This article popped up on my twitter feed a few days ago, retweeted by the lovely ladies at Stuff Mom Never Told You. The book that I think the writer is trying to promote is not something that I would have rushed to buy anyway, but Katie Roiphe has only succeeded in further putting me off Tina Fey’s work.
She refers to a comment from what she bizarrely describes as an “anonymous (and possibly fictional) crackpot”, stating “[I]n my opinion Tina Fey completely ruined SNL. The only reason she is celebrated is because she’s a woman and an outspoken liberal. She has not a single funny bone in her body.”
Why the commenter is believed to be fictional and/or a crackpot are both mysteries to me. Roiphe’s notion that someone who does not enjoy Fey’s brand of humour simply must be either imaginary or insane is completely at odds with the next quote she chooses to use, stating that it’s arrogant to assume that just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean that it’s not good.
Let’s take a step back to the real world. Criticising anything relating to taste is always going to be a tricky area. My husband and the rest of the world hail John Lennon as a genius, and Cirque du Soleil is immensely popular; I genuinely believe that LOVE will be played in hell. I can wax lyrical about the excellent and thoughtful writing in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; my Dad would berate me for the “trash TV” I was watching.
We are inherently lazy, and our response is generally “I like therefore good” or “I dislike therefore bad”. If we met the subject of our criticism in person, we’d probably either lie, or say “it’s not really my thing”. The internet allows us to dispense with niceties and just be as mean to each other as we like. Rather than acknowledge these facts, Fey chose to build the biggest straw person she could muster and turn it into a bad feminist rant:
“Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a ‘missing girl’ … and I thought, “What is this, the News for Chicks?” Then there was some story about Hillary Clinton flying to some country because she’s secretary of state. Why do we keep talking about these dumdums? We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop!”
Wait a minute, what? Let me reread the comment. Did he say anything that would suggest he thought women’s issues were irrelevant, or that women shouldn’t feature in mainstream media or be celebrated? Um, nope. “Responding to a situation with humor”, as Roiphe puts it, can be an effective tool. This is not that – this is schoolyard bully tactics; this is the scene in Mean Girls (see what I did there?) when Cady, accused of considering herself pretty, is stumped and thinking “that’s just not what I said”.
When my sister first learnt about racism at school, she was about 9 or 10. She came home, fixated upon how being a racist would be the worst possible thing in the world, and determined never to be one. Every single non-white woman on TV or in magazines would be “so beautiful”, even if she occasionally noticed one who, well, wasn’t. This example is cute and silly and harmless, but you don’t have to look far to see the “I’m not bigoted, see!” behaviour and positive discrimination around us today.
From the constant need to refer to “female director” Kathryn Bigelow (look! A woman! Directing!), to the South African rugby team that has to be completely reshuffled if there’s an injury, it’s here and in both legal form and social norms. Obama will always be the first “black” president, and many people who criticise him are quickly denounced as racist.
The idea that Fey, as a woman, has been adopted by “I’m not sexist, see!” types is not one that’s far-fetched. Her inoffensive attractiveness endear her to those who find Chelsea Handler too sexy and crude, or Rosie O’Donnell too fat and angry. Men can use liking her as a great pulling technique – it’s the comedian equivalent of picking Miranda as your favourite Sex and the City girl.
We don’t get SNL here, or if we do, I haven’t been able to find it on any of the channels I have. The best we can hope for is finding random bits of sketches on YouTube. The Sarah Palin sketch was reasonable, but Mama Grizzly herself really deserves most of the credit for providing the material. The Lonely Island sketches are hilarious, but are nothing to do with Fey, and if taken with a truckload of salt, some of the celebrity appearances can be amusing.
I had the misfortune of watching Baby Mama on a plane, having heard wonderful things about Fey’s work. She cannot be blamed for the writing, but the decision to indulge such a lacklustre project, in which all female characters are either humourless shrews or amoral dimwits, was not that of a comic genius.
I honestly thought that Mean Girls was written by a man – someone who had a few memories of how girls behaved when he was in high school and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it out into a screenplay. He might have consulted a sister or distant cousin, but the gaps between the insightful moments are too wide. And, speaking of too wide, the promotion of the myth that tampon and vagina size are related is not the work of a feminist, but an ill-informed, irresponsible moron who has probably caused half a generation of girls to have to change their tampon after every lesson for fear of someone judging their tampon choices. Casting La Lohan and the magnetic, charming and captivating Rachel McAdams together would guarantee box office success even if they were reading a legal document out loud.
30 Rock just hasn’t been successful here. It might just be that a lot of the in-jokes about regional accents and SNL itself don’t translate well across the pond, but we manage to understand and enjoy the majority of American sit-coms that are shown here. I have given it a go, but found the humour brash and clumsy, relying heavily on one-dimensional caricatures of race and gender. A confused Tina Fey stands at the centre, dealing with stereotypical older women’s issues – watchable, but not exactly trailblazing.
So, let’s appreciate Tina Fey for who she is – a comedian and writer. Not the new Germaine Greer, who, incidentally, is an extremely funny lady.