Monday, January 23, 2012

Role Models

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day. 
We all have role models while we're growing up. But as Laura Warner pointed out in her terrific review of Tina Fey's memoir, you can have role models even after you've grown up.

Always With a Little Humour: Tina Fey’s Bossypants

I think Tammy Wynette phrased it quite well when she said that “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” Despite of how far we’ve come and how some insist that the war on sexism is over, it’s still hard out there for a chick. (Perhaps on planet Margaret Wente it’s already won, but the rest of us are still huddled in the trenches.) In her recent memoir Bossypants (Reagan Arthur, 2011), Tina Fey brilliantly explores how many battles still exist and proves that it is sometimes hard to be a woman. But with the right mind set, it can also be downright hilarious.

In Bossypants, the former SNL writer, actress, and creator of 30 Rock, confronts the trials, tribulations and hilarities of growing up, going for it, getting it, and dealing with the consequences of getting it, in the male-dominated world of comedy-writing and show business. Each of her challenges is approached with a combination of dignity, toughness and, of course, humour. When having to answer those who asked her “Is it hard for you, being the boss?” Fey points out that Donald Trump is probably never asked that same question. Bossypants is part memoir, part self-help guide, and part satirical retort to the absurdities that still exist in gender politics. And Tina Fey rolls it all up into one package. She shows how many of the struggles faced by women can still be dealt with, and overcome, by applying just a little funniness.

From her awkward coming of age discoveries of all the possible “deficiencies” of a woman’s body, to her controversial acceptance of Photoshop, the theme of lookism is revisited throughout her work. Fey takes on the insane pressures put on women, particularly women in show business, to look perfect with her gentle touch: “I have thus far refused to get any Botox or plastic surgery. (Although I do wear a clear elastic chin strap that I hook around my ears and pin under my day wig.)” It is her self-effacing wittiness, combined with her smart rationalization that such standards are just impossible, that makes this reader much more comfortable.

Burdened with discrimination from her improvisation days at Second City in Chicago to the double-standard criticism she received from her Sarah Palin impersonations, Fey is direct with her revelations of the unfair disadvantages faced by women in her profession. For instance, she sums up the destinies for female comedy writers this way: “I’ve known older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy’ …[the] definition of being crazy in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.” Fey’s tone, however, is by no means bitter or defeatist. It just a clear-cut reality check, fully equipped with jovial, yet constructive, solutions: “When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘IS this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on.”  

Tina Fey and baby Alice.
Of course, those who have any life outside of work are also treated to the joyful torture of dealing with a work/life balance. Happily married (proving that some boys do like smart girls) Fey also has a loving family. She also discusses various mommy war issues (including special anecdotes about the “Teat Nazis”). Like every parent, she just finds a way to cope. Sometimes that means mixing business with pleasure: like bouncing baby Alice, her daughter, on her knee while trying to learn Sarah Palin’s accent via YouTube videos. Overall, Fey seems to transcend the guilt and pressure with a sound confidence in her love for her family and their love for her.

Fey actually devotes the final chapter of Bossypants to her work with the nauseating decision on how she should spend her last five minutes: on her career, or on another child. Throughout the book, she comes to terms with the fact she has a lot on her plate. Fey reminisces about a conversation she had with Oprah, while she was pulling off 30 Rock, parenthood, and moonlighting on SNL. Oprah seemed “genuinely concerned” about Fey’s hectic schedule. Fey responds, “When Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life.” Apparently her "fucking life" looked just fine to Fey, since she and her husband have recently revealed (appropriately on the The Oprah Winfrey Show) that they are expecting baby number two.

Tina Fey on 30 Rock.

While reading this incredibly inspiring memoir, I watched the reviews trickle into the media. I saw many ladies fall all over themselves professing their love for smart, witty, funny, beautiful, perfect-in-every-way Tina Fey. While admittedly she is also my (latest) girl crush, I think maybe what we should be taking away from Bossypants is not the burning desire to be Tina Fey, but, like Tina Fey, to be oneself.  

-originally published on April 17, 2011 in Critics at Large.

– Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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