movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Sun Mar 21 2010, 12:04pm | 12 comments
…women aren’t interesting, according to Hollywood, just bitter and complainy; and more.
It’s yet another installment on The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.
I’m a big fan of 30 Rock and Liz Lemon. I could be wrong here (seriously), but I don’t recall a lot of references to Liz being physically unattractive. Guys dismissing the idea of dating her seem, to me, to be based in her being a neurotic mess and a frumpy dresser.
If fact, there have been a number of scenes (e.g. when she got dressed up for the birthday party of the European prince, played by Pee-Wee Herman, and when she got tarted-up to seduce the cost-cutting consultant) where people explicitly remarked about how good she looked.
Given the sort of person Tina Fey is and the sort of show 30 Rock is, the whole thing strikes me as a sort of send-up of what you’re accusing the show of.
I actually couldn’t care less about 30 Rock. Yes, it’s a funny show but it’s not a show that I feel the need to watch so who cares? Personally, I always thought the way Grey’s Anatomy‘s writers treated its more responsible female characters (who almost always turned to be played by women of color) was more reprehensible. I realize a lot more American TV viewers look like Meredith than, say, Callie or Dr. Bailey, but geez…Seeing the few people on that show who acted like adults continually punished for doing so and the people who acted like teenagers rewarded got old fast.
As for Ugly Betty, yes, I must admit that I roll my eyes a bit at the notion that America Ferrera is fea (ugly) just because she doesn’t look more like Ana Ortiz, but apart from that, I found the show to be a breath of fresh air. At last a show in which Latino characters aren’t automatically shoehorned into the servant role or the voiceless immigrant role or the crook role or worse yet, the idiotic servant and/or ineffectual crook roles. And at last a show in which Latino characters were assumed to have the basic knowledge of pop culture as the non-Latino characters. It’s not the ideal show but it’s better than much of I was seeing prior to its debut.
Okay, there was also The George Lopez Show but as much as I liked George’s co-star Constance Marie, I never really got into The George Lopez Show.
The “Liz Lemon is unattractive and disgusting” thing drove me crazy, and I’m glad to see people acknowledge it, because it’s a big part of why I never found 30 Rock very funny.
If I remember correctly, the problem wasn’t so much that they made fun of her physical body so much as her appearance as a package, and I found that equally unrealistic. She generally dressed exactly the same or better than her immediate coworkers. So, physically perfect women who wear T-shirts and jeans to their casual jobs are unattractive to the point of comedy? Since the setup to the jokes was based on something that was so obviously untrue, the whole joke would feel strange instead of funny and fall flat.
Who is Liz Lemon? So I look her up and the first thing I thought was, hey, she looks like she could be Sarah Palin’s good sister. Then I look up Tina Fey and bingo, there she is winning an award for imitating Palin.
Scanning the googled up data, I wonder if references to Liz’s unattractiveness might just be Fey’s insecurities showing through, or maybe she has a self-deprecating sense of humor, since she seems to be running the show. I’ve never watched it myself, so I’m just musing based upon second hand information.
I would watch the heck out of your dream WASP movie! Seriously, I long for someone to make it. The Band of Sisters story I wish I were Spielbergian enough to get made would be a miniseries of Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s book And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II. It’s the same style of history as Ambrose’s BoB, a broad overview heavily larded with anecdotes and portraits (though much less sloppily done, IMO), only instead of paratroopers, it’s about Army nurses in the European theater. It would be so easy to give it the full HBO treatment; all the pieces are there. The results could be so rich and dramatic, and different from all the takes we’ve seen! And it’ll never, ever happen.
Yes, Paul, that’s what I always got from Fey’s humor (I’m a fan of hers, btw). She is the type of person who, in interviews, never seems to consider herself attractive, although people always tell her she is. To me, the “Liz Lemon being unattractive” humor is more her own self-deprecating retaliation against people dubbing her a “sexy nerd” than anything else.
I’m sure its probably a blending of everything people said here. Considering how wide ranging the levels of humor can be on the show, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt on their approach to Liz. I also want to say that the majority of people enjoying 30 Rock probably aren’t being swayed by that message, even unintentionally, but I never discount the fact that a message delivered with one intent, isn’t being internalized as another thing completely.
I just watched the first season of 30 Rock, and I didn’t come away with a message that Liz is supposed to be unattractive by any external measure. I just saw a shy, awkward geek who’s never thought of herself as attractive — that rings true for a lot of very good-looking adult geeks I know of both sexes — who’s working in a business that promotes impossibly narrow standards for what a woman should look like, and is surrounded by a bunch of emotionally stunted man-children. In one episode, she goes to Cleveland and is constantly asked if she’s a model — I took that to be reinforcement of the perversity of the entertainment world’s limited ideas of beauty.
But on the whole, yeah, the trope of “beautiful actress puts on glasses/a sweater/five-to-ten pounds to play ‘ugly’ ” is awfully silly. One thing I’ve always liked about British film and television is that they tend to cast a much more realistic-looking range of people for both comedy and drama. They get the ones who act the best, not just those who look good while acting passably.
Maybe the jokes about Liz Lemon’s attractiveness could be Tina Fey’s insecurities coming through, but if the intent is that it’s Liz Lemon’s insecurities coming through, it just doesn’t work. The way many of these jokes are written, other people clearly have a problem with the way Liz looks. That’s what’s so weird about it. This isn’t just her being a basketcase and obsessing about her own looks while other people don’t really care (which would actually make sense.) It would be so easy to riff on the fact that the people who care about her appearance that much are shallow, or that there’s an incredibly obvious double standard between what people expect her to look like versus her male writer coworkers — seriously, if they were going for satire, the pieces are already there for some really obvious humor. But in what I saw, they never go there. It’s bizarre.
(I only watched the first season, so if things drastically changed after that I don’t know. I always found this show really disappointing — a friend lent me the box set, telling me “it’s the next Arrested Development,” but when I watched it, I laughed maybe twice at jokes I’d already heard somewhere else.)
I just find it easier to relate to normal looking people. I’ve only watched the first series of 30 rock but I thought it was funny. I wouldn’t find it half as funny if Liz was played by Angelina Jolie, you know what I mean?
But you have to admit, Jolie can keep a straight face through all sorts of silliness.
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