Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

Condi, Cleopatra, and the Performance of Celebrity

Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

Condi, Cleopatra, and the Performance of Celebrity

Article excerpt

Condoleeza Rice dismisses 30 Rock's humiliated Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin): "Take that, Turkey." Zhe diss comes after a classical "battle of the bands," his flute no match for her agile piano solos. (1) In this dual role as Donaghy's former girlfriend and as herself, Condi is relaxed and elegant as she shoos Jack from her book-lined office. Decked in a spiffy grey tweed Chanel mini-dress and pearls, her smile is more than a little mischievous, reaching beyond him to us, her TV audience. "You'd better leave, Jack, before this gets too weird." And it is a little weird. On the surface, Rice's 2011 appearance on 30 Rock as Jack Donaghy's former girlfriend would seem to be random, even more so than AI Gore's appearance as a Climate Change superhero a few seasons before. What might George W. Bush's former Secretary of State and most trusted member of his cabinet be doing playing a cameo on a show created, directed by, and starring the notoriously liberal Tina Fey? Perhaps Fey is cutting Rice some slack despite their ideological differences in acknowledgment of Rice's success in withstanding the pressures of a male-dominated administration, a struggle similar to that which Fey explores in her own 2011 best-selling memoir of her career as a writer, performer, and director in the male-dominated comedy world, Bossypants. (2) Maybe Rice was a little too good for her former boss, the episode suggests. The plotline gives a chance to level a criticism at the former administration while also praising Rice. On the show, Jack Donaghy is forced to call on Rice's expertise--despite the fact that things ended badly with her when his journalist girlfriend Avery is kidnapped by Kim Jong-il. (Jack confesses, among other things, that he'd broken up with Rice by text.) Was Rice underappreciated by the Bush administration? Did she run intellectual circles around Bush, Rumsfield, and her other colleagues in the same way she runs circles around Jack in the scene? Freed for the moment from the panic of September 11, the shared responsibility of Katrina's mishandling, those missing weapons of mass destruction, and other events that have been sore spots for Bush's presidency, Rice is allowed the upper hand, as well as a sense of humor and her own nerdy beauty (insisting to Jack, for example, that Mars Attacks is the best movie of all time). Here, Fey would seem to be expressing a desire that others might also have--to know Rice. What would Condoleeza Rice sound like if she were truly a free agent, without the boundaries of past political loyalties or the pressures of history? Would she be less distanced, more familiar? Would she be funny?

Like other examples of Rice's icononicity, her distance as well as her spectacularity as a beautiful black woman are often at play. Rice's name was first mentioned on the show as the neoconservative Jack Donaghy's down-low inamorata in 30 Rock's first season, in 2006. In Season One's "The Break-Up" episode, we discover that Jack is having an undercover affair with an unnamed "highranking African American in George Bush's Administration," as he tells Liz Lemon (Fey). A little later, we hear Jack exchanging love coos with his Condi over the phone but never see her. The two break up because "Condi" doesn't have enough time to spend on their relationship and apparently won't appear in public with him. It's clear, though, that Donaghy still holds a torch for her, and in a mock-courtly flourish he threatens to kick Vladimir Putin's teeth in for daring to touch the small of her back during a diplomatic visit. Condoleeza Rice is the perfect former undercover lover for Jack Donaghy, who is politically connected and a bit of a rake, as well. Single, beautiful, poised and a person of great accomplishment, Rice is an insider in the world that uber-conservative Donaghy most admires. And she is seemingly unattainable--a perfect way to stage Donaghy's own ambitions. Rice serves as an idealized icon of Republican celebrity and glamor, inaccessible and yet the subject of fantasy. …

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