Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fuck You, Tina Fey, or, The Mother's Prayer, Interpreted

When Tina Fey’s book Bossypants (Little, Brown & Company, 2011) came out, I ignored it, because I’m sick of her. She is already ubiquitous and redundant, and her glammed-up cover photos for fashion magazines are uninspired; she can’t even be bothered to have her own style or wear a great suit, she just lets ‘em tart her up so she can sell, sell, sell.

She had an article in The New Yorker for Valentine’s Day called “Confessions of a Juggler,” (thank you, Inner Monoblog for the text!) that pretended to concern itself with the pressured life of the working mother (as opposed, apparently, to mothers who are in their homes watching television and dicking around all fucking day) but in reality was just Fey’s frantic, limited, and late-to-the-party realizations about the incongruence of Hollywood and contemporary motherhood. Her opening quip that “It’s less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam… than it is to speak honestly about this topic [of working moms]” was overwrought, not true, and in poor taste.

Her assertion in the New Yorker that she has “the same struggles as any working parent” is offensive not because, as she says, she “just happens to be working at [her] dream job,” but because she has a million, billion dollars, so she in fact does not have any of the same struggles as most working parents, whose chief struggle is almost always money and the unlimited tangential stresses there from. Fey’s children can have everything they want to eat, soccer and swimming and ballet and French, two pairs or ten pairs of shoes that fit, the school of Fey’s choosing, the Fire Island house and vacation and camp, therapy, play dates, nannies, and Fey and her husband get to go out in the evening as often as they would like. Does that lifestyle sound familiar? I thought not!

It’s gross for wealthy people to compare themselves to working class people. It’s revolting. And let’s not even parse that bit about how “large families have become a status symbol” of what people can afford. You can afford it, Fey, everybody knows that.

But it’s also a loutishly insensitive thing to say exactly because she is working at her dream job, which is qualitatively, psychologically, emotionally, profoundly different from working at a job that sucks. And it’s really different from being a working parent who has no job and is desperately searching for one. So, you know, I’m working up to Shut up, Tina Fey, at this point.

The rest of the article was non-compelling because Fey had nothing new to add to a conversation that is, I assure you, not dangerous; women of all ages, all over my neighborhood, all over Facebook, email, and the phone, talk about working outside the home and inside it, and why that’s like, stressful, in any combination, all the time. What is sad is how Fey’s lack of awareness of that just makes her look like she has no friends.

But let’s get to the point, to the Fuck You, Tina Fey.

As I say, I was determinedly ignoring her book when I stumbled on this great blog Kyriolexi while seeking out definitions of the relatively new term ‘neurodiversity’ for something else I’m writing. I quote:

So this? Is never okay.

“May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.” - Fey, in her stupid essay

It doesn’t surprise me that someone would say such a thing. Ignorance and victim-blaming abound whenever child abuse, especially sexual abuse, is discussed. I am, however, slightly appalled at the uncritical praise this essay is receiving all over the internet, with little or no acknowledgement of the deeply offensive nature of this line, which in one sentence summarizes, reinforces, and solidifies the stigma and pain felt by those who have been harmed by childhood sexual abuse, and the fear that can linger in the mind of even the most self-confident survivor: maybe this happened to me because there’s something wrong with me. -Kyriolexy

Huh? I said. What the hell is this about? I read through the rest of the post and found out. And then I read the piece, “The Mother’s Prayer..,” and I was disgusted, though I don’t know why I was even surprised.

Sexual abuse of children is, to say the least, never, ever funny; not ever. But I’m not writing about sexual abuse, it’s not my field, and what’s wrong with Fey’s “Prayer,” (ugh, ugh, ugh,) is not just the one line; the whole piece is offensive, and especially the word ‘damage,’ not only with regard to sexual abuse, but as it relates to all children who struggle, and who are marginalized, and in how Fey uses the word to perpetuate pariah-ism, making gobs of cash while she’s at it.

