thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘30 rock’

Tina Fey’s Nerd Rage Burns “Women Aren’t Funny” to the Ground

In Television on October 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Sarah T.

“NERD RAGE!” Tina Fey bellowed on Thursday’s episode of 30 Rock, and just like that, my heart grew a thousand sizes. I love Fey and 30 Rock. But as I’ve complained before, I sometimes have problems with her show on the gender-femiladyism front. I agree with Laura Bennett that Fey’s self-deprecation, both in and out of character, sometimes seems like a ploy to make her ambition, intelligence, sexuality, and razor-sharp wit less threatening.  I like Fey best when she’s all about threats and throwing serious fire. Which is why “Stride of Pride,” a hilarious response to the ridiculous, insulting, I-can’t-believe-we’re-even-talking-about-this question of whether women are funny, was the triumphant throw-down of my dreams.

Liz’s nerd rage kicks off in response to Tracy Jordan and Stephen Hawking’s faux Twitter exchange. “Women aren’t funny, never have been and never will be,” the world’s most famous theoretical physicist announces (hashtag: #plotpoint). Tracy retweets that he agrees.  Over the course of the episode, Liz faces an internal struggle familiar to anyone who’s faced an overtly sexist question: to engage or not to engage?

“Do something funny right now!” Tracy demands when Liz confronts him, and Liz automatically starts to oblige before she remembers that she doesn’t have to prove anything. She refuses to list funny women for the same reason. She tries to make the argument that perhaps men and women like different things (monkeys and “really daaaark superhero movies” aren’t everyone’s cup of tea). But Tracy doesn’t buy it, and the cheap laughs he successfully provokes while showing off a monkey in a tiny suit finally get Liz to take a stand.

“Engaging!” she announces, swinging forward like a terminator whose destroy button has finally been activated. She mounts an impromptu comedy show with Jenna to prove, once and for all, that women are funny—and succeeds! But sexism can sour any victory: Tracy thinks the show is funny because she plays a woman doctor, not because of her actual jokes.

“Stride of Pride” is packed with pointed retorts to the shoddy constructs of arguments against women in comedy.  “Some things just aren’t funny, like females and listing only two things,” Tracy says. And while I’m not on board with the idea that women and men necessarily like different things  (there are plenty of women who dig monkeys and The Dark Knight), I think it’s very true that our culture has a lot invested in persuading us that men have dibs on humor. Take, for example, the preposterous reporting about a recent study that showed that men’s jokes got far more laughs than women. Most articles assumed that men got more laughs because their jokes were objectively funnier–rather than considering the fact that we’re all socialized to chortle when men crack wise and to expect women to serve as decorative affirmation-machines rather than as independent beings with their own stock of puns and barbs and rubber chickens and silly walks.

But while I appreciated all of 30 Rock‘s witty comebacks, my favorite part of the episode was seeing Tina Fey firing on all engines. I get why she might not want to engage in the are-women-funny debate: It is insulting to even talk about.  It’s the same reason why Jami Attenberg recently told Michelle Dean that she dreams of a world where she didn’t have to field questions about herself as a Woman Writer. The song that plays over Liz’s comedy show reveals her frustration at being drawn into a debate that’s un-winnable because the other side is just being dumb: “Women are funny we can all agree / Carol Burnett. Lucille Ball / No we’re not gonna do it / it’s beneath us all!” But Fey is one of the most visible and high-powered comedians out there, which can make staying silent on a controversial matter seem like a response in itself. With “Stride of Pride,” Fey found a way to engage without lending a stupid, outdated, sexist argument any legitimacy. By the time her thirty minutes were up, she’d poked more holes in Christopher Hitchen‘s article (and the ensuing yes-man chorus) than there are in the Swiss cheese on Liz’s beloved sandwiches. And that, friends, deserves a stride of pride for the ages.

Rebound: 30 Rock’s Live Show & Why Misogyny is not Funny

In feminism, misogyny, race on April 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Phoebe B.

Last night, 30 Rock did a live episode as a shout-out to the pleasures and pitfalls of live TV. As a bit of a TV nerd, I was pretty pumped about this phenomenon—particularly with Amy Poehler’s guest appearance (I love you, Leslie Knope!), Troy from Community as a young Tracy Jordan (Yes!), and Kim Kardashian as, well, Kim Kardashian. But in the first segment of the show and the first flashback to NBC’s early days, 30 Rock did an entire schtick making fun of domestic violence. It seems to me that violence against women, and domestic violence more generally, is simply not funny.

