene simultaneously kills and does not kill Dan, a paradoxical result achieved by waiting until the last episode to revise the show's history. Second, the sibling agency (and failure to enforce the incest taboo) that might appear as the narrative reason for Dan's death upon the initial viewing is superseded by Roseanne's creative choice to keep Dan alive. Thus, female creative agency establishes whether the incest taboo does or does not result in the death of the father. Especially given the history of silencing surrounding women's storytelling regarding incest, the ninth season's narrative conceit of Roseanne's writing/re-writing of two divergent autobiographical stories seems especially subversive, and a provocative challenge to the truth/lie binary that surrounds most incest discourse.

Third, and most important, the indeterminacy of Dan's survival is mirrored by the indeterminacy of David and Darlene's daughter's survival. Indeed, Harris Conner Healey's premature birth intimates that lateral incest is vertically destructive in both directions. Henry Roth's Mercy of a Rude Stream depicts protagonist Ira Stigman's intense anxiety surrounding the possibility that his sister is pregnant by him: the fear of their child being congenitally affected by consanguineous incest dominates Ira's fears when his sister Minnie tells him that she missed her period. (63) Roseanne's depiction of Harris's premature birth, and a tearful scene in which Darlene and David wonder what they might have done to "deserve" a prematurely born, near-death infant, resonates with narrative conventions regarding the genetic risks of lateral incest. Darlene and David's lack of a consanguineous relationship proves the narrative mechanism that allows for their positively charged pseudo-incestuous bond, but the transgression undergirding that union yields the precise consequence literature so often associates with consanguineous sibling relations (and Jewish ones in particular, in the case of Mann's and Poe's short stories).

In contemplating Roseanne's thematizing of vertical and lateral incest, there is a temptation to consider the show's audiences along ethnic lines. But in examining the manner in which Jewishness, and part Jewishness, are invoked in explicit and nonexplicit fashions alongside storylines dealing with whiteness and incest, attempting to delineate Roseanne's Jewish audience from its non-Jewish audience might prove to be a fruitless endeavor. Freedman's compelling argument that Jewish American cultural production reflects a "syncretic, hybridizing engagement with a national culture in ways that transform both their own identity and experience and that of the culture at large" seems especially relevant regarding the liminal Jewish space carved out on Roseanne. (64) The show provides its own critique of even mild essentialism, as Roseanne herself, and her family, emerge at the center of the liminal space that is often disallowed in conversations of what "is" or "is not" Jewish. That is to say, by crafting a fictional reality that commits to a part Jewishness without ever championing Jewish identification, Barr's show speaks most directly to a liminal audience--crucially, a liminal audience that would be defined as decisively not Jewish according to Jewish institutions that privilege matrilineal descent. (65) On Roseanne, an intermarried part-Jewish family that expresses ambivalence about their religious or ethnic categorization emerges, finally, as the epitome of "white" in the scholarly record. Consider Ralph Ellison's paint factory in Invisible Man: one drop of blackness creates the whitest white. Roseanne's achievement is depicting a world where the whitest white working-class family has a Jewish father/grandfather. Borrowing from Ellison's critical eye, we might consider that Al Harris's Jewishness is structural, and not incidental, to the Conner family's undeniable whiteness. This is not to suggest that the liminally Jewish content of Roseanne supersedes the far more saturated Marxist content, but rather to surmise that a particular amount of ethnic identity can be found within this artistic depiction of a purportedly prototypical white working class family, as long as it accedes to particular cultural logics. But while scholarship has flattened the Conner family's ethnicity into a non-Jewish, nondescript whiteness, not all viewers missed the cues.

A 2006 online fan-fiction piece entitled "Lanford Days Again," by an author using the screenname "CNJ," picks up eight years after the end of the series. The story reveals Jackie still dealing with the trauma of her father's abuse, but situates those memories alongside Nana Mary, Jackie and Roseanne's maternal grandmother, discussing family history over photos of long-dead relatives. About a great aunt Annika, Nana Mary says, "Their father was killed in the pogroms raging through Eastern Europe then. I remember her telling me about this when I was little." (66) The story ends with Nana Mary's "mostly ... secular funeral," presided over by a rabbi. (67) One piece of fan fiction cannot and does not serve as proof for my claims. But I show this to suggest that close viewers of the show might well have contemplated the Conners' Jewishness in complex ways invited by the show, despite consistent scholarly assessments of the Conners as decisively "not Jewish." Indeed, a Roseanne fan-fiction author reading Jewishness into the Harris family background is not altogether surprising, as the show explicitly marks Al Harris as Jewish, and features the aforementioned signifiers of some Jewish heritage. But Nana Mary is not Al Harris's mother; she is Roseanne's maternal grandmother.