Tina Fey is shaking her moneymaker, and I don’t resent her that part of it; I want a book contract, too; wha, wha, wha! What I resent (and here I go, I’m gonna be a sanctimommy, I’m gonna judge,) is that Fey is making her money taking advantage of the very women she blatantly pretends, in the New Yorker piece, to have as her peers, and selling those women’s children down the river in the process. I’m a mother. I’m her age (or I’m older by like four or five years.) I have stood next to her and had a glass of crap wine on the dock at Fire Island because my cousin has a house there that I get to visit. But nobody looking at me and at Fey could guess that; you don’t know that I’m not rich, you just know that she’s famous, I’m not. She’s a cultural leader, it is painful to say. I’m as angry about this as I was when Oprah threw a fucking parade for James Frey’s awful, stupid, lying, badly written fake book. Women are looking to Oprah to see what to read, and they are looking to Fey to see what to think, and Fey is saying, Think privilege! Think discrimination! Think me, Me, ME!!!

I was shocked when a friend I often call The Philosopher Mom, who is among the most political, well-read, informed people I know (there are four of them) posted the piece on her Facebook page. But I was glad it was she, because she’s about the only person I know whose postings I can fire back at without reservation.

I responded:
Jessica Steiner Sorry, i still can't abide the "for it's the damage that draws the creepy soccer coach's eye..." which translates as, ‘better your broken kid than mine,’ mentality. Not to mention the mutually exclusive 'beautiful but not damaged,' based on the assumption that beauty is evidence and security and damage is for-never. Fuck Tina Fey. Sorry.

Then I added:
Jessica Steiner oh and BTW both my male and female children are beautiful AND damaged and EVEN rich people's kids are in danger of predators. [Hon,] i know you will not take this personally. thanks for the vent.

And then I learned that the husband of a woman I’d grown up with had killed himself.

How could this possibly be relevant? Stay with me.

I will call the woman Beth. I grew up in a youth movement by whose standards today I’d be considered Tea Party material. This organization thirty years ago, as I knew it, was a vibrant, insular group of about one hundred and twenty kids, teens, and young adults forming an ethically driven community around such radical ideals as sharing, helping, heritage, hiking, debate, discussion, folk dancing, pot smoking and arts and crafts. Participants who could claim Israeli parentage were considered both exotics and the real deal. Beth was one of those. When I knew her she was near legal drinking age, tan, chestnut haired, stocky, beautiful, whip smart, a gifted musician, cuddly, popular, and super responsible, plus she spoke Hebrew with a charming lisp; I loved her and was filled with seething jealousy of her at the same time. She was my summer camp counselor and one of the proudest days of my twelve year old life was when she let me wear her red carpenter pants and her white sweat shirt with the red heart on the front after Shabbat on an unseasonably chilly Friday night.

The information about Beth’s husband came to me through a friend who’d also grown up under Beth’s tutelage. I responded to her email that I felt a sense of sliding off reality. That nothing is what it seems. I had heard over the years that Beth had a wonderful, successful husband, and healthy, advancing children, a beautiful home, and was a person of stature in her professional field; I had believed that Beth’s life was perfect.

Why would I believe that of anybody? Because that’s what we’re all trained to believe; that life can be perfect.

Let me just get this out right now: fuck that.

I had just been discussing the privation and despair inherent in such vicious one-ups-manship as Fey is purporting, with yet another mom, a member of my support group, who has a son like mine. Though our two boys have different diagnoses, they are both high-strung, reactive, prone to harrowing, embarrassing outbursts. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Anxiety, among other things.

This mom and I, we love our support group friends, and our non-support-group friends who are supportive, but mothering young boys with stress-induced behavior challenges is qualitatively different from parenting boys with other disabilities, and it is an experience that must be had to be understood. And we often, in spite even of each other, feel alone.

I realized, reminiscing about Beth, that I’ve always felt this way; alone. I’m a chronic outsider. The sensation has attached itself to my experience of mothering a boy who keeps me out of the mom-club, even out of the special-needs-moms-club, to some degree. Like, alone, aloner…

And when Philosopher Mom reposted that yammering, ham-handed, oafish, self-aggrandizing piece of bullshit by Fey that she’s trying to pass off as wit; I felt alonest.

Possibly worst of all, I also felt cosmically, swooningly bored, because I just can’t believe that Fey has nothing any newer or smarter or funnier (the “Prayer” is not, actually, that funny,) to say than what boils down to I’m pretending I think I’m lame so I can say how rich and awesome I am and you suckers all think I’m your friend!

What hurts is the way people throw around that word damage, and don’t care about my boy. What’s embarrassing is that at my advanced age, I still carry a paranoid fantasy that other people are perfect and happy and that I’m getting left out. Nevertheless, Fey’s sleazy, elitist, sub-par humor still smacks of desperate pandering to the in-crowd.

