The revival of the sitcom Roseanne in March 2018 sparked big ratings for ABC, generally positive reviews, and, of course, controversy. However, the initial episodes did not seem to drive the conversation online quite as much as a years-old series of images that suddenly reappeared featuring the show’s eponymous star, actor and comedian Roseanne Barr, dressed up as Hitler and pulling gingerbread cookies out of an oven:
These photographs are real. However, they are frequently shared without important accompanying context. The series of images were originally part of a 2009 article in a “Germany” issue of Heeb magazine, a satirical Jewish publication that ran between 2001 and 2010. (An infrequently updated version of the magazine still exists online.) In the article which originally accompanied these photographs, entitled “That Oven Feelin’,” author Oliver Noble wrote that Roseanne asked to dress up as Hitler for the spread, as she believes (or at least jokingly said that she believes) that she may be the reincarnation of the Führer himself:
As I wait for Barr to arrive, I contemplate the pop culture folklore that surrounds her: the alleged multiple personality disorder, the roller coaster relationship with Tom Arnold—which culminated in a bitter divorce—the theory (her own) that she may in fact be the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, whom she has requested to be dressed as for her Heeb photo shoot. “Nervous” doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about meeting this 5’4” Jewish grandmother.
With her hit sitcom off the air for more than a decade and the tabloid pages of her tumultuous life rotting in landfills, Barr currently spends her time working on a collection of essays on menopause, celebrity, pharmaceuticals and Jewish life in Mormon Utah (to be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment) and disseminating her signature mix of insights and insults through her blog (Roseanneworld.com). She briefly kept an account with what she now calls “that shit heap” (Twitter) before deleting it, citing as her reason “the idiocy of people and how ill-informed they all seem.” Today, when she brusquely enters the photo studio, she seems none too happy about having been dragged from her self-imposed exile.
As the “Domestic Goddess” dons the famous moustache, transforming into “Domestic Goddess Hitler,” I notice that she’s beginning to have fun. She nails the Fuehrer’s facial expressions with twisted glee, and as she takes the burnt gingerbread “Jew Cookies” out of the oven it occurs to me that Barr may be the last celebrity utterly incapable of giving a fuck—a quality theoretically easy to embody until it’s time to face the practical repercussions. “Franklin Ajae, Paul Mooney, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory’s passings will tear my kishkas out,” Barr laments. “They gave everything they had to just tell the truth, and they couldn’t make a decent living because of the choice they made—not selling out to Hollywood.”
The photoshoot stirred up considerable controversy at the time, and from pundits across the political spectrum. Segments on The View and The O’Reilly Factor criticized the comedian for the Hitler-themed photoshoot. Heeb, however, defended the pictures and noted that Holocaust jokes are frequently featured in Hollywood movies, explaining that as a satirical, Jewish publication its goal was to challenge preconceptions:
Heeb is a satirical Jewish culture magazine that interrogates stereotypes and ideas (hopefully in creative ways) that many hold sacred in order to represent the complex and nuanced perspectives that many Jews have about their identities. When we depicted Sarah Silverman behind a hole in a sheet or Jonah Hill dressed as Moses holding two kegs as if they were tablets, we weren’t trying to be shocking–we were trying to communicate something truthful about contemporary Jewishness. Yes, that may sound impossibly high-fallutin, but it’s the truth and while we kind of don’t give a shit whether the magazine wreaks havoc on smug and sanctimonious visions of Jewish life, we do care when our intentions (or those of our collaborators) are distorted.
Virtually every pitch we received leading up to the publishing of our Germany Issue circled back to the Nazis and the Holocaust and almost all of them were humorous in nature. Naturally, our editors couldn’t help but wonder whether something new was happening in the culture— whether the taboo against joking about the Holocaust and the Nazis exerted as much power as it used to. Certainly Jews have been joking about the Holocaust since the Holocaust (I believe it was the Warsaw Ghetto where the Jewish inhabitants referred to Hitler regularly as “Horowitz”), but these jokes have largely been uttered in private or underground. In recent years, they have been finding themselves in the most public of conversations.
And what better way to capture this moment in popular culture than by having the original “domestic goddess” don the Fuhrer’s famous mustache? For better or worse, hasn’t the Holocaust itself been domesticated?
Roseanne also addressed the issue during an episode of The Green Room with Paul Provenza. The conversation about those Hitler images begins about the eight minutes in. We’ve transcribed the relevant portion below:
Roseanne: It’s like a Jewish woman. And She’s dressed up like Hitler. And he’s in drag. Hitler. And he’s baking cookies. And he’s really proud of them. But he’s also looking off into the horizon because he has a dream. It was for Heeb magazine. It was their Germany issue. And who better a symbol of Germany than Hitler?
Provenza: What did your detractors have to say?
Roseanne: Oh my god. You don’t want to piss of Jews. Even if you’re a Jew, don’t piss off Jews. All Jews hate each other.
Provenza: Jews went crazy over this. Understandably.
Rozeanne: I don’t think understandably. It really pissed me off. Because they were like “you’re making fun of the people in the ovens,” but I’m not making fun of people in the ovens.
Patrice O’Neal: You kind of are though. The only thing worse would have been if you made the cookies skinny.
Roseanne: There’s another, deeper layer to it. You know just the everyday. Moving off this Holocaust. There’s been about fifty of them since then. That’s what I’m kind of trying to say. Is like, Jesus Christ it’s so fucking every day now, holocausts, it’s like baking cookies.
Provenza: Were you not aware that that’s not what people would be thinking?
Roseanne: I don’t give a fuck what people think. I care what people do. I don’t care what they think. That’s what I’m trying to say. Let’s stop holocausts. When I did The Star Spangled Banner — let’s care about freedom, instead of symbols of freedom for a fucking change. You know what I mean, I don’t know. I’m just really old. When you’re post-menopausal, you’re just really crazy.