Tina Fey channeled apocraphy’s Marie Antoinette last night in an embarrassing and myopic response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville. In an appearance on a weekday version of Weekend Update, Fey unleashed an amusing torrent of abuse toward the president and his pack of wild hyenas, followed by a bewildering bit in which she more or less told viewers to stop opposing white nationalists who come to their towns. The 6-minute rant also featured Fey stuffing copious amounts of cake into her mouth, the prescribed treatment for an America scared shitless of the president’s emboldening of the alt-right. It’s the most gutless and indulgent call to action imaginable.
This whole #sheetcaking thing is so bad that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s go point-by-point.
1. “Let them eat cake,” she said
I know the concept of privilege is grating for a lot of people and discourse on that topic can be smug and condescending, but holy cow we have to talk about privilege here.
Tina Fey is a world-famous white woman worth approximately $45 million. She decided, without a hint of irony or self-awareness, to tell America to chill out about Nazis while brandishing western society’s most notorious symbol of upper class ignorance. If you were to commission an artist to paint a mural to represent privilege, they couldn’t do much better than to recreate a still of the gorging Fey telling Jews to pretend the Nazis aren’t out there.
2. “Ignore the bullies and they’ll just go away”
The only way Fey could have constructed a more embarrassing unintentional self-parody is if she had finished the segment with a promise that #sheetcaking would ensure peace for our time. History has taught us that taking a passive approach to radical nationalism is a horrible strategy. I can think of no worse advice for when literal Nazis are marching through the streets than “ignore them and hope they’ll go away.” Nazis are a tumor, not a honey bee.
Fey’s greatest sin is that she advocates a passive response to hatred with no consideration of whether it’s an effective strategy. Instead, she endorses #sheetcaking because she’s sad someone died in Charlottesville and doesn’t want to see it happen again. The initial impulse when watching a comedy bit is rarely to dig deep into the comic’s thought process, but take a second to realize what Fey is saying about hands-on activism. She is implying that Heather Heyer and others who took to the streets to face down white nationalists were mistaken to do so. Fey’s logic suggests that counter-protesters in Charlottesville would have been better off staying home and eating dessert than courageously defending a synagogue. Did Heather Heyer die in vain?
It’s obvious Fey didn’t put much thought into the implications of her rhetoric. After all, it’s just comedy right? This is the sort of flaccid counter-argument her defenders will no doubt retreat to: “She’s joking, it’s not meant to be taken seriously.” Bullshit. If Tina Fey is going to take advantage of her platform to tell us how to respond to Charlottesville, she has the moral and ethical obligation to take it seriously.
3. Tina Fey is not your friend
I’m giving Fey a lot of flak here because she deserves it for last night’s display, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m just some hater. I like her work quite a bit and have nearly always found her to display a clever and original voice. I understand that she is an inspiration to many people, especially in the feminist community. I do not want to be accused of trivializing her many accomplishments.
But Tina Fey is not and should not be your guiding compass.
Tina Fey is a person who creates #content to entertain you. She is a brand. She is not your friend. She is not your queen.
Just look at how quickly #sheetcaking has propagated across social media. Fey and Lorne Michaels are currently swimming through Scrooge McDuckian pools of money because they know how to preach to the choir. Fey even draws from the terminology of activism by co-opting the word “grassroots” to describe this thing that she knows is about to become a thing.
And don’t pretend that Fey’s idea isn’t going to stick. Check Twitter the next time Neo-Nazis swarm through town and you’ll see people celebrating the occasion with cake and ice cream.
As the header of this post suggests, I find Fey’s faux pas to be another in a tired string of failures of the liberal elite. I’ve come around to this idea that the Democratic Party is ill-equipped to counter the populist rise of Donald Trump and his ilk. Either the GOP needs to find its moral backbone (not likely) or we need a total and complete upheaval of the Democratic Party’s leadership.
Remember how the troglodytes in the financial sector never faced any consequences for plunging the country into the Great Recession? Well, the dipshits who anointed Hillary Clinton and then didn’t campaign in Michigan (perhaps they were eating cake?) are still running the show in the Democratic Party. In both cases, failures went unpunished and new approaches have been suppressed.
If American neo-fascism continues to swell, the Democratic Party will be partly culpable because leaders like Clinton, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, and even Obama failed to champion real solutions to the economic and social problems that served as fascist kindling. The answer was to disassociate with Wall Street and healthcare companies that are robbing Americans blind. The current brand of globalism that only enriches the wealthy must be replaced with an internationalist wave that raises all boats. If these do not become key priorities for the Democrats — and the GOP base continues its pivot to Trumpism — then America could be lost.
Where does Tina Fey fit into this? Next to the major political figures, no one defines the optics of the Democratic Party quite like its celebrity members. Hollywood and entertainment types love to flaunt their commitment to social and environmental issues, but when it comes to real hardcore ideas of policy and reform, they wilt. The status celebrities like Fey enjoy within the culture of liberal politics is out of proportion with the value they provide. All they’ve managed to accomplish is to normalize the spurious idea that there are only three prerequisites for being a good liberal: preach love, hate Donald Trump, and act the coward when trouble knocks at the door.