Who Dat Liberal?

In the midst of my usual procrastination Sunday afternoon, I came across this interview with Tina Fey from last week. Now I know this story combines two things despised by a certain portion of this blog’s readership, show business and NPR,  but I think it’s interesting how the interview once again brings up Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin. That Fey is still more known for a role she played maybe five times despite starring in one of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms of the past few years is amazing enough in itself, but what’s really peculiar is how how her take on Palin was such a hot issue during the last election that it’s still relevant even as the current election season is just kicking off. More or less, I think the whole thing shows a nasty habit on the right to take things like impersonations of politicians and turn them into political issues.

For her part, Fey saw and sees the whole thing as being a problem of gender: “You can find this freshly posted as of yesterday. ‘She should be ashamed of what she did to Sarah Palin,’ which I think is a discredit to both me and former Gov. Palin. She’s not fragile. And I’m not mean. And to imply otherwise is a disservice to us both. No one ever said, ‘Oh, that Will Ferrell. He should be ashamed of the way he’s conducting himself playing George W. Bush.’ No one would ever say that.” But considering how much certain people, even some in the McCain campaign, were shook it would seem that a different kind of politics were behind the all the consternation her mimicking caused and can still cause.What all this hand-wringing shows is a belief among some on the right that certain parts of pop culture get more play than others because they lean left.

Which is painfully obvious point, I know. But it does beg the question: Really? What all these invective-laden condemnations ignore is the possibility that Fey’s Palin caught on because it was well, just funny. Yes Fey, despite her recent vacillation on the point, more or less admitted in her acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize last fall that she was coming at it from a liberal perspective (go to about the 12:00 mark). And sure, a whole lot of liberals took no uncertain amount of glee in it. But it’s for Fey, along with shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, to have received the acclaim she did for her Palin it was necessary to win over those for whom the politics of comedy is secondary to its quality.

Unfortunately, this lesson is often lost on the right. Case in point, the “conservative” answer to Jon Stewart, Fox News’ little lamented The 1/2 Hour News Hour. I’ll save you the pain of including clips from the show’s inglorious 17-episode run in this post, but you can more than easily find them on YouTube. What’s amazing isn’t so much how unfunny they are, but rather how easy it is to see where they went wrong. It’s pretty clear the writers went in with an agenda to present and then tried to build jokes around them, which is probably one of the surest ways to write bad comedy (to see another example of this mistake just look here). Ultimately, the show took the worst conceit of the 90s Culture Wars-that every single facet of our society was a political- and followed followed it to the point that politics became an acceptable substitute for entertainment. Regardless of where you are ideologically, that idea is on its surface absurd.

Yet, it’s one which still has a fair amount of sway among conservatives. Which would be fine if those same people weren’t also the same ones ranting about the liberal bias in Hollywood. It might be that if they really want to balance out the world of TV comedy, they might want start off with a few jokes.

–Jeff Hopkins