I have, for some time, been referring to a particularly irritating brand of privileged semi-feminism as “Liz Lemonism.” I associate this brand of feminism with a certain variety of white, coastal-city dwelling, fairly well-to-do heterosexual cisgendered woman, a woman with a comfortable white-collar job that is so very comfortable and so very white-collar that she is free to spend her spare time yearning for, and semi-believing that she could attain, something with more “meaning.” This woman doesn’t do Blogspot, but she does do Tumblr; she doesn’t do posts about sex workers’ rights, but she does do complaining about “raunch culture”; she doesn’t do anti-racism, disability activism, or trans ally work to any huge extent, but she does do “body image” (and oh, does she ever do body image, without taking much note of the fact that as a white, abled, cis person she conforms to the “beauty standard,” and benefits from conforming to it, in more ways than she will ever let on); she can’t have a conversation with you about Michelle Tea, Sugar High Glitter City, Kathy Acker, or Carolee Schneeman, but she can tell you that as a feminist she has a right to be Concerned About Porn; she’s Brooklyn not Queens, brunch not breakfast, flirty not slutty, fond of cupcakes and feminist theory but unsure how to make either one herself, and thoroughly incensed about Vajazzling.
I associate this brand of feminism with a certain variety of white, coastal-city dwelling, fairly well-to-do heterosexual cisgendered woman, a woman with a comfortable white-collar job that is so very comfortable and so very white-collar that she is free to spend her spare time yearning for, and semi-believing that she could attain, something with more “meaning.”
Because if smart women who know how smart they are intimidate men (and they do), and beautiful women who know how beautiful they are intimidate men (and they do), there is, logically, nothing more intimidating than a woman who is fully aware that she is both smart and beautiful.
In nearly every other sitcom out there Jack Donaghy is the female character. Is she the powerful boss? Then she doesn't care about anything but her job, has no family, etc. We're all familiar with this stereotype, see: Eva Green in Casino Royale.
Tina Fey is playing the Woody Allen roles of 30 years ago. Smart, neurotic. Can't seem to fall in love but when it happens it is with a beautiful person and entirely dysfunctional throughout, usually due to his own over-intellectualization. And I bet 30 years ago every smart, nerdy sort of neurotic guy was compared to Woody Allen (which leads to a horribly recursive situation where I'm sure someone was being neurotic about being compared to Woody Allen).
Liz Lemon lives every week like it's Shark Week.
[...]while beauty is of course subjective, these two women absolutely meet our culture's standard of female beauty: they're young, white, slim, cis-gendered, well-proportioned and able-bodied, with long shiny hair and smooth skin.
I have, for some time, been referring to a particularly irritating brand of privileged semi-feminism as “Liz Lemonism.” I associate this brand of feminism with a certain variety of white, coastal-city dwelling, fairly well-to-do heterosexual cisgendered woman, a woman with a comfortable white-collar job that is so very comfortable and so very white-collar that she is free to spend her spare time yearning for, and semi-believing that she could attain, something with more “meaning.”
Yes, yes, a billion times yes. That is (or should be) the thesis of the show. It's also why I enjoy arguing that the American Office is more depressing than the British Office, even though I'm not very familiar with the British version. In the American version, he gets everything he's dreamed of, and it turns him into fucking Michael. I mean, holy shit.
To really understand what’s going on with “30 Rock”, you have to accept two of the show’s most basic premises fully: 1) Liz is a fuck-up and 2) Jack is a master of a world created by people like him for people like him. These two facts are unrelated in a causal way, but they do go a long way to explaining the characters’ very believable friendship. More importantly, they explain why it’s both true that Jack is always right and in control, and yet the moral center of the show is still (mostly) liberal.
Let’s start with #1. Liz is undeniably a fuck-up in most ways, except that she has a very narrow talent for running a crappy variety comedy show. Over the course of the show, we’ve learned that Liz is lazy, a glutton, anti-social, a bully, insecure, prone to fantasies, and emotionally screwed up to the point where she can’t have normal relationships. These facts have caused some feminists to bunch up, but I’m pretty happy overall with it. If we don’t want women relegated to window dressing in comedy, they have to play deeply flawed characters, because comedy is built around laughing at deeply flawed people navigate the world, making light of our own flaws and making us feel superior. Liz is a lot like George on “Seinfeld” in that way. I’m ecstatic to see women occupying comic roles that were previously reserved for men. Amy Poehler is doing something similar on “Parks and Recreation”, and if you aren’t watching that show, shame on you. It’s the funniest thing on TV right now.
Because of this, it’s part of Liz’s brokenness that she can’t actually be the liberal she wants to be. That’s why she jokes that she’ll say she voted for Obama, but will vote for McCain. The show actually makes this pretty clear, especially in the episode where she calls in her innocent Arab neighbor as a terrorist when he was just auditioning for “The Amazing Race”. Or the episode where she gets a corporate job, and tells everyone to suck it. The whole point of Liz is that she’s a weak person who gives into her ugliest urges, and subsequently, when she buys into reactionary politics, it’s evidence that reactionaries are weak people who are motivated by selfishness and fear. And this is why Jack and she have their weird codependent relationship. Liz is skeptical of Jack’s conservative proclamations, but she buys into them in the end (as he knows she will), because she’s really an asshole.
But in the world of “30 Rock”, assholes win. We’re so used to thinking of someone “winning” in a show as vindication for their moral viewpoint, but isn’t that lowering expectations? TV, even light comedies, shouldn’t be about moral uplift like it’s some tract from a “Chicken Soup” book. On “30 Rock”, like in the real world, assholes win at the game they wrote so that they will win. And Jack is the king of that.
But we also need to address that the fact of her imaginary ugliness, the fact that we are constantly told she is all brain and no body, fits into some very specific male fantasies, the sort of fantasies that are summed up in the commonly-used phrase “Thinking Man’s Sex Symbol.”
You can often tell by a man’s record collection or bookshelf which female celebrities he is going to call “hot” — whether he’s a Megan Fox man, or a Maggie Gyllenhaal sort of fellow. The issue is that the Maggie Gyllenhaal crush is often thought to be more sophisticated and evolved, by the man who has it, when the fact is that they are both extremely lovely girls. There’s nothing wrong with liking extremely lovely girls. But the thought that Megan Fox is somehow too obviously hot, too mainstream, the Coldplay of masturbation, is just plain silly. There’s something going on there, and it’s worth looking at, and it has a lot to do with the fact that Tina Fey, Thinking Man’s Sex Symbol, attained her TMSS status by playing a character that we are constantly asked to find awkward, over-brainy, and unattractive.
SAMSON: This mustache I’ve grown since puberty has left me stuck in “the public.” I‘m used to people looking at my hermy face. But I actually feel better now that I can be a positive image for other dykes with facial hair. I spent way too much time afraid to look anyone in the eye on the street, but when I’m onstage or when someone recognizes me, I feel much more comfortable sportin‘ my ’stache with bells hanging from it.
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