In the eagerness to embrace a star who seemed to think briskly and amusingly about gender, who was not afraid of showing off her smarts or her ambition, who reminded some young professional women of ourselves, some of us may have briefly forgotten that she is not, nor was she ever, us. It is a testament to the paucity of role models available on the pop culture landscape that many young feminists – including me! – cleaved so quickly and so closely to a woman who made some pretty smart jokes about women. But Fey was not elected Celebrity thanks to the support of EMILY's List; I am not confident that she has ever read, much less written or commented on, a feminist blog. She has been far less voluble about her personal feminism than her compatriot Amy Poehler, who has done a lot more talking than Fey about her feminist beliefs. While it might be fair to argue that Fey has profited from a feminist embrace, she did not ever pretend to be a standard bearer for contemporary feminism. We're the ones who made her that, who overidentified with her, or with Liz Lemon, or with the Weekend Update host who declared that bitch was the new black, and attached to her a passel of our highest expectations and ideals.This gets to the heart of a wider matter: the inherent short-coming of looking to art and artists as a symbol for political ideology. For many artists, but especially for those working in corporate owned mass media, their first allegiance is to create good work and the second is to net the biggest possible audience. For a comedian, this means getting a laugh wherever one finds them. This immediately sets up a problem for artists with an awareness of or a concern for social justice issues; in the case of a comedian, the biggest laughs may come from jokes that are contrary to their principles. In these moments, artists have to choose between getting the laugh or indulging and reinforcing systems of oppression.
There is a way out of this dilemma, however. And that is to change the joke in such a way to make the underlying issue the object of ridicule. The best moments of Chappelle's Show and South Park have done this, and Traister cites examples from 30 Rock (the premiere episode) and Saturday Night Live (the Brownie Husband skit) where Fey has done this as well.
But to return to the issue of adopting entertainers as symbols of ideology, divorced from the corporate realities, artists also must have some degree of independence from ideologies and social movements. If the artist--be it a comedian or dramatist--is really to penetrate society and critique it in his or her work, then they cannot afford to drink from the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. He or she must retain a degree of sobriety that gives him or her enough of an outsider's vantage point as to see society's short comings. And when the self-proclaimed standard bearers of feminism or any other organization, movement, or ideology adopt an artist who was never explicitly on their team, expect some response in that artists work, which will then be met with some kind of backlash like we are witnessing against Tina Fey.
But maybe Ivan Drago said it best:
(The clip is not subtitled but to translate, the Soviet bureaucrat scolds Drago because the crowd is cheering for Rocky, and Drago replies, "I win for me! For me!")