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Tina Fey On The Message Of 30 Rock's "Joan Of Snark" Episode

Illustration for article titled Tina Fey On The Message Of em30 Rock/ems Joan Of Snark Episode

Today in an interview with NPR promoting her book Bossypants, Tina Fey discusses the intended message of the 30 Rock episode "TGS Hates Women" — or rather, the fact that the episode didn't make a clear point about how women, and particularly women in comedy, should use their sexuality.

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After Terry Gross plays the scene in which Liz confronts new hire Abby about her sexy baby act, Fey confirms that JoanOfSnark.com was modeled after Jezebel.com, and the controversy over Olivia Munn being hired by The Daily Show. Fey says:

That story is so loaded and complex that I was really glad that we did it and I think it has confused and sort of delighted the internet in a way because it sort of opens up more questions than it answers. For me it was about Liz is in the wrong. She thinks she's doing the right thing by trying to correct this woman, by trying to say "you don't have to be this way" and at the same time, this girl has every right to be whoever she wants ...

It's just such a tangled-up issue, the way that women present themselves - whether or not they choose to, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cover of Maxim, and the way women judge each other back and forth for it. It's a complicated issue, and we didn't go much further saying anything about it other than to say, "Yeah, it's a complicated issue and we're all kind of figuring it out as we go."

In the episode we have a fake website, that we're referring to a feminist website called JoanOfSnark.com that the women at Jezebel.com immediately recognized that it was their website basically. And it was a reaction to the way I saw Olivia Munn ... treated on The Daily Show.

... I don't have the answer, but I find it interesting. That's all I can say. I find it interesting that Olivia gets people who go after her sometimes on these sites — because she's beautiful, I think is part of it. I think if she were kind of an aggressive, heavier girl with a Le Tigre mustache posing in her underpants, people would be like, "That's amazing. Good for you." But because she is very beautiful, people are like, "You're using that." It's just a mess! We can't figure it out."

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Since Fey is probably the most prominent woman in comedy today, it can be frustrating when she raises thoughtful issues, then throws her hands up and says she just doesn't know where she stands. It also seems she missed an important part of the discussion. People didn't question Munn's place on the Daily Show because attractive women can't do comedy, but because she's not particularly funny. (Though if Fey really did recommend her for the comedy Perfect Couples, it would seem she disagrees.)

That said, we're still happy that Fey centered an episode of a network comedy around these issues. As she told Gross after she played the 30 Rock clip:

As we were listening to that I was thinking, you know it's just your typical sitcom two-minute long discussion about gender. No wonder no one wants to watch this program!

Well, there are at least a few of us who want to hear a smart and funny woman talk about gender, even if her conclusions are a bit ambiguous.

Tina Fey Reveals All (And Then Some) In 'Bossypants' [NPR]

Earlier: On Jezebel And 30 Rock: Definitely Ambivalent, Perhaps Correct
Joan Of Snark: 30 Rock Parodies Jezebel
The Daily Show's Woman Problem

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DISCUSSION

I think if she were kind of an aggressive, heavier girl with a Le Tigre mustache posing in her underpants, people would be like, "That's amazing. Good for you." But because she is very beautiful, people are like, "You're using that." It's just a mess! We can't figure it out.

Well, we can, actually. Putting a conventionally attractive (body, skin, and hair type aligning to the current "ideal"), cis-gendered, straight-identifying, able-bodied woman on the cover of a magazine intended for the consumption (KEY WORD) of straight-identifying men, that's just upholding a centuries-old paradigm of passive women (passive in the sense that she's an image, no reflection on the woman as a person) whose validity and worth is reinforced by the active gaze of men.

You fuck with that, you fuck with the entire setup. Anything other than the "ideal" type and you're questioning how women are evaluated and selected for appraisal — simply deigned to be SEEN — by society. You make her "aggressive" and you're undermining the passive-object vs active-subject assumption. You fuck with gender and hell, the whole thing has gone to hell in a hand basket because suddenly we're calling into question the physical-sex-as-gender-identity rule, that men are only attracting to female-presenting women, hell, that straight-identifying men are the only ones buying the damn magazine — that cis-gendered heterosexual men are placed at the top of the pyramid of consumption power on a false assumption, and that other people have just as much power (and therefore identity) in a market-driven economy.

Not to say the first situation is inherently bad and the second good, or that conventionally attractive women can't be empowered or empowering. (I am third wave, hear me riot.) But it's disingenuous and, well, dumb to pretend there's only a superficial difference between the two. Or that beauty standards are not actively determined by the machine she refers to, and the girl in the mustache doesn't have as much claim to beauty as her counterpart. And I don't know if Fey is aware, but her statement smacks slightly of "you only attack her because you're jealous."

And correct me if I'm wrong, but although the original article was pretty harsh toward Munn, the main complaint was always about the Daily Show — how they had selected a new comedian whose style (pratfalls, overt sexuality, etc) was completely at odds with their own (deadpan wordplay), and that it was a problematic move from a show which already had its issues with female representation on the cast and writing staff.