30 Rock Jokes about rape, and Tina Fey does say something...

Dear Engaged Bystander: Sally Laskey, associate director of the NSVRC sent me a quick email about last week’s season premiere of the TV show 30 Rock. If you don’t know about this show, it is a very popular, prime time comedy series created by Tina Fey. The series is loosely based on Fey's experiences as head writer for Saturday Night Live and takes place behind the scenes of a fictional live sketch comedy series. 

Sally wrote because this very popular show ran the season’s premier with a vivid joke that about someone raping his wife.    
At first I thought that this was just a mistake. I am a huge fan of Tina Fey and I hoped she would not stoop to that level of humor.   Then I read a blog posting  by Melissa McEwen who pointed out that in addition to the rape joke, there were also two other jokes about child sexual abuse. 
I watch my reactions and because I admire Tina Fey, I noticed that my first instinct was to try to find some redeeming value or some reason she would do this. Here is what I initially came up with: 
·         I see that by introducing these topics into a comedy she is helping to break the silence around sexual violence. 
·         I also see that by portraying the rape scene from the perspective of the perpetrator, she is clearly showing her audience that a rapist can be anyone – he does not have to be the monster lurking in a dark alley or at the edge of the playground. 
·         Last, she does not hesitate to respond to the Pete’s remark about having sex with/raping his sleeping wife with the following comment, “That is one of the most upsetting things I have ever imagined."
All of that is true and maybe she even thought about it in this way. Since the show portrays what goes on in the back rooms, maybe this is an issue she had to face more than once – so she is true to the story. But when I watched this episode I was appalled that she gave this kind of light treatment to a topic as devastating as rape.  
  • First, I am trying to imagine what it would be like to watch this scene as a survivor of rape. Most women would not feel they had to be wary of a comedy show like this. 
  • Second, I know that people are much more likely to remember images than words. That is why you see commercials about a new drug and the actors are smiling as they tell you about the life threatening side effects of that drug. People will remember the smiling faces. In this case, people will remember the rape and not Tina’s words that this is upsetting or wrong. 
  • Third, I was appalled that he was able to say that having sex with/raping his wife when she was sleeping was a great thing without any consequences. 
I know this kind of media portrayal happens every day. If you look through Melissa’s blog, you can see her talk about show after show. We need to begin to get different kinds of stories into these television shows. We need to show consequences for this kind of behavior in these shows. And we need to ask that people not only say that they are upset, but hold people accountable when they say they are breaking the law. 
I am disappointed and hope that we can begin to get stories in that I would feel good about sharing with my friends, family, and community. 
Warmly
joan