As such, CNJ reads, and subsequently writes, Jewish history into Roseanne's Lutheran mother's genealogy, opening up an entire subtext regarding Jewish conversion, passing, and assimilation. In this respect, CNJ does not seem to be merely "racebending" here, though racebending is characteristic of fan fiction. The choice seems less about departing from the text, and more about reading deeply into it. CNJ's choice to make Nana Mary Jewish concretizes Barr's own allusions to the character, as she described Shelley Winters' (who was Jewish) performance of Nana Mary as representative of one of her Jewish grandmothers, Bobbe Mary, whom she discusses extensively in her memoirs. Winters delivered "a good representation of my actual grandmother whose name was Mary. She was very much like that. All the women of that generation who were Jewish from Russia and Europe were kind of like that too." (68) Barr's commentary here speaks to a simultaneous specification and universalization of the Nana Mary/Bobbe Mary "type"; she pronounces her recognizably Jewish on a show that also presented her as simultaneously, recognizably, "white trash," clad in trucker hat, sipping hard alcohol. Among his arguments in The Racial Contract, Charles Mills contends that the distinction between "white" and white ethnic groups considered "off white" may be overstated in terms of how global racial politics involving the oppression of nonwhite peoples operate. (69) The politics of Jewish representation on Roseanne speaks to the flexibility with which some audiences could view the same characters as distinctly representative of some version of non-Jewish "whiteness," even as the other viewers saw a much more complex picture. "Off white" and "white" can be coded into the same character, but read towards different purposes. Reading Nana Mary as Jewish, and thus her daughter Bev as converted (or as a closet Jew) reveals Roseanne's more layered engagement with whiteness than Rowe's assessment of an "unexamined" approach.


Season eight's "The Last Date" speaks obliquely to the charged nature of Al Harris's Jewish patriarchal character through its deployment of Shecky Greene, the noted Jewish stand-up comedian, as a far more traditional, positively charged, Jewish paterfamilias. (70) Yet the episode, which features Roseanne and Dan crashing a Bar Mitzvah on their final date prior to Roseanne giving birth to their youngest child, also portrays Dan and Roseanne's encounter with the Jews at the bar mitzvah as so detached and othering as to strain credulity that Roseanne grew up with a Jewish father, or that the Dan character might have two seasons earlier matter-of-factly disclosed to DJ that his grandfather was Jewish. The nature of that detachment, though, builds towards a climax when Uncle Sol, played by Greene, confronts Roseanne and Dan for having crashed the event. Roseanne protests his outing them as outsiders, asserting, "I know what all this is about. It's because I married a gentile, isn't it?" (71)

The line, which provokes no laugh track response, draws attention to Barr's real-life intermarriages, while also remaining true (even in its jest) to the fictional reality of Lanford: however indeterminate Roseanne's Jewish identity, her part Jewishness proves itself in her assertion of Dan as a gentile, and her claiming of that as grounds for her unjust banishment from the Jewish celebration they crash. Yet Uncle Sol does not banish them at all. Instead, he provides sage wisdom and encouraging words for them, and alleviates their concerns about once again becoming parents. While Al Harris's fatherly parental authority vanishes in Roseanne and Jackie's memory of his physical abuse, Uncle Sol emerges as an idealized, decisively Jewish paternal presence. The episode's mobilization of Jewish stereotypes (the bar mitzvah family are depicted as gossips, fressers, lawyers, and doctors), ends with Uncle Sol's positioning as a viable, charitable male patriarch--a sort of father-knows-best type--the very archetype the show otherwise deconstructs as sitcom mythology. Read through this lens, the episode may be the most anticanonical in the series run, and perhaps reveals something of Barr's (and the show's) anxiety and ambivalence about the show's sustained criticism of patriarchy. Though Al Harris never finds redemption on the show, the figure of the Jewish patriarch does; Uncle Sol, more than any other male figure on the show, is given the authority to bless Roseanne and Dan's intermarriage and procreation, even within an episode emphasizing Roseanne and Dan's outsiderness to Jewish traditions. This episode reads very differently if removed from a viewing so sensitive to depictions of Jewishness across the show's nine-year duration, and so I emphasize that I put this reading forward as viable and worth contemplation, and not definitive. But if we consider that Roseanne's critique of patriarchy emerged as particularly charged in the context of Al Harris's Jewishness, "The Last Date" cedes patriarchal Jewish authority back to Uncle Sol within a cartoonified Jewish space (the bar mitzvah party) which emphasizes Roseanne and Dan's unbelonging.