Philosopher Mom says I’m missing the point. On Fey’s use of the word ‘damage,’ PM said, “[Fey] may not have chosen super-consciously, but damage is a word that applies when something traumatic has happened to someone, not when someone has problems that arose from the genes.”

Despite PM’s assertion that predators look for psychic “chinks in the armor,” which I’m sure is right, and she’s in tune with Kyriolexi’s essay, to that extent, ‘damage’ is an orange-alert word on the disability radar; it bespeaks an attitude toward individuals as damaged goods, as second rate rejects, and I believe that Fey has a much more sinister, eugenic message in mind than PM has considered.

I believe this stupid excuse for satire is Fey saying, Ewe, there’s that damaged kid! I’m sure glad my kid isn’t that kind of loser! Come on over here, honey, so you don’t catch anything nasty, or ugly, or weakening! And everybody else just laughs and laughs…

Granted, others who responded to Philosopher Mom’s posting gave me my due; if they disagreed in that lighten up! kind of way, they were mild about it. One person disagreed with me but tempered it by ‘sending love,’ so as not to hurt any feelings. Which is fine. Nobody called me a C U Next Tuesday, so that’s good.

By the way, the best treatment right now of the topic of careless word hurling is Robert Rummel-Hudson’s Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords: Just a word. Which is on www.schuylersmonsterblog.com so check that out.

Tina Fey's Fire Island house is around the corner from my cousin’s, which I visit with my family from time to wonderful time. I could very easily walk up to Fey and say, Your writing is bad. Your feelings are stupid. Your work is pretentious and offensive. Good-bye. And anyone could assume I'd do that out of jealousy; a dent in my reputation well worth it.

What I wonder, though, is what lurks inside a woman of Fey’s career and financial stature, that brings her so far down, that makes her so insecure she’s compelled to chatter on and on about presumed shopping trips to Hollister and slamming cab doors with indignation at her daughter’s future imagined sleights? As for that speculative business of “Architecht? Midwife? Golf course designer?” If Fey’s daughter grows up to be a dowdy woman in Wrangler jeans working at Home Depot, Fey will have to be put into a medically induced coma. All I can imagine on reading the “Prayer” is Fey, standing in her office, sticking her fingers in her ears and screaming LA LA LA LA LA LAAAAAA (rather like my Autistic son, actually,) so the mean voices of reality won’t get in and tell her the bad news; that none of us actually has a direct line to God and nobody knows what is in store for their child, no matter how many grapes we cut up, no matter where we shop, no matter how hard wish that nothing will fuck up our lives.

I’d like to walk over to Fey on the dock and be like, Really? This is all you've become? Just the same kind of stuck up idiot who crapped on you in junior high?

And then I’m like, Maybe when I see Fey I will just run up to her and breathe in her face and yell FAILED WRITER GERMS! FAILED MOTHER GERMS! MIDDLE CLASS VIRUS! In fact maybe I’ll tell my Autistic kid to go give her perfect, in-tact kid’s elbow a good, gross lick.

Alas, compare and despair, as Stuart Smiley used to say. It does not make me feel better to know that Beth has officially experienced cosmic proportion loss, nor would it gratify me if heartbreak happened to Fey. It doesn’t level the karma or balance the scales because I am not tallying up like that. The truth is that I am happy. I’m crazy about my son exactly as he is even when his struggles defeat my best efforts, I gaze upon and relish my daughter who will not grow out of this family unscathed, I’m in love with my husband, we have enough money, blab la blab la blab la. I just want something out of all this.

I feel like it’s best to assume that everybody has terrible shit in their lives, even people who really, really seem not to, who seem untouched by hardship. Not because it will make me kinder; I don’t want to be kinder, I don’t care about that. I guess I just want to be less horrified, less shocked. I would like things to make sense once in a while. I would like Tina Fey to use her savvy and her humor and her influence for good, and enlightenment, not for sucking the dick of the status quo, and certainly not for making other mothers feel like shit. I would like to wish Tina Fey well. I’d like to respect her. She has to respect me first, though, because I’m supposed to buy the book to pay for the house on Fire Island.

But for $26.99? Fuck you, Tina Fey.


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