The Tyranny of Liz Lemon

Okay, major caveat first – I love Tina Fey. How can you not?

What I don’t love? 30Rock. Yes, yes. Blasphemy. It’s just not my cup of tea. I enjoy structure-based humor much more than machine gun absurdism. Arrested Development, Community, Parks and Recreation. I find more often than not, the writers paint themselves in a fantastical corner and then have Jack magically solve everything rather than reaching a satisfying climax. This is fine if you give in to the sketch/skit nature of the show and can enjoy the irreverance without thinking too much about what it adds up to. It should be okay to not like something that everyone else enjoys. But I’m made to feel like a traitor to my gender if I don’t love everything she does.

(Much like in college when I had to excuse myself from every conversation about Magnolia lest my brain explode. I was nearly excommunicated from film school because I thought the rain of frogs was about as narratively satisfying as Alec Baldwin. See also, There Will Be Blood. There. I said it.)

Tina Fey is becoming an institution. While this is more than acceptable – her talent demands it – I find it disturbing that there is no room at the top for any other woman. She is the quota-filler, and her opinion becomes the gold standard, the industry standard, and then the party line. Which is not to say that it is her fault. At the end of the day, I believe she is a writer who wants to do what she does without the constant invocation of the parenthetical. Where you’re not just a writer, but a (female) writer. (Female) spectator, (female) critic, (female) stapler.

Truly, she has made great strides for women in comedy. Fey via Lemon as been able to comment quite perceptively on culture. She has done great work gently poking and prodding stereotypically male topics, especially in the geek domain. Maybe it’s self-preservation, maybe it’s the lesser of two evils – minimizing feminist arcs allows one to sneak through every now and then. I understand the tactic, but it still blows.

Unfortunately, this has more to do with Liz Lemon than it does Tina Fey. Perhaps as a reflection on her difficulties at the top, in having to (conciously or not) choose to call yourself a Feminist when the great equalizer should be is Funny, Lemon constantly takes the low road when it comes to lady problems. It’s who she is as a character, and that’s fine. But I wish she wasn’t the last word. Women aren’t allowed to have differing opinions or it is glommed into one group capital W Women’s films, stories, etc. In a lot of ways we have risen above, but in comedy, not so much. We are still only allowed to fuck Seth Rogen and Seth Rogen can fuck Elizabeth Banks.

And after the 30Rock where she (allegedly) tears down Sarah Silverman for her persona – I’m wondering if her stature is becoming a menace. I wrote briefly about this episode on Facebook, and am shamelessly reposting here:

“I’ve thought a lot about this episode. I’m not a 30Rock fan in general, but thought it raised some good points but unfortunately the “resolution” left me unsatisfied. Obviously, there is no resolution to be had in this debate, but I wished 30Rock didn’t fall back into its sketch habits and deliver an actual response rather than starting, then shying away from, an argument. On a larger scale, this is why I’m not interested in this show in general – not enough structure. The funny thing is that no one is talking about the Chloe Moretz B-plot which was (a) awesome (b) more satisfying than the A-plot and (c) had some sly things to say about female competition in a man’s world.”

It’s asking too much for one writer to come up with the definitive answer on any topic; furthermore, it’s impossible. The onus shouldn’t be on Fey to decide how we feel about an issue. Unfortunately, since the onus has been placed upon her, critics tend to let her off the hook and/or proscribe all meaning to her argument. And when she doesn’t finish her thought, it’s like the matter is closed. Well, Liz Lemon didn’t know how to answer it, so we don’t have to have opinions! In the case of this episode, I think the intention was to raise the subject for the audience/critics to talk about. But I would have loved a complete thought. Again, this is not her responsibility. But why broach the topic just to step away from it?

What it comes down to, hers is the only argument, and thus the only conversation we are allowed to have. I think it’s time to start highlighting other women in comedy, ones who don’t shy away from the F-word, ones who recognize that funny and feminist are not mutually exclusive. I will defend to the death Brownie Husband, but I’d rather spend a night in Pawnee with Leslie Knope, who never even questions whether to call herself a Feminist.


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