Though A1 Harris never finds redemption on the show, the fictional Roseanne does find some muted resolution in confronting him after he dies, giving a speech to his coffin-interred body. Roseanne's last words to him, "I-love-you-goodbye," are muttered quickly as she leaves the room in the funeral parlor. (72) Even as she attempts closure, there is ambivalence. But the fictionalized lack of resolution, and heartache, dramatized in the episode pale next to what Barr has said and written in recent years regarding her real-life allegations. In a 2000 interview, Barr reflected on her choice to publicly air her allegations, as well as her status as an inspirational figure for having done so:

"It's been 10 years since I spoke to my family. They're not willing to." Her voice drops and there's a long pause. "Now I do regret it, yeah. 1 get letters from people saying: 'When you did it, it gave me courage.' But I was just thinking about this yesterday, the price that I had to pay is too high. I go back and forth." (73)

After then attributing her decision to go public in 1991 to Tom Arnold's pressure, Barr goes even further, offering the following advice to abused children: "I wouldn't urge any kid to tell. I'd tell 'em not to. I really thought about that a lot. But, knowing what happens, I think the best you can do is grow up and deal with it. Grow up, go to therapy and deal with it." (74)

In 2011, in her most recent memoir, Roseannearchy, Barr went into depth regarding her allegations and her thoughts regarding them two decades later: "The word incest conjures ideas of sex, but there was never any sex between my father and me. There was violence, humiliation, inappropriate words, 'jokes,' and rather grotesque displays that never should have occurred between a father and his daughter, but there was no actual sex." (75) She even addresses her parents having passed a lie detector test, stating: "Of course, they passed a polygraph test, proving there was no 'incest.' I still wonder what word would have been better to use. It doesn't seem that there is one that conveys the feelings I had as a young girl in a family that didn't really value women's needs, privacy, shame, or pride." (76) On the talk show circuit, promoting the book, Barr and Oprah Winfrey would have the following exchange:

"I think it's the worst thing I've ever done," Roseanne told Oprah. "It's the biggest mistake that I've ever made"

"Calling it incest? Or going public?" Oprah asked.

"Well, both of those things," Roseanne said. "I think what happened was that--well, I know what happened was that I was in a very unhappy relationship. I was prescribed numerous psychiatric drugs. Incredible mixtures of psychiatric drugs to deal with the fact that I had, and still in some ways, have and always will have some mental illness. And the drugs and the combination of drugs that I was given, which were some strong, strong drugs, I totally lost touch with reality in a big, big way." (77)

Here, too, Barr alludes to her relationship with Arnold in contextual zing her behavior in 1991, while also candidly revealing her battles with mental illness. But the question she arrives at in her memoir is deeply provocative: what word would have been better than "incest"? The years between Barr's initial allegations, and her more recent recantation of their public nature and wording, but not content, featured an even higher profile examination of sexual semantics regarding the word "is," and Bill Clinton's testimony regarding whether oral sex was, or was not, sex. Indeed, Barr's apology is difficult to read; her assessment of having "lost touch with reality" in the Winfrey interview seems to invite complete discrediting. The extent to which these nuance, regretful meditations were simplified and packaged as click-bait (the above-cited article was titled, "Roseanne Reveals New Reality Show; Apologizes for 1991 'Incest' Claim") also speaks to the continued political relevance of the two decades-old "memory wars" and the societal predisposition to simplify incest narratives into truth/lie propositions. While some have used Barr's words to declare belated victory in a battle against the reliability of testimony regarding sexual abuse, Roseannearchy finds Barr expressing Clintonian ambivalence regarding sexual semantics, posthumously alleviating her deceased father from the weight of her allegations, though pointedly refusing to remove it completely.

