There’s only enough time in the day to choose between watching last season’s comedy shows online and reading the news. Of course, I choose 30 Rock – an NBC show about insecure, work-driven variety show producer Liz Lemon and her boss Jack Donaghy.
Liz (Tina Fey) is the “godless, glassy-eyed Clintonista.” Jack (Alec Baldwin) is the Reaganite who is dating Condoleeza Rice. It’s the same political head-butting without all the pontification – the racial guilt and gender angst of the swinging American voter, told in a way that shows it’s really all ridiculous.
30 Rock even anticipates political headlines. For example, in one episode, Jack struggles to find a celebrity entertainer for a John McCain fundraiser. They can only drum up a decrepit anti-Semite and Jack pouts, “The Democrats have all the good celebrities.” In recent real life, just the ancient, ugly Jon Voight defended John McCain, while the enamored Scarlett Johansson claimed to be engaged to Barack Obama and the inspired Ludacris wrote Obama a song:
Said I handled his biz and I’m one of his favorite rappers
Well give Luda a special pardon if I’m ever in the slammer
Better yet put me in office, make me your vice president
Hillary hated on you, so that b**** is irrelevant.
Like other white American voters, Liz carries the crushing weight of racial guilt. Her aspiration to color blindness makes her both excruciatingly conscious of race and judgmental towards anyone who is conscious, too. In one episode, she dates an impossibly tedious black man who collects tote bags and blogs about missile defense systems. She bristles when Jack calls the man a Black (although it’s his last name) and brushes aside Jack’s warning about the cultural tensions he and Condoleeza Rice experienced. Liz can see past all that: “When I go home I am just riding on a subway car of scary teenaged people.”
Her attempt at racial blindness is scrambled when the man accuses her of racism when she won’t go out with him again. She makes a plea that neatly sums the bulk of our racial drama: “I truly don’t like you as a person. Can’t one human being not like another human being? Can’t we all just not get along?”
This election has scrambled America’s attempts at racial blindness, too, dredging up both white racism and white racial guilt, proving that it may be impossible for anyone – even Barack Obama – to run a color-blind campaign right now. When white voters listed race as a deciding factor in their primary votes, they were twice as likely to vote against Barack Obama. But did racial guilt motivate the others who voted for Obama? In the words of Stuff White People Like, white people like Barack Obama “Because white people are afraid that if they don’t like him that they will be called racist.” Why can’t we just dislike our candidates as people?
There’s racial guilt, and then there’s gender angst. Liz is the unhappily liberated woman. When intern Cerie gets engaged to an old, rich man she’s known for three months, Liz gives Cerie a feminist pep talk that quickly transitions to racking self-doubt: “You’re so young, Cerie! There’s no big hurry to have babies. I mean there are other things in life, like having a career and working and … having a job and … working.” Cerie’s shallow self-assurance always shatters Liz’ self esteem: “You can have a career at any time. But you only have a really short period where you can be a young hot, mom.”
Liz follows it all with a bout of hysterical baby-crazy sobbing (“What if my junk goes bad?”), some “trawling for seed,” a period of denial (“My body is trying to make me think I want to have a baby but my body is not the boss of me. My brain is!”), some deranged baby-stealing and finally the hollowly-ringing feminist mantra: “Maybe it’s impossible to have it all – the career, the family. But if anyone can figure out how to do it, it’s me.”
But she doesn’t even have the willpower to break up with her beeper-selling boyfriend or stop eating Cheetos laced with bull semen. She’s trying to live out dreams that contradict reality: We can be happy (all alone), eating Chinese takeout (while worrying about our weight) after coming home from our important (stressful) jobs! But it’s easier to cling to false definitions of fulfillment and happiness than face the fact that we’re neither fulfilled nor happy. It’s easier to say race doesn’t matter than face the embarrassing truth that we still can’t just dislike each other as people.
There’s the ambivalence inherent in our guilt and angst, and there’s also the ambivalence of balancing our guilts. This is why the Democratic primary produced so much anxiety: It pitted racial guilt and gender angst; so while some feminists endorsed Obama, other feminists decried them. All of this internal tugging creates the swing voter, and the hunt for the swing voter’s heart drives campaigns. Liz – the godless Clintonista – is one of them herself. In a litany of humiliating secrets, she confesses, “There is an 80% chance in the next election that I will tell all my friends that I’m voting for Barack Obama but I will secretly vote for John McCain.”
But why? Why do we have to choose between our insecurities? Most of us are complicated people, like Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), a “forward-thinking” black guy who likes the fact that the GOP supports lower taxes and guns but can’t turn his back on his people by becoming the celebrity face of the Republican Party. So he ditches this GOP commercial: “My fellow Black Americans, Dr. King once had a dream, a dream that we all share – to build a 200 foot high wall to keep Mexico out. And he also hated the estate tax.” And replaces it with this one: “Black people: Don’t vote! Just don’t do it! In the amount of time it takes you to vote you can play three games of pool! Three!”
Maybe Kenneth – the sunny, Bible-quoting, innocent Kentuckian – has the best solution: “I don’t vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin so I always just write in the Lord’s name!”
Oh, wait. As Jack points out, “That’s Republican. We count those.”