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“People around these parts don’t eat that way”: Representations of Midwestern Taste in Roseanne

by Ethan Tussey

by Staci Stutsman for IN MEDIA RES

 After the Connor family wins the Illinois state lottery in season 9 of ABC's hit sitcom Roseanne (1988-1997), Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) plan to travel to an elite health spa. As seen in the excerpted clip, Jackie flips through a fashion magazine and notes, "I have got to get some new clothes for the spa, everything I have stinks like Lanford." This comment is indicative of the series' inclination to make overt comical connections between the family's Lanford residence and their taste while encouraging the audience to laugh at the joke along with the laugh track. 

In their introduction to the Midwest, Joseph Slade and Judith Lee discuss the binarized public conception of the Midwest as either "Heartland" or "Hinterland." On one hand, the Midwest stands in as the idealized verison of pastoral Americana (Heartland) but, on the other, it is conceived as a cultural wasteland and "backwater" (Hinterland) populated by "rubes".  I am interested in the way that Roseanne, in its progressive rejection of the conservative ideologies of a dominant patriarchal society, ends up rebuffing the image of the Midwest as Heartland and, in doing so, swings to the opposite of the binary, reinforcing the place of the Midwest as a cultural other in the national imagination. 

The series' comedic logic trades in representations of bad taste, representations that grow in exessiveness in the later seasons. In order to mock high culture and taste, the Connors draw attention to their own love of low culture and justify that low taste through their Midwestern regional affiliation, a move that allows the show to define something about Midwestern preferences. When asked why a vegetarian restuarant would not thrive in Lanford, Roseanne explains that "people around these parts don't eat that way." Her daughter Darlene (Sarah Gilbert), the perpetual starving artist, strives to leave Lanford because the "great minds of Lanford just don't appreciate" her work. The Connors--and other people around "these parts"--prefer bologna, peanut butter and Frito sandwiches and TV to tofu, feng shui and theater. The way the show lampoons high culture, as showcased in this clip, opens the Connors--and a version of the classed Midwest--up for mockery. Though Roseanne admirably works to deconstruct cultural ideals of beauty and taste, it further solidifes the audience's notion of the Midwest as a backwater Hinterland by, at times, inviting them to laugh at the Connors instead of with them. 

“People around these parts don’t eat that way”: Representations of Midwestern Taste in Roseanne

by Ethan Tussey

by Staci Stutsman for IN MEDIA RES

 After the Connor family wins the Illinois state lottery in season 9 of ABC's hit sitcom Roseanne (1988-1997), Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) plan to travel to an elite health spa. As seen in the excerpted clip, Jackie flips through a fashion magazine and notes, "I have got to get some new clothes for the spa, everything I have stinks like Lanford." This comment is indicative of the series' inclination to make overt comical connections between the family's Lanford residence and their taste while encouraging the audience to laugh at the joke along with the laugh track. 

In their introduction to the Midwest, Joseph Slade and Judith Lee discuss the binarized public conception of the Midwest as either "Heartland" or "Hinterland." On one hand, the Midwest stands in as the idealized verison of pastoral Americana (Heartland) but, on the other, it is conceived as a cultural wasteland and "backwater" (Hinterland) populated by "rubes".  I am interested in the way that Roseanne, in its progressive rejection of the conservative ideologies of a dominant patriarchal society, ends up rebuffing the image of the Midwest as Heartland and, in doing so, swings to the opposite of the binary, reinforcing the place of the Midwest as a cultural other in the national imagination. 

The series' comedic logic trades in representations of bad taste, representations that grow in exessiveness in the later seasons. In order to mock high culture and taste, the Connors draw attention to their own love of low culture and justify that low taste through their Midwestern regional affiliation, a move that allows the show to define something about Midwestern preferences. When asked why a vegetarian restuarant would not thrive in Lanford, Roseanne explains that "people around these parts don't eat that way." Her daughter Darlene (Sarah Gilbert), the perpetual starving artist, strives to leave Lanford because the "great minds of Lanford just don't appreciate" her work. The Connors--and other people around "these parts"--prefer bologna, peanut butter and Frito sandwiches and TV to tofu, feng shui and theater. The way the show lampoons high culture, as showcased in this clip, opens the Connors--and a version of the classed Midwest--up for mockery. Though Roseanne admirably works to deconstruct cultural ideals of beauty and taste, it further solidifes the audience's notion of the Midwest as a backwater Hinterland by, at times, inviting them to laugh at the Connors instead of with them. 

Representing the Midwest in Roseanne

Roseanne Episode 4 Season 9 clip

from Roseanne (1997)
Creator: Roseanne Barr
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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