Friday, May 15, 2009

Is 30 Rock Feminist? Or, my eternal love for Liz Lemon.

Recently, in the recesses of the interwebs, people have been discussing the feminist merits of every nerdy girl's favorite show, 30 Rock.

A few weeks back Jonah Weiner, of Slate, called out 30 Rock for being anti-feminist and secretly conservative here. The Pursuit of Harpyness (one of my favorite blogs!)weighed in, and Bitch Magazine's blog joined in on the discussion, too. (There was also a Maxim article bemoaning Liz Lemon's low libido and the affects this will have on their female audience. Gasp! Horror! Bring back Sex & the City.)

The question at the heart of this discussion seems to be: Is Liz Lemon a feminist? Unfortunately, everyone is banging their heads against the wrong door. The real question we need to ask is this: Is 30 Rock a feminist show? This is a very significant difference. Liz Lemon doesn't need to be motivated by feminism, nor Tracy Jordon by civil rights for the show to be a smart critique and satire of gender and race relations.

Jonah Weiner (note: his last name is Weiner) writes:
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.

She's a real woman. Woman have flaws. Some of those flaws are, gasp, "traditionally gendered". Weiner is giving preference to Jack Donaghey as the more-perfect character because his flaws are gendered male (endless ambition, stunted emotions). Liz Lemon's flaws are worse because they are "feminine" problems. (baby hungry, hungry hungry, in love with night cheese). The underlying argument here is that the only way to be a feminist is to be like a man. Masculinity is still better than femininity. Isn't this precisely what we're trying to undo?

I love Murphy Brown and Elaine; they are some of the great t.v. female characters of our time. But to privileged them for their "masculine" characteristics and "masculine" flaws is, to say the least, problematic.

Furthermore, to answer your question Weiner, it's SATIRE. Liz Lemon's gendered flaws are serving a purpose within the narrative of 30 Rock. Indeed, if you look at all the characters of 30 Rock (which some of these articles--I'm looking at you Weiner and Bitch--are hesitant to do), everyone is a caricature of their character/a stereotype. Tracy Jordon? Jenna Maroney? Frank? Toofer? Jack? Kenneth?

They are all absurd. They are all mocking the stereotypes of sitcoms before them, and of our cultural stereotypes. The satire of 30 Rock is about mocking the system from within. The danger with satire, of course, is that people, like Weiner, will miss the joke. You run the risk of people missing the tongue firmly planted in your cheek.

Is Liz Lemon a feminist? She'd say yes, but it doesn't matter. Is 30 Rock a feminist show? I say, while cuddled in my slanket, yes.


Anonymous said...

30 Rock and Tiny Fey are heavily over-rated.

Cindy said...

I appreciate your critique that while Liz isn't always so feminist, nor is Tracy particularly a positive representation of black manhood, the show can still make commentary that sits well with the progressive palate.

Claire Shefchik said...

Agree with anonymous. The hyper-pop-culture literate references just give me a headache. Maybe I'm not nerdy enough.