30 Rock and Liz Lemon and Feminism - Oh Blurg!
From her television appearance as a phone sex operator to her penchant for night cheese, 30 Rock's Liz Lemon has provided a lot of laughs this season. Since the season finale of 30 Rock airs tonight on NBC, this seems like as good of a time as any to revisit some of Lemon's more memorable third-season moments. Since this is Bitch, this also seems like as good of a time as any to ask the question that is burning a hole in all of our minds: Is Liz Lemon a feminist? And does that matter?
Let's start this retrospective way back at the beginning of season three. Here is a recap of the season premiere (sorry about the annoying NBC promo stuff):
So... Liz Lemon is baby crazy and (sadly) not the victim of sexual harassment. Yeah, I guess that might not be overly feminist. Is it wrong then that I laughed out loud (especially at all of the Will Arnett parts)?
Here is a recap of episode eight, where Liz decides to take a stand and refuse a flu shot because her crew members aren't allowed to get one (again, sorry about the NBC crap).
So I laughed at this one too, but I do think this episode is a good example of some of the problems I have with calling Liz Lemon a feminist. Almost every episode of 30 Rock starts with Liz and Jack disagreeing about something (in this case it was whether or not everyone deserves equal access to flu shots) and the resolution is almost always that Liz comes around to seeing Jack's side of things (usually after he solves her problems for her because she can't do it herself). I know Liz has flaws, just like everyone, but it does feel like those flaws almost always fall along stereotypical lines (She's overly emotional! She can't manage a team of men! She wants a boyfriend!) and that her rich, white, powerful, father-figure of a boss is usually framed as having the right idea.
OK, let's watch one more video. In this one (from episode 20), Liz and Tracy have decided to eschew the preferential treatment they both receive as a woman and a person of color.
Of course, their experiment turns out to be a mistake, and they choose to go back to the way things are supposed to be (with each of them being treated differently than the white men around the office). (This theme was also explored in episode 2, "Believe in the Stars" when Jenna and Tracy decided to switch places.) While the very fact that a sensitive issue like preferential treatment based on race and gender was explored on a network sitcom is a great thing, once again the resolution reinforced the notion that these topics are better left alone. Hmmm...
Here is the thing: I know Liz Lemon might not be a feminist, but 30 Rock is still an amazing show, and I think it has helped make inroads for women in comedy that weren't there before. For example, Amy Poehler's Parks and Recreation would most likely not exist without 30 Rock, and The Office's Mindy Kaling (who I love!) just got an NBC deal to create her own show. The fact that women are being considered to create their own comedy shows is a major step forward, and it's important not to forget that.
On the other hand, just because Tina Fey is a feminist, or 30 Rock is great for women, that doesn't exactly make Liz Lemon the second-coming of Susan B. Anthony. In his article last week on 30 Rock's conservative streak, Jonah Weiner asks,
How do these story lines [wherein the plot resolutions are politically conservative] fit into a show masterminded by a successful, self-described feminist like Fey? Flawed people are funny, sure, but why does Liz Lemon have the traditionally gendered flaws she does? Elaine Benes and Murphy Brown, for example, were strong, feminist-friendly characters and funny, to boot.
When it comes to answering the question of whether or not Lemon is a feminist, the fact that the answer might be no, or maybe on a good day, isn't the end of the world. Perhaps I am simply justifying my own love of the show, but I like to see 30 Rock as a step in the right direction for feminist comedy. While its protagonist may be an infantilized, baby-crazy, lonely lady who relies too much on men to solve her problems, 30 Rock is also a show that puts funny women in the spotlight, flaws and all.
So here's hoping that tonight's season finale of 30 Rock is just as funny as ever, and that the next generation of comedy shows get us that much closer to seeing a smart feminist on the screen, as well as behind the scenes. I know I'll be watching. Will you?
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