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Old 06-24-2020, 12:06 AM   #2
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Tina Fey may have predicted her 30 Rock blackface episodes being seen as racist 10 years ago

Fey said in her speech while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010: "And yet I hope like Mark Twain, 100 years from now, people will see my work and think, 'wow, that is pretty racist.'"

Tina Fey has a problematic history with race that goes beyond 30 Rock's blackface

When Fey apologized and pulled four 30 Rock episodes on Monday over their use of blackface, some pointed out that she has had a "sh***y track record" of mocking Asians, especially on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey's issues with race have been brought up before. Ten years ago, one writer described 30 Rock as "terribly racist." Yet Fey has "spent years ignoring, dismissing, and flat-out ridiculing critiques of her writing when it comes to race," says Laura Bradley. "Removing these episodes might save some viewers an offensive experience, but conveniently for Fey it could also stifle a conversation that has periodically arisen about her most well-known series. Given that context, and the wording of Fey’s letter, this move feels less like growth and more like a maneuver designed to pre-empt and avoid an uncomfortable conversation." As Bradley notes, race is baked into 30 Rock's DNA. "30 Rock’s two primary black characters are dueling racial tropes—the lazy, over-the-top Black man, as represented by the eccentric Tracy Jordan, and the educated and 'well-spoken' James Spurlock, known to his NBC family as 'Toofer' because he is both Black and went to Harvard," says Bradley. "At times, the show uses this false dichotomy to comment on the way Black men are seen by white people and portrayed in white media. But often, these stereotypes are simply used for laughs. That pattern pervades Fey’s work. Tracy Jordan’s wife, Angie (Sherri Shepherd), calls Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, out for looking for a 'sassy Black friend' in one breath—a self-aware nod to the show’s employment of that same stereotype—before breezily telling her, 'Well you got one now, girlfriend!' It’s a favorite joke pattern of 30 Rock’s: Make clear to the audience that the writers understand the issues surrounding a particular vein of humor before 'satirizing' it in a way that never quite makes clear what the satirical statement is. Indeed, the primary defense lobbed at anyone who’s criticized 30 Rock’s blackface in the past is that in context, the show made clear that it understood blackface is wrong. Still, one has to wonder why Fey and so many white liberal entertainers felt so comfortable performing ironic racism over and over and over again—or, perhaps more importantly, why any of them thought it was fresh." Bradley says she doesn't think the blackface episodes should be pulled -- they should instead come with a warning. Bradley adds: "Fey’s ascent in the entertainment industry, which remains a hotbed of misogyny, is important. But it’s equally important to recognize that much of her work has missed the mark on race. Hollywood is just as racist as it is misogynistic, and much of Fey’s work has upheld the very stereotypes that marginalize people of color and, in many cases, prevent them from attaining power in this industry or elsewhere. Whether Fey wants to face it or not, her legacy is a lot more complicated than a few questionable episodes—and scrubbing them from streaming services won’t change that." ALSO: Megyn Kelly throws shade at NBC after Fey pulls blackface 30 Rock episodes.

Pulling 30 Rock's blackface episodes is a bad idea: "NBC is muddying the historical record"

NBC yanking four episodes of 30 Rock featuring blackface amounts to "cleaning up the record of two influential creators who are producing a 30 Rock special to promote its new streaming service Peacock, as well as writing and producing a comedy starring Ted Danson for the broadcast network," says Alyssa Rosenberg of Tina Fey and her producing partner Robert Carlock. Rosenberg adds: "Unlike HBO Max’s recent decision to temporarily pull Gone With the Wind until the company could find a way to add context to the movie, NBC is doing its best to make the blackface episodes of 30 Rock disappear, not just by pulling them from syndication and streaming services but also by making them unavailable for individual purchase. It’s true that now that NBC has yanked the episodes, 'no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness,' as Fey put it in her request. It’s also the case that any comedy-loving kid coming to 30 Rock for the first time will now be able to binge the show without realizing that Fey and Carlock made four episodes of television that included characters in blackface, and did so in the 21st century....Yes, it may be baffling to some viewers that a mere eight years ago it was acceptable for a network television show to deploy blackface, even if it did so with the intention to satirize the white people who painted their faces. But making those episodes unavailable does more to sanitize Fey and Carlock’s records than it does to promote racial equality in Hollywood." ALSO: 30 Rock was actually pretty racist towards Latinos.

TV's "now problematic" episodes have always been problematic

There's a natural tendency to blame "cancel culture" when TV shows and movies we like become "problematic now," says Jeva Lange. "It's unfair to project today's politics on to things that were created for a different cultural climate, or so the thought goes," says Lange. "But the content eliciting this renewed scrutiny — be it Golden Girls or 30 Rock or Gone with the Wind — is no more problematic now than it's ever been. And by acknowledging that it is not the substance of the show or movie that has changed, but our own collective understanding of it, we can move forward into more productive conversations about how to realize a kinder, more inclusive, and more empathetic culture." Lange points out that recently pulled blackface episodes from shows like 30 Rock, Scrubs, Community and The Golden Girls were always problematic. "To call something 'problematic' is to write it off as failing to measure up to the politically correct standards of the day without articulating exactly how or why that is the case," says Lange, adding: "But if 'problematic' can be a lazy catch-all, then specifying that something is 'problematic now' is often to express exasperation at the way a perfectly innocent piece of culture seems to get swept up by the fickle tides of wokeness. As if there had never been a problem with said movie or TV show before its reconsideration. The phrase 'problematic now' further implies that there was once a time when the 'problematic' material in question — be it blackface or homophobic slurs or transgender jokes, all of which have been the staples of popular comedies over the years — was something that was ever okay. In truth there was never a time that such attitudes were excusable; they were simply more widely held." Lange adds: "Rather than imply that the episodes themselves are newly inappropriate, or suggest that society has somehow bent itself out of shape to 'ruin' the show, for something to now be identified as problematic might better reflect the way our own individual understanding of it has changed — that more people are now aware of the fact that blackface is a tool of racism, and that it cannot be lightly or inoffensively used in comedy without causing hurt. These discussions are imperative for progress toward a more empathetic culture, because identifying past mistakes helps prevent them from being repeated uncritically." ALSO: Why removing blackface episodes is "just trying to Band-Aid over history."

Last edited by TMC; 07-02-2020 at 11:57 PM.
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