What's Tina Hiding?

By Holmes, Anna | Newsweek, April 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

What's Tina Hiding?


Holmes, Anna, Newsweek


Byline: Anna Holmes

Tina Fey may be the most admired woman in show business. If only she would act the part.

Tina Fey occupies a special place in the contemporary American cultural imagination: it's hard to know where her characters end and she begins. She is, as a character, not only the most famous working woman on television but a role model to many as she navigates the Sturm und Drang of singlehood, corporate intrigue, and irresistible food. But is that really Tina Fey?

This tension between her comedy and her actual beliefs is on full display in her latest effort, the memoir Bossypants, which purports to be a book "about how she got here." The only daughter of a solidly middle-class family from suburban Philadelphia, Fey begins her tale in typical self-deprecating fashion, relating amusing anecdotes about body-hair removal, first periods ("nowhere in the pamphlet did anyone say it wasn't a blue liquid"), and run-ins with specula (she fainted). From there we follow our plucky heroine as she goes from a summer theater program to a preppy Southern university, and then to Chicago, where she performs with the fabled Second City company and scores a job as a writer on Saturday Night Live. As Liz Lemon herself would say, "I want to go to there."

Except there isn't much "there" to be had. Fey treats Bossypants as an extension of her television alter ego. Edging up to difficult truths and skipping away may make for sophisticated sitcoms, but it doesn't make for satisfying memoir writing. The most successful autobiographies demand a certain amount of psychic heavy lifting, risk taking, and interrogation of one's ideas; Fey will have none of it, which contributes to the nagging feeling that, despite her prodigious talents, she can be a little too clever by half.

This past February, NBC aired an episode of 30 Rock in which Fey's character is prompted to hire a baby-voiced, busty female comic after an influential women's website, JoanOfSnark.com, criticizes Liz for the paucity of her show's female writers and performers. That site was a spot-on parody of Jezebel.com, the pop-culture-and-politics blog I created in 2007.

The episode, titled "TGS Hates Women," was a direct commentary on, among other things, the challenges facing women in comedy, gender politics, sexuality as cultural currency, and guilt-free cheesecake recipes. …

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