Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Screenshot: Tina Fey, avatar of ambivalence

So there's a new 30 Rock tonight, which I'll no doubt watch because the show's got a proven record of being smart and funny.

One of the things I like about the show is that it's got a bit of the Sweet Dee Reynolds business going on: the women on the show are as crazy as the men, and there's none of the indulgent boys-will-be-boys ethos you see on other shows.

But I'm always a little uncomfortable with the show's classist undertones. Sure, middle- and upper-class conventions get mocked, but there's a pretty persistent theme of denigrating hillbillies (the Kenneth the Page insults) and people who don't opt into the status-driven culture Liz is trying to succeed at. Sure, that culture is lampooned as not-quite-in-touch-with-reality -- "We're all models west of the Allegheny" -- but it's still presented as a culture that's innately desirable. Hence the recent episode where Liz resorted to acting like a stereotypically crazy girl to force a gay cop out of her gentrifying apartment building.

I give the show lots of credit for tackling the insulting insinuation that "real" Americans aren't Asian/African-American/Latino/Native/urban/well-educated, and their parody of the cynical jingoism that advertisers use is delicious. But repeatedly, it does send a message that "real" America is a hostile and confusing place.

Also: Can we talk about the food thing? It wasn't particularly cute when Aaron Sorkin made The West Wing's Republican blonde Ainsley Hayes' thing her prodigious appetite, and it's sort of unsettling how Liz's unhealthy and emotional relationship with food is played as hysterical now. It's also a little weird when you consider the Vanity Fair piece on Fey, where Maureen Dowd wrote the entire profile on how awesome Fey's career became once she took off 30 pounds:

She saw herself on an S.N.L. monitor as an extra, "and I was like, 'Ooogh.' I was starting to look unhealthy. I looked like a behemoth, a little bit. It was probably a bad sweater or something. Maybe cutting from Gwyneth Paltrow to me." She wanted to be "PBS pretty"—pretty for a smart writer. She called Jeff, who was directing a show at Second City in Chicago, and said, "O.K., I'm starting Weight Watchers."

Fey says, "I got to that thing that's so enjoyable where people tell you, 'Oh, you're thin, you've gotten too thin.' Lorne was like, 'Please, please make sure you're eating."' McKay recalls Fey telling a story about her heavier days. "Steve Martin walked right past her at the coffee table, and then, after the makeover, he was like, 'Well, hel-looo—who are you?'"

So! That's why I am so ambivalent about an otherwise legitimately funny show. Anyone else have these qualms?

Want more from Bitch? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Blerg!

I agree. I love 30 Rock, but it's tough sometimes to see Liz Lemon being so self-deprecating, especially when her emotional relationship with food is played for laughs. ESPECIALLY when, as you mention, the actor who portrays her had to lose weight to get on TV in the first place.

That being said, I am still totally going to watch 30 Rock tonight. For all of its flaws it's still a good show, and it allows women to tell jokes (gasp!) that are actually funny (double gasp!).

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Sometimes I think if I try

Sometimes I think if I try to find entertainment that I don't feel ambivalent about, I'm going to spend a lot of time staring at my bare walls. And I think I'm starting to realize that, y'know, life's not perfect. We all have weaknesses and flaws and moments when we are not perfect gender warriors, and sometimes I feel like I might spend too much time nitpicking the good stuff, instead of reveling in it. Maybe I love Liz Lemon BECAUSE she's imperfect, not in spite of it.

What about Jack Donaghy?

I've only seen the seasons of 30 Rock that are on Netflix streaming (so, seasons 1 -3) but Alec Baldwin's character has the exact same unhealthy relationship with food, played for laughs, that Liz Lemon does. It just seems like the level of stress that it takes to get him eating entire comedy-platterfulls of danish is a bit higher than hers.

Also, the 3rd season episode where they address the privilege of being beautiful (The Bubble) is a nice little crack at blind privileges everywhere. Specifically that his privilege has allowed him think he's good at things when he's totally incompetent at everything to the point of being a danger to himself and others.

I feel like there are a lot of examples of 30 Rock critiquing the racism, ignorance and the general stupidity of its privileged, "successful" characters -- while Alpha Male Jack identifies Kenneth as brilliant & Kenneth often seems to take advantage of everyone else's underestimation of his shrewdness.

I am sad about what was required of Tina Fey to become successful on TV (whether it was a personal choice or not -- they still wouldn't have let her star in this show if she was not thin and femme enough to play herself) especially as it reminds me of Margaret Cho's infamous experience of "not being skinny enough to play herself on TV," almost dying on a crash diet and having her show cancelled to be replaced by the Drew Carey show. You know, 30 Rock is not perfect, but I'm still happy it's being made & I'm looking forward to season 4 on streaming! :-)

Since you all wrote about

Since you all wrote about Parks & Rec, which we'd kinda given up on after the first couple of episodes but TIVO was still recording, we went back and watched. Well, I ADORE Parks & Rec and Amy Poehler went from always a favorite to THE favorite. I love her character so so so much and I think the juxtaposition between Leslie and Liz really highlights how fab Leslie is. So thanks Bitch for the Parks & Rec heads up because otherwise I likely would have let those episodes get deleted with TIVO updates!

http://www.thiswomanswork.com

"real america"

But repeatedly, it does send a message that "real" America is a hostile and confusing place.

Isn't the "real" America a hostile and confusing place? that's part of the draw for me-- that I do find the world around me chock FULL of inconsistencies, contratdictions, and misrepresentations, and this show does a great job exposing and lampooning almost all of them.

is it perfect? no.
but then is anything?

Interesting

I've always really loved Liz for her eating habits. I guess because she reminds me of myself a little. Especially the one episode where we see her sitting on the couch with a big block of cheese singing a little ditty about eating the cheese. I love it.

I remember that the food issue was always something that really bothered me about the Gilmore Girls, though. You know, the whole "We eat five hamburgers a day and disdain exercising, but we're ridiculously skinny" thing. It doesn't bother me so much that they were skinny, just that I could never figure out what, if anything, they were trying to say about women's relationships with food.

Anyway, Liz Lemmon probably doesn't represent a very healthy relationship with food either, but I'll basically forgive Tina Fey for anything.

this really pisses me off

or more politely, "I strongly disagree."

Look, 30 Rock indites all level of classes, but where you seem to have a problem when the classism is directed at poor white people.

Also, Liz Lemon likes to eat. She likes to eat when she's happy. She likes to eat when she's sad. She subscribes to both meat + cheese lovers magazine and vegetarian monthly. So fucking what? Your problems with the show seem more personal than analytical. Tina Fey and Liz Lemon are feminists, and that means that their feminism can look different than yours. They don't have to meet your standards of an ideal feminist to be feminist, ok? And if their diet is one of your biggest problems with them, then count your blessings.

And Tina Fey is well within her rights as a woman and a human being to lose weight if she wants to, and decide what is healthy for her. And I say this as a fucking happy fat queer who has meaty pizzas en route.

I find Liz's emotional

I find Liz's emotional eating refreshingly honest. Most of humor is funny because it reveals an awkward truth. It's also a bit of a commentary on the current culture we have where food is comfort, yet this often is overlooked in discussions about the obesity epidemic or food in general. The show's genius rests in revealing the complex, often conflicting reality of identity. We cheer as Liz becomes more of an emblazoned feminist but what else can we do but laugh as she battles with difficult situations that all contemporary American women face, such as balancing career goals with motherhood, relationships, and, among other things, food.

The Bubble

...was an *excellent* episode. Just had to chime in with that.

Otherwise, I agree with the pissed off poster (except that I am not really that pissed off about it, because life is a tad too short for that).