The skit, supposedly a Kraft comedy hour, featured Jack and Liz as a 1950s married couple. Jack comes home from work and starts comically threatening his wife with quick one-liners. Their back-and-forth banter is made up of his threats and her rebuttals. He says that he is going to shoot her in the face and to take her outside and feed her to the dogs—the list goes on. Liz’s character naturally has a comic response to each threat: “That’ll be first time you’ve ever taken me out to dinner,” she responds. While this bit might be a riff on the Honeymooners, it highlights the misogyny of TV past and present but doesn’t really appear to critique it.

A few minutes later, Jenna invokes Roe v. Wade in order to assert her right to choose to have her marriage proposal from Paul on live TV. The joke, at least for me, fell flat in a moment where a woman’s right to choose, and her control over her body, are actually under threat. Other jokes, as Sarah pointed out last week, create humor at Liz’s expense. In the sketch about Jamie Garnett as a reporter, Brian Williams as himself and Jack as a news anchor cannot comprehend that Jamie is indeed a woman reporter. A female reporter, it appears to them, is absurd. They even suggest sending a search party for the missing male Jamie Garnett. Granted, the news was male-dominated for some time and this brand of sexism is likely not too far from the truth. However, once again it seems like Liz is the butt of the joke.

The sexism and racism in much of TV history, and in the present, are the underlying jokes in most of these sketches. But the sketches are not really overtly critical of past, or current, sexism and racism. The jokes, perhaps, aren’t over the top enough. They hit far too close to home. Indeed, they feel plausibly offensive rather than like meta-parodies about how offensive TV history actually is. Perhaps the jokes that tried to point out past misogyny and racism (Jon Hamm’s blackface, for example) needed more of a twist in order to function well as critiques. And Kenneth’s comment that present NBC is a whitewashed landscape was not funny because it’s true (at least for this viewer). I see you pointing at the misogyny and racism of television, 30 Rock, but I feel like you only reiterated it rather than questioning or challenging it.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Politics of “30 Rock” and “Parks and Rec”: Macho Men and Powerful Women

In Television on April 20, 2012 at 8:18 am

Sarah T.

“Bitches get stuff done,” Tina Fey proclaimed in a 2008 SNL Update, defending Hillary Clinton against sexist naysayers. A jubilant Amy Poehler grinned and threw signs at her side. The women’s allegiance to one another, and to Clinton, was palpable. Together they formed a triangle of  smart, powerful ladies, ready to catch whatever insults got hurled their way and eat them for lunch.

Four years later, Clinton is a Tumblr-inspiring Secretary of State and Poehler and Fey head renowned comedies on NBC’s Thursday lineup. Like Clinton, their characters Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon make their livings getting stuff done. Both are professional single women in their thirties who keep their workplaces afloat—Leslie through five-alarm enthusiastic productivity at all hours of the day; Liz by harriedly shepherding her coworkers over and around the obstacles they create for themselves.

But it’s their bosses Jack Donaghy and Ron Swanson who are truly brothers from another mother. Jack and Ron like their governments small, their Scotches fine, and their red meat cooked so rare it’s practically bleeding. Their trim haircuts hold effortless swoops. They’re manly, confident, all-American, irresistible to ladies, and politically rightward of their female counterparts.

While Fey and Poehler are the heart of the shows as flawed, lovable protagonists, Jack and Ron are meme-generating myths. Onscreen, they’re universally admired by their coworkers and treated as heartthrobs, their aura of manliness serving as catnip for straight women and gay men (bears!). As “real” men, they’re meant to be a dying breed; therefore Jack always has a video vixen or Fox money bunny on his arm, while Ron makes his friends’ ex-wives swoon. (Offscreen, they tend to elicit the same response—a recent article by LA Times critic  Mary McNamara confessed her undying love for Ron Swanson.) And on comedies that are quick to identify characters’ weak spots—whether lovingly (Parks and Rec) or cynically (30 Rock)—Jack and Ron are rarely the butt of a joke. The character-driven jokes about their personalities and preferences tend to come from their own mouths, not from other characters; their fortress of masculine invulnerability protects them from cutting zingers. Read the rest of this entry »