Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 1, 2019

The Meaning of Roseanne Barr in Jerusalem

Roseanne Barr, right, stops at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 27 during a two-week excursion to Israel. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

One of the reasons people go on pilgrimages is to find solace in arriving at a concrete destination. That may be why Roseanne Barr, the exiled TV star who cut her own explosive comeback short last year with a disastrous, racist tweet, made a surprising appearance at the Western Wall during a recent two-week excursion to Israel. Award-winning photojournalist Melina Mara accompanied Roseanne on the trip, documenting for Washington Post how Hollywood star power negotiates a career fallout by heading to the Holy Land. The pictures Mara brought back show a struggling cultural icon who, in spite of having reached the geographic destination of her spiritual pilgrimage, still seems to be wandering alone in the wilderness.

Having arrived at the Wall, Roseanne raises her right hand toward a blinding sun in a beatific pose that balances piety with performance. A fitting gesture, since her Israel tour is designed to mix private soul searching with a public appeal for redemption. This photograph at the Western Wall, much like the one below, which was taken inside an Israeli memorial for Holocaust victims, depicts Roseanne as a lonesome figure looking to reframe her spot in the tradition by seeking answers from above.

Barr visits Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The narrow depth of field and bottom-weighted framing in both photographs showcase Roseanne’s isolation instead of firmly placing her in a set scene. This pattern of composition maps the ambiguity around her intentions: she has appeared both unapologetic and deeply regretful for her actions. Similarly, these photographs are not so much about Roseanne reuniting with her Jewish heritage as they are about balancing an inward search for meaning with maintenance for a faltering public image. Roseanne is pursuing two destinations, but neither one seems entirely within reach.

The strained nature of Roseanne’s vision quest resurfaces in a revelatory sequence of photographs from her hotel room, where she is seen meditating at the edge of her bed before curling up in the fetal position with her computer and two king-sized pillows.

Barr does meditation and pranayama in her hotel room where she stayed during a two-week excursion to the Holy Land.

Despite warnings from ABC last year about her tweets, Barr stayed online. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

In a third photograph, she looks directly at the photographer. Relatability, not polish, is Rosanne’s brand, and even if she doesn’t know how to behave online, she knows how to act in front of a camera.

Barr does meditation and pranayama in her hotel room, where she stayed during a two-week excursion to the Holy Land. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

As an accomplished photojournalist, Melina Mara is used to negotiating a high-profile subjects’ image management. She specializes in cutting through facades to produce visuals that are both honest and revealing. This masterfully-edited sequence of bedroom photos leverages Roseanne’s camera-consciousness to illustrate a spiritual and emotional restlessness that is familiar to many viewers. You don’t have to be a racist, exiled celebrity to understand what spiritual isolation and confusion feels like. For Roseanne, these experiences seem to find expression in her use of social media platforms that facilitate self-obsession at the expense of real, constructive introspection. Even though she first tries to look inward for spiritual direction, in the end she takes consolation in the sacred object that got her here in the first place: her laptop.

–KC McGinnis

Photos: Melina Mara/Washington Post. 1: Roseanne Barr, right, stops at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 27 du ring a two-week excursion to Israel. 2: Barr visits Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. 3: Barr does meditation and pranayama in her hotel room, where she stayed during a two-week excursion to the Holy Land. 4: Despite warnings from ABC last year about her tweets, Barr stayed online. 5: But there are moments she concedes she should have been smarter. 

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