I’m sad. It’s been a rough week. The first part was filled with reminiscing, but most of all, dread. And the second part was just filled with pure melancholy. And that’s because after seven years of 30 Rock, this week was goodbye. The sitcom loved by nerds and critics said its goodbyes in an extended episode filled with laughs, but mostly cries. Did I mention I’m really sad? And I’m not just sad because Tina Fey (and her rapport with Alec Baldwin) is leaving my screen for I don’t even know how long, but I’m sad because of the underlying issues with its cancellation. Yes, there it is – there has to be a greater point to everything!
The worst part about 30 Rock ending is that as it leaves and other shows of a similar caliber fight to stay on the air, the shows that stick to the status quo have no problem being renewed again and again. And this status quo is a very specific type – it’s one that uses the dirth of television to reinforce misconceptions, stereotypes, and objectifications of women (say it with me everyone: sexism). 30 Rock was a show spearheaded by Tina Fey (who played the now widely commercialized concept of “Liz Lemon”) – a comedy goddess who consistently proves that working women are not only normal but also incredibly necessary.
30 Rock is a show that focuses on the hardships and triumphs of a woman working in comedy, one who has regular relationship issues, likes to eat a lot, and pictures her life ending surrounded by a ton of cats (and sandwich wrappers). Liz Lemon is a flawed woman who is trying to figure out the best way to live her life (and failing a lot of the time). She’s a human being. She’s flawed and she’s successful and she’s unsuccessful all because she’s a human being. Not because of her predestined sex and gender identification. Not because of her long hair or breasts or imagined moodiness every month. It’s because she’s a human being and she functioned as part of a cast of human beings – all with different genders, races, and sexual orientations. Sure, 30 Rock isn’t – I mean, wasn’t – perfect, but it was pretty damn great. And now it’s gone into the abyss of shows that oddly couldn’t compete with Two and A Half Men and… sports (why was there so much football playing and sexist advertising at that Beyoncé concert?).
We have shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation struggling to stay on every season, and shows like Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory having no trouble at all. Shows like the latter two, which capitalize on trivializing women and their roles or attempting to put them in “their place,” become the most popular and successful shows on TV. So this poses a grander question: Why does our society enjoy sexism so much? Or, more importantly, why is our supposedly progressing world so opposed to breaking this sexist quo? You might say that it doesn’t matter – it’s just a TV show. But it’s not “just” anything. Everything matters, especially television. Everyone enjoys television, and until that arena of entertainment can employ more ladies and create shows that demonstrate the depths of different types of characters – women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community – our society that is so incredibly susceptible to what’s on that silver screen is going to continue to inherently absorb sexism.
So when shows like 30 Rock go off the air, that precious air time is replaced by shows that still present women as sex objects, dumb blondes, nagging wives, emotional coworkers, or ugly neighbors. We, unfortunately, still live in a world where a show run by women is a landmark, but we have to hold tight to those landmarks and make sure they keep breaking down those discriminatory norms.
30 Rock was funny. It was edgy, self-deprecating, cheesy, ridiculous, and it was progressive. It was quality television, and saying goodbye was incredibly difficult. But what’s more difficult is being forced to say hello to entertainment that does a pretty horrible job of representing ~50% of the population. Of course, I’m not saying this to condemn all TV that has some hints of problematic material. I am, however, saying that is imperative we remain critical. Television is another way of commercializing our struggles and selling our stereotypes. And with 30 Rock gone, our presence as active women and feminists took a few steps back.
Liz Lemon has left my TV, and with her went one of the characters who I related to most. Until the final season makes its (hopefully inevitable) debut on Netflix, I’ll be spending the rest of my time talking to some food about this. Blergh.
Written by Anisha Ahuja