Monday, November 3, 2008

Feminism gets funny

By Kelly Roache

Lately, Tina Fey is best known for her portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, but her current sitcom, 30 Rock (Thursdays at 9:30 on NBC), is even more deserving of our attention as feminists. In 2006, Fey left SNL to start her own show, where she writes and stars as Liz Lemon, a sketch comedy writer with a demanding job. Liz is responsible for holding everything together, from temperamental actors to a slacker staff to her macho boss’s ego. Like Fey herself, she is winsomely nerdy, chock full of Star Wars references and the occasional fashion faux pas; in fact, it is often difficult to separate the character from the writer/actress, whose birth name is even Elizabeth. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when the long summer hiatus ended this past Thursday.

The feminist issues tackled in the first two seasons of 30 Rock run the gamut. Fey digs at the pressure felt by women to be “pretty,” with Liz’s über-feminine actress best friend as her chief medium. Liz’s sensible wardrobe is frequently the butt of jokes; her boss sets her up on a blind date with another woman, assuming she is a lesbian because of her choice of shoes. Her “man shirts” stand in stark contrast to the skimpy attire of her chronically self-objectifying secretary. Liz protests her assignment to write a spin-off show for the winner of the fictitious MILF Island, which pairs “hot moms” with teenage boys in a Survivor-esque parody. Gender issues and politically incorrect humor are no longer strange bedfellows thanks to Fey’s penetrating comedy.

Liz’s relationships, difficult to maintain when competing with her work life, are a recurring theme. She sacrifices her romance with a modern day Prince Charming by deciding not to give up her job in New York to move with him to Cleveland. After an argument, she must decide between catching him at the airport to set things right or indulging in her greatest weakness, food – specifically famous sandwiches delivered to the studio from a secret location once annually. Torn between the more typical damsel in distress role and her “less feminine” lust for junk food, Liz stuffs the sandwich in her mouth in four bites (yes, Fey really did it in one shot), proclaiming, “I can have it all!” while chewing and running through security. This scenario, along with her love of “Sabor de Soledad” (“Taste of Loneliness” in Spanish) cheese curls may be ridiculous, but couched in such outrageous humor is a poignant commentary on finding a balance. 30 Rock even probes the inequity of older men dating younger women in contrast with the reverse.

In addition to the phenomenal cast behind her, Fey is often complemented by equally funny guest stars. Last season, Carrie Fisher played an aging radical hippie who was Liz’s childhood idol as the only female writer on a 1970’s sketch comedy show. Fisher’s over-the-top character “sat around while her junk went bad,” breaking barriers at the expense of having a family, treating Liz as her prodigy and surrogate daughter (much to Liz’s chagrin). Also, Amy Poehler, Fey’s former SNL and Baby Mama co-star, is a frequent guest on the show. For both Fey and Poehler, their feminist material is more than just acting; in their personal lives, they have actively pursued having it all. Fey has a young daughter and a successful, low-profile (an accomplishment in and of itself for a television celebrity these days) marriage, and Poehler just gave birth to her first child a little over a week ago. Like Fey, she recently left SNL to pioneer her own show.

Last Thursday, the third season of 30 Rock opened with Liz’s quest to adopt. Despite her round-the-clock work life, her desire to raise a child and be a “kickass single mom like Erin Brockovich” is frequently referenced. Liz’s evaluation goes off less than smoothly when an adoption official comes to visit her “non-traditional work environment” and chaos ensues. Yet when confronted by the official about her less than suitable circumstances, she refuses to sacrifice either her job or her maternal instinct. This storyline, hints at a potential romance with her boss, played by Alec Baldwin, and an upcoming guest appearance by Oprah should make the coming episodes even more interesting.

As feminists today, we face some serious issues, not to mention a Presidential election this Tuesday. But it’s important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously through all of it. For half an hour a week, 30 Rock is definitely worth catching up with for a chuckle at our culture’s expense.


At November 3, 2008 at 2:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

the author of this article must be an extremely insightful, gifted, and witty woman. As an avid 30 Rock fan I never thought to look at the show in terms of women's rights.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: Keep your friends close, and your enemies so close you're almost kissing.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home