On April 18, 2001, the National Enquirer, a tabloid that Roseanne Conner would jokingly refer to as the newspaper "of record" on Roseanne, reported on Jerry Barr's death of a heart attack, while noting "his heart was broken years ago when his superstar daughter publicly accused him of molesting her." (78) The article focuses on Barr and her father's failure to reconcile, but an accompanying feature, a "Fast Fact," reads as follows: "Roseanne's dad, who was Jewish, once sold crucifixes door-to-door." (79) The sentence is alarmingly dense with subtext regarding the Barr family, the question of their ethnic identity, and their liminal status as Jews. Separated from an "obituary" that only addresses allegations of molestation (avoiding the word "incest"), the "Fast Fact" simultaneously assigns and qualifies Jerry Barr's authentic Jewish identity.

While Jerry Barr and his daughter never reconciled, in 1995, during Roseanne's eighth season, Roseanne gives birth to Jerry Garcia Conner, named after the famous lead singer of the Grateful Dead. This episode aired directly after the one with Uncle Sol, and features Roseanne Conner bequeathing on her fictional son the very same first name of Barr's father. The choice to name Roseanne's son Jerry seems to suggest the possibility of integrating flawed father figures back into the family--even if only symbolically. The show's ambivalence regarding closure remains consistent on a thematic and episodic level throughout: problems are rarely solved; they are just replaced by new ones. But in this context, Jerry Garcia Conner seems especially significant, and perhaps radical, in his symbolic importance to generations-long disputes regarding the plausibility and denial of paternal sexual abuse. Barr's eventual ability to see her father as flawed, but not monstrous, despite her public campaign to draw attention to her memories of his problematic behaviors, may not have ultimately contradicted her ability to honor him, however obliquely, on her show after they had become estranged.


(1.) Jvideos8, "Child Abuse."

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Arnold, "A Star."

(4.) Ibid.

(5.) Jvideos8, "Child Abuse."

(6.) Barr, My Lives, 226.

(7.) Jvideos8, "Child Abuse."

(8.) Arnold, "A Star."

(9.) Sollors, Neither White nor Black, 318.

(10.) The tension between exogamy and incest/close endogamies can be found across multiple genres of Jewish American cultural productions. Philip Roth mines it in Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral, Woody Allen explores it in Hannah and Her Sisters and his short story "Retribution," and the contemporary YidLife Craw juxtaposes incest and interracial exogamous desire in the first two episodes of their webseries.

(11.) Abraham, "On Neurotic Exogamy."

(12.) Gilman, "Sibling Incest," 138.

(13.) Ibid., 136.

(14.) Furthermore, the blood libel, in its intimation that Jewish adults captured non-Jewish children to bodily consume them, has sexual resonances that seem to align with pedophilic sexual predation.

(15.) Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color, Roots Too, and Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks. Jacobson makes the point that even given the vulnerability of American Jews to antisemitism and discrimination prior to WWII, which he sees as a "turning point" in this shifting discourse, from 1790 onwards Jews were actually considered "white" by "the most significant measures of that appellation: they could enter the country and become naturalized citizens" (Whiteness, 176). In Roots Too, Jacobson argues that ethnically diverse white second-wave feminists further cemented the formulation of "white" as encompassing of Jews and other white ethnics.

(16.) Season 8 features both actresses playing Becky at different points, with jokes playing on the viewers' awareness--for instance, Roseanne greets Lecy Gorenson's Becky with "I'm so glad you're back this week," in the season premier, a welcome the studio audience happily interprets as meant for Becky and original Becky actress, Gorenson ("Shower the People You Love With Stuff").

(17.) "I Pray the Lord My Stove To Keep."

(18.) "Santa Claus."

(19.) "White Trash Christmas."

(20.) Barr, Roseanne: My Life as a Woman, xi.

(21.) Her (marvelous) routine about her father wearing a large turquoise Star of David belt buckle appears almost identically in her 1987 HBO special and her 2005 one.

(22.) Rosewater, "A Roseanne By Any Other Name."

(23.) Goodman, "TV VIEW; Roseanne Is No Cousin to Archie Bunker."

(24.) "BOO!"

(25.) "Sweet Dreams"; "Inherit the Wind."

(26.) Krieger, "Does He Actually Say the Word Jewish?," 388.

