What’s With All the Liz Lemon Lesbian Jokes?

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As "gay episodes" of network TV go, the deftest handling I can think comes from the 2007 30 Rock episode "Cougars." Tina Fey's Liz Lemon finds herself dating a much younger man and her straight/disgusting colleague Frank Rossitano falls in love with him. It's rare to see a standard comedy show draw such a clear distinction between the sexual and cultural aspects of being a gay man, but 30 Rock nails it. Frank doesn't cut his hair, show up to work in a cardigan or begin rocking out to Xtina. He stays the same guy he is - a straight one, for the most part- who happens to fall for one other guy. At the episode's end, after getting over his crush, he visits a gay club and decides the whole scene isn't for him.

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All that said, if I was a lesbian I'd be getting just a little annoyed at 30 Rock right now. If I played a drinking game where I took a shot every time someone called Liz Lemon a lesbian I'd already be fishing for mud sharks in heaven with Jon Bonham. Just off the top of my head (and not even including this clip) here are some lez-directed lines that I initally laughed at, but find a little puzzling when they add up:

"Lesbian Mario Brothers!"

"Lesbian Yellow Sour Fruit"

"Lemon…Lesbian…Frankenstein… wants…her…shoes…back."

"All passengers, including any lip-less middle-aged women in lesbian clown shirts should please take their seat at this time."

Network-mate Community already treads a thin line with their ambiguous Dean, and Pierce's constant assertions that Britta is a lesbian and Jeff is gay. But the Dean's queer identity has taken a sort of arc, moving from insinuations to non-judgemental character trait, and all of Pierce's mutterings have more to do with his closemindedness. But on 30 Rock the only overarching theme I can see from the show's point of view, is that lesbians are supposed to be dowdy. Since Liz is dowdy too she must be a lesbian.

From what I understand (not being, you know, a lesbian) Tina Fey has a big following among queer ladies. She's gorgeous, funny and looks great in glasses. If she was a dude I'd do her. So I wonder if all the lesbian jokes are a nod to that popularity. But if so, couldn't they do it in a way that didn't seem to insult lesbians? If all the ladies out there in TNG-ville are cool with it then I am too, but do you ever get just a little annoyed that "lesbian" has become that show's go-to shortcut for a frumpy, undesirable woman?

It reminds me a little bit of a well-intentioned straight friend I had who could not let a single opportunity pass to point out when I made inadvertent gay innuendos. He supported me and was unafraid to ask questions about my life, but I got tired of cringing everytime words like "ball," "rod," "blow," and "shove" came up in innocuous conversation. I was glad he was comfortable enough with me to joke but the jokes weren't clever enough to really be worth it.

The problem is that 30 Rock is so genuinely funny. Their surfeit of lesbian jokes are clever and well-written but they never seem to end. Will Arnett's Devon Banks was 30 Rock‘s most recurring gay male character and they made so many overt, cliched gay jokes at his expense that I was happy when he stopped showing up.

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Ladies, are you feeling the same way about Liz?

This post originally appeared at The New Gay. Republished with permission.

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DISCUSSION

By
Cimorene

I used to love 30 Rock, but now it's dead to me. The last episode's Frank storyline—he was molested by his teacher when he was a kid but AWESOME SEX YEAH—made me realize how actually not-progressive it is at all. It's become the definition of faux-gressive, like liberal dudes who support planned parenthood but refuse to buy their girlfriends tampons at the supermarket, or something. I'm not really surprised that it's queer politics are fucked up (though I'm not really sure about that). Because the jokes they used to make about race/gender/sex were funny, and the joke was always on the bigot or conservative shithead. But now the jokes have just morphed every so slightly, and in that change they crossed the very fine line the show used to toe so cleverly, and now their jokes are just sexist and racist and (?) homophobic. It's depressing.

But Parks and Recreation has emphatically not done that, and I feel like P&R is one of the most feminist-friendly comedies on TV right now. Leslie Knope is amazing and it's awesome that a hot dude has a crush on her because she's awesome at her job. Also I really like Community, and I feel like it does the whole making-a-joke-about-race/gender/sex/queerness thing in a way that makes fun of bigots and shitty people instead of making jokes that are offensive.