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Did Tina Fey’s impression of Palin cost 30 Rock viewers?

Posted by loricalabrese on April 10, 2011

Tina Fey’s memoir “Bossypants” was released Tuesday and the woman who won an Emmy for her portrayal of the 2008 vice presidential candidate is dishing on her impersonation, defending her role amid critics who say she unfairly exploited the Alaska governor.

“Some may argue that exploiting Governor Palin and her family helped bring attention to my low-rated TV show,” Fey writes (via an excerpt in USA Today). “I am proud to say you are wrong. My TV show still enjoys very low ratings. In fact, I think the Palin stuff may have hurt the TV show. Let’s face it, between Alec Baldwin and me there is a certain fifty percent of the population who think we are pinko Commie monsters.”

Perhaps Fey is right in that her impersonation of Palin didn’t boost 30 Rock’s ratings, however, you can’t deny the fact that Fey’s widely-applauded portrayal of the Alaska governor has definitely boosted her career, along with SNL’s ratings. Fey’s impersonation of Palin has become as memorable as Christopher Walken calling for “More cowbell,” and she not only won an emmy for her impersonation, but 30 Rock was just renewed for a sixth season in November. Fey has appeared in the 2010 comedy films Date Night and Megamind and she was singled out as the performer who had the greatest impact on culture and entertainment in 2008 by the Associated Press, which gave her its AP Entertainer of the Year award for her satirical portrayal.

To say Fey capitalized on Palin is an understatement, but that’s the name of the game in political satire. However, we can’t deny the effect this has on our politics. As John Lloyd writes at Financial Times.com, “The mockery of politicians and public officials has opened the door to a media-led populism in the US that goes far beyond the puncturing of political pomposity or a valve for public anger. It transforms the media into activists with shifting causes, accountable only to audience maximisation.”

In 2009, in an interview with conservative John Ziegler, Sarah Palin talked about the mockery of politicians.

“I did see that Tina Fey was named entertainer of the year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen,” Palin said in the interview. “I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on, oh I don’t know, perhaps some exploiting that was done via me, my family, my administration – that’s a little bit perplexing, but it also says a great deal about our society.”

Political satire does say a great deal about our society and as society changes, writers and comedians will identify new and pressing targets.

Even Tina Fey makes an interesting point in her book when she says, “There was an assumption that I was personally attacking Sarah Palin by impersonating her on TV. No one ever said it was ‘mean’ when Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford falling down all the time. No one ever accused Dana Carvey or Darrell Hammond or Dan Aykroyd of ‘going too far’ in their political impressions. You see what I’m getting at here. I am not mean and Mrs. Palin is not fragile. To imply otherwise is a disservice to us both.”

And so the world of political satire turns.

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One Response to “Did Tina Fey’s impression of Palin cost 30 Rock viewers?”

  1. Joy said

    Maybe it’s just me – and, to be honest, I was younger and less concerned with the targets of political satire & derision back in the day – but Dana Carvey’s impersonation of Bush 41 was always respectful; and, in fact, had subsequent and very friendly meetings with Bush at the WH – and to this day, speaks warmly of his “target” (as he did on Dennis Miller’s radio show recently).

    Darrell Harmmond’s impersonation of Clinton was likewise gentle and poked fun, etc. – and not in a mean or sarcastic way. Chevy Chase’s tease of Gerald Ford was also funny and NOT mean; even Ford, apparently, enjoyed the joke when he let his lighter side (such as it was) emerge.

    Tiny Fey’s take on Palin in 2008 was memorable primarily for the extraordinary resemblance she bore to Palin in facial expression, hair color & style and size/height. Her words & text were barbed and, IMO, somewhat mean-spirited. Remember, too, Bush 41, Clinton and even Ford were more in the Liberal camp, so they NEVER really earned the scorn from the Hollywood crowd that a true Conservative (Palin) would. Her POLITICS – as well as her persona – were ridiculed; that can’t be said of those other three who were actually Presidents!

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