I have recently been spending a fair amount of time indulging in my admiration for Tina Fey. On the nights when I don’t have the courage to read an excellent book, I open up my computer and go to Netflix: 30 Rock, Season 1. I am making a study of Tina Fey’s approach to everything. And it seems that she really does approach everything; she established her television show as a platform where she can pick up any topic she likes, and playfully rotate it to provide perspective on the matter. I listened to her interview on Fresh Air (another platform for rotating perspectives, though with decidedly fewer layers) and she said that her interest in developing the show 30 Rock was to be able to write about gender, class, and race. She said she cast the three main characters as a triad, whose interactions with each other could work with those issues: White Lady Television Writer (herself), Black Celebrity Comedian (Tracy Morgan), White Conservative Corporate Network Executive (Alec Baldwin). I think her formula actually works; I think she gets to poke into some typically unpoked areas.
As I was trying to fall asleep last night, I found myself trying to impersonate a particular line that Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon says on one of the episodes. It’s from a scene, in which Tracy Morgan’s character, the comedian, is ordering Lemon to do a bunch of outrageous things for him. The way that she says “no” is so interesting. I keep trying to correctly imitate her tone of voice, but I can’t get it right. I think it’s a difficult balance to strike, because I believe this particular approach is something that she has developed, that the rest of us womenfolk might not have learned yet. I am interested in helping to spread it along.
In the scene, Tracy barks a series of orders, and Fey responds by saying, “I’m not going to do any of that.” What is remarkable is that she uses a tone of voice, which is exactly not what you would expect to hear from a woman who is refusing to follow someone’s orders (particularly orders coming from a powerful man). When saying the line, her face has that trademark look of being sort of mischievous while also prudish, and her voice sounds confident and bemused, maybe even a little bit frisky. When I try to imitate the delivery, I hear myself sounding only strident and sarcastic. I haven’t figured out how to hit on that note of amusement, which seems to ring as the set pitch throughout the entire show. It’s sort of like saying “no” with a voice that sounds as though it is saying yes. It makes “no” sound so much more intriguing when spoken that way.
This consideration goes into the same file as my obsessive appreciation for The Breeders’ album, Last Splash. I think that they poised themselves in a special balance, which was a new development in how women present themselves. The Breeders, and their music, come off as being tough girls, though their songs are sung with pretty girl voices. This, as opposed to being tough, and singing with wicked tough girl voices, a la Nancy Wilson of Heart, or Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. I think that being able to be powerful within a range of different cadences is very interesting, worth some continued study.