I have had a love-hate relationship with 30 Rock almost since the show’s inception. I love it purely because it is smart and hilarious, and the Liz Lemon character is such an unabashed loser that it’s hard sometimes to remember how conventionally attractive she actually is. There are so many things about it that I like, in fact, that it took me a lot longer than it usually does to start getting annoyed with its faults.
It was an episode a couple seasons ago that did it for me; you might remember it. In the first five minutes, a man beats up and decapitates a cardboard display of Liz, and Jenna gets a book thrown at her face. Then there is a truly disgusting “joke” involving Pete raping his wife in her sleep, which gets not one, but two visual depictions. All played for laughs. Because of various elements of my privilege I was able to shrug off some of the vile sexist and transphobic “humour” of the show, but that episode really crossed a line for me.
I keep watching it, and I’m glad I do, because on Thursday night while waiting for the (in my opinion) much funnier, smarter, and warmer Parks and Recreation to start, I tuned in to 30 Rock and caught an episode that not only depicted a smart, friendly and funny little feminist child, but also involved some nuanced commentary on the American economy. But best of all was a scene in which Liz Lemon told Jack, “You are being so transvaginal right now!”.
Immediately my Twitter feed repeated the quote back to me via about six or seven different people, not all of whom are reproductive rights activists. This is the true joy of 30 Rock for me – they manage to sneak in the kind of jokes that tell you that someone is paying attention, even if it is just Tina Fey or a bunch of nerdy TV writers. Sometimes as an activist you get so wrapped up in a particular issue, you start to lose the ability to tell how much the general public actually knows about it. Is it common knowledge that these horrible transvaginal ultrasound requirements (and other ridiculous abortion restrictions) are sweeping across the US, or is this just something that abortion geeks like us pay attention to?
Not that 30 Rock making a joke about something means it is common knowledge – obviously there is an intellectual elitism that is almost essential to fully appreciating this show (another thing that bothers me about it…but also makes me feel smart when I get all the jokes). But Liz Lemon calling a controlling, patronizing, uber-privileged man “transvaginal” – it’s so, so important that she uses it in the context of calling Jack out for being intrusive – is important. It means that if this isn’t something we’re talking about, it should be. Because a lot of people are being really transvaginal right now about our wombs and lives. Liz Lemon’s got our back.