Roseanne and The Cosby Show and Issues of Class, Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Published: 2021-06-25
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Carnegie Mellon University
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Class Dismissed highlights the different social classes is a comedy and drama setting. The series highlights stereotypes associated with various social class individuals. Class Dismissed navigates the steady stream of the narrow working class representations from American television beginnings to current aspects of reality shows, drama, sitcoms, as well as talk shows. In fact, Class Dismissed explores ways in which gender, sexuality, as well as class intersect in offering a more complex reading of television representations. It is taken for granted how television does not accurately reflect how we live, but it is not easy to articulate how TV distorts the real world. Class Dismissed provides an overview of how TV distorts aspects of social class in the American context, but the same trends are recognized everywhere. After watching the film, there are various definitions of social class that has been used. The working class in the film refers to those individuals that have low incomes, and are characterized by low power, as well as less cultural capital, or rather, less sophistication. It is contrasted to the middle class, who are mainly individuals who are a notch above each of the scales of the working class. In essence, the middle class is considered to be living the American Dream, because they have leisure experiences and gleam affluence compared to the working class.

Besides, Class Dismissed also highlights aspects of race sexuality and gender. In essence, it breaks the important ground by exploring the manner in which sexuality, gender, and race intersect with the class, and thus, I offer a complex reading of television, which is often in one-dimensional representation. The purpose of this paper is to discuss two series, The Cosby Show and Roseanne in the way they are similar in representing the social class, as well as how instances of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, the way Class Dismissed did. It is typical that television has many instances of class inflations. For instance, surveys of television sitcoms reveal few representations of working class families, and thus, most of them are alike in that they are one-dimensional, just like Class Dismissed. For instance, in a study conducted by Richard Butsch, that entailed 262 domestic sitcoms from 1946 to 1990 revealed that only 11% of the shows had blue-collar, service workers, and clericals as heads of households (Butsch 387). However, this is different from Class Dismissed, Roseanne, and The Cosby Show, which also entails the use of the working class. Roseanne is considered the most successful and provocative series that highlights aspects of a working-class family. It provides an opportunity for analyzing class and gender politics, as well as their inclination towards race and sex. The series features a married couple who are in their thirties and have three children. The family lives in the fictional Midwestern town of Lanford in Illinois.

The high school graduates, Dan and Roseanne, have unstable employment in the series. Roseanne has a series of pink-collar jobs, for example, working as a shampoo girl in a parlour, waitressing at a cafe, serving fast foods under the supervision of a manager who is yet to graduate from high school, as well as working as an assembly line worker in a factory that manufactures plastic eating utensils. On the other hand, Dan works as doing a dry wall, operating a motorcycle shop that failed, as well as experiencing periods of unemployment. The couple has gained some stability in that Dan is now in a supervisory job working at the Lanford City Garage while Roseanne is part-owner of a loose meat sandwich shop with her sister, Jackie, and a lesbian friend. Roseanne is similar to Class Dismissed because it highlights the challenges of the working class, which involves losing jobs or getting underpaid. For instance in the series, the Conners have their electricity shut off by the power company because they did not pay the bill on time and in one episode, Roseanne arrives late at her job only for new manager Leon to say that since she was late he would dock five minutes of pay, to which Roseanne replies that it was almost 30 cents and gives him a dollar instead. For this reason, the working class have a little power compared to the middle-class individuals and are characterized to have challenges. They have the lowest social rank and have low income, which is directly proportional to their low education. In some occasions, as pointed out in episode 2, it is revealed that Dan was unemployed, which are some of the challenges of the working class. In episode 4, it is revealed that they have a low job security because they are employed, and they can be dismissed from the company. The working class does not make much money, which is evident by the fact that power was cut off as they never paid for it.

In contrast to the working class, Roseanne portrays the middle class as independent, empowered, and sassy primarily because the economic and social forces that often prevent these traits are downplayed. In Roseanne, the middle class employs the working class. They are well-off and are living the American Dream. They do not have minor problems like the working class. Also, Roseanne portrays consumption, not just production as a defining class activity, and through this, the series explores womens traditional concern with shopping and buying that Roseanne genders class experience. Women associate class with purchasing, and thus, gender in Roseanne depicts that purchasing is usually done in accordance with the class. Also, Roseannes clothing, her posture, as well as her overt expression of sexuality, and thus, in the series, just like in Class Dismissed, class differences between the working class and the middle class are often represented as sexual differences. In light of this view, the working-class is cast as the beater of an exaggerated sexuality, against which the middle-class respectability is defined. As such, middle class reveals aspects of being respected by the manner they expose their sexuality via clothing. In essence, this is similar to Class Dismissed in that the middle class does not compromise respect for sexuality. Roseanne is effective in highlighting white working class culture, and thus, it depicts an inclination of social class and race. For instance, Roseanne character occasionally makes reference to her family as being poor white trash. In essence, race and social class as depicted in Roseanne and Class Dismissed are not interrelated because whites, as Roseanne depicts, whites can too fall under the working class bracket.

In The Cosby Show there also instances of social class, particularly the working class and the middle class. In essence, the most important aspect revealed in the series is that race does not dictate the social class of a person. In essence, in the void of an available public discourse about class, black viewers complain that the middle-class Huxtables, which is the main family in The Cosby Show are considered as too white (Bettie 139). For this reason, just like the Class Dismissed, The Cosby Show is vital in highlighting instances of the class. Also, sexuality is addressed in The Cosby Show in that men are portrayed as the heads of the family, to which is similar to Class Dismissed. For instance, the show confronted the issue of machismo, as well as efficiently worked to promote a richer understanding of fatherhood and manhood (Dyson 28). The issue of race and class have been effectively covered in the show. In essence, African Americans have always been depicted in television as working class, however, in this case, The Cosby Show was effective in depicting race as a determiner of social class. Therefore, Class Dismissed and The Cosby Show are similar in that they assert that race is not the main determiner of what social class a person is. As such, both reveal that Americans, despite racial origin are all working towards achieving the American Dream.

The Cosby Show was also similar to Class Dismissed in that the episodes, especially episode 3 and 4 in season one of the series stressed the importance of education. In essence, with education, anyone can move from working class to middle or even to upper class. It all depends on the effort. Therefore, the working class in both the sitcoms are depicted to as those without an adequate source of funds, and that they are afflicted by a various form of problems, which are all attributed to lack of finances. Also, in both, when a middle-class individual makes a mistake, it is considered as an aberration from the successful and confident person they should be. As such, success is an ingredient for the middle-class individuals, and in most instances, failure is not tolerated. As such, the working class is considered as people with less intelligence, poor work ethics, as well as dysfunctional family values.

In conclusion, it can be derived that Roseanne and The Cosby Show are similar in the way they depict the working class and the middle class. The middle class are well-off compared to the working class and consider to be respected. For this reason, sexuality and the middle class is not compatible as it is usually defined by the shopping and buying behavior. Also, raced is not a determiner of what social class a person is.


Works Cited

Bettie, Julie. "Class dismissed? Roseanne and the changing face of working-class iconography." Social Text 45 (1995): 125-149.

Dyson, Michael. "Bill Cosby and the politics of race." Z Magazine 2.3 (1989): 26-30.

Richard Butsch, "Class and Gender in Four Decades of Television Situation Comedy: Plus ca Change" Critical Studies in Mass Communication 9 (December 1992): 387-99.


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