(27.) "Coffee Talk: Barbra Streisand Stops By."


(29.) Antler also sees Roseanne as challenging the depiction of "benevolent" Jewish motherhood, such as on the 1950s sitcom The Goldbergs, an important precedent for televised, sitcom depictions of Jewish mothers. Vincent Brook also discusses The Goldbergs in Something Ain't Kosher Here: The Rise of the "Jewish" Sitcom, which focuses primarily on the 1990s (and only mentions Roseanne in passing).

(30.) Antler, You Never Call! You Never Write!, 175.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) Marc, "Roseanne," 199.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Senzani, "Class and Gender," 237, 248.

(35.) Rowe, The Unruly Woman, 84.

(36.) Elkin, "ON THE SCENE," 9X.

(37.) "Roseanne Barr."

(38.) The Roseanne Show.

(39.) Ibid.

(40.) Jhally and Lewis, Enlightened Racism, 78.

(41.) "This Old House."

(42.) "The Driver's Seat."

(43.) Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 108. Crucially, the show does not suggest this connection between abuse and eating disorders. Jackie Harris also testifies to Al Harris's abuse, without exhibiting any eating disorders, revealing the show's ability to achieve nuance and avoid over-determination.

(44.) Weinbaum, Wayward Reproductions.

(45.) Rush, The Best Kept Secret. The book's opening pages frame the ensuing discussion of incest by depicting Rush's traditional Jewish upbringing, introducing her experience of molestation by a family friend through a juxtaposition with Shabbat dinner.

(46.) Freedman, Klezmer America, 6.

(47.) "Less Is More."

(48.) Tom Arnold's Jewishness is a matter for extended focus: though he plays the role of prototypical goy in Barr's stand-up routines, he converted to Judaism when he married Barr, and was in fact born to a Jewish mother, though he was raised by his Christian father and stepmother after his mother abandoned him early in his life (Angel liana, "Tom Arnold Is a Mensch").

(49.) "Into That Good Night, Part 2."

(50.) Williams, "Excuse the Mess," 191.

(51.) Feuer, Seeing Through the Eighties; Gamson, Freaks Talk Back.

(52.) "Wait Til Your Father Gets Home."

(53.) Ang, Watching Dallas.

(54.) "Terms of Estrangement, Part 2."

(55.) "It's a Boy!" The episode title also does work in establishing the irony of David's arrival (if not birth) as a Conner child.

(56.) In this respect, Roseanne joins a long list of sitcoms from its era depicting families with nontraditional kinship relations (consider Diffrent Strokes, 1978-1986; Who's the Boss? 1984-1992; and Full House, 1987-1995; among many others).

(57.) "Another Mouth to Shut Up."

(58.) Barr, Roseannearchy, 161.

(59.) Taylor, "Untimely Subjects," 74.

(60.) "Another Mouth to Shut Up"; emphasis added.

(61.) Mitchell, Siblings.

(62.) "Season 9: Breaking the Sitcom Mold."

(63.) Roth, A Diving Rock on the Hudson, 157.

(64.) Freedman, Klezmer America, 38.

(65.) That Barr's Jewish identity might pronounce itself in ways resistant to the matrilineal tradition may relate to her mother's ambivalence about being Jewish in largely Mormon Salt Lake City. In My Life as a Woman, Barr discusses her mother's decision to raise her (and her siblings) in two worlds: "Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning I was a Jew; Sunday afternoon, Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday afternoon we were Mormons." There may be some reflection of this matrilineal continuity inconsistency in the depiction of Roseanne Conner's non-matrilineal part Jewishness. Barr, My Life as a Woman, 51.

(66.) CNJ, "Lanford Days Again."

(67.) Ibid.

(68.) Barr, "Thanksgiving 1991 (Commentary)."

(69.) Mills, The Racial Contract.

(70.) "The Last Date."

(71.) Ibid.

(72.) "Wait Til Your Father Gets Home."

(73.) Bradberry, "I Wish I Hadn't Accused My Parents of Abuse."

(74.) Ibid.

(75.) Barr, Roseannearchy, 217.

(76.) Ibid., 217.

(77.) "Roseanne Reveals New Reality Show."

(78.) "Roseanne's Dad Dies With A Broken Heart."

(79.) Ibid.


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Author:Bromberg, Eli W.
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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