At the 2013 Golden Globe Awards, host Tina Fey slut-shamed then 23-year-old singer-songwriter Taylor Swift by mocking her highly-publicized romantic life, stating during the broadcast, “You know what, Taylor Swift? You stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son.”
When asked about the nationally-televised incident and the topic of “mean girls” in general in an interview with Vanity Fair editor Nancy Jo Sales, Swift referenced a quote by Madeleine Albright that she had learned from journalist Katie Couric: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Taylor Swift, girl, you ain’t never lied!
You talk that talk like Rihanna, baby!
While Fey’s Golden Globes co-host and partner in crime, fellow comedian Amy Poehler, offered an apology to Swift for her part in the joke, Fey defended the bit in an interview with Us Weekly, bluntly dismissing the issue, “It was just a joke, and I think it was actually a very benign joke.”
Now, I just want to point out the distinction that while Swift addressed the controversy with Vanity Fair, a reputable publication with a storied history dating back to 1913, Fey addressed the situation with Us Weekly–essentially a celebrity gossip tabloid.
Bow down, Tina Fey!
You’re not even on Taylor Swift’s level!
Unfortunately, this chain of events isn’t even the full story. Soon, a video surfaced of a paparazzo politely asking Fey about the matter when he encountered her on the street in New York City. The video was published by E! Online, but the article has since been taken down. The exchange unfolded like this:
Paparazzo: “Do you think Taylor Swift overreacted with the joke?”
Tina Fey: “Go fuck yourself.”
Paparazzo: “Do you think she took the joke a little too far? Can you comment on anything?”
Tina Fey: “You can go fuck yourself.”
Paparazzo: “Aww, that’s not nice. Come on.”
Tina Fey: “Get a job, dude.”
Fey’s choice words speak for themselves in this case. You can see the exchange in GIF form here.
Then came the 2014 Golden Globes. Incidentally, at this awards ceremony, the beautiful tune “Let it Go” by Idina Menzel from the movie Frozen was nominated for the category of Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. But not only did “Let it Go” lose to “Ordinary Love” by U2 from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom that night, the lyrics to this powerful anthem were also lost on the deaf ears of Tina Fey.
While presenting her buddy Amy Poehler with a trophy for Best Actress in a TV Comedy, Fey opportunistically turned the otherwise joyful moment into a vengeful jab at Taylor Swift, rekindling the old media quarrel with a pointed and snide closing remark into the microphone, “And there’s a special place in hell for you.”
“It’s funny how some distance,
Makes everything seem small.”
–Idina Menzek “Let it Go”
Apparently, the 313 days that had elapsed since Taylor Swift’s Vanity Fair interview was not enough “distance” for Tina Fey to just let it go.
But when it comes to holding a grudge, I have Tina Fey beat by a mile. I’m about to call her out for something she said nearly a decade ago! Then, I’m gonna go back even further!
But one at a time, kids.
Once upon a time, during a 2006 visit to the Howard Stern Show, while discussing Paris Hilton’s Saturday Night Live appearance (and right after calling Hilton “a piece of shit”), Tina Fey derided the 5’8” heiress with wide-eyed horror, “[Paris Hilton] looks like a tranny up close!”
Hey, Tina. Transphobia is not punk rock. Pass it on. Also–in an ironic twist–Tina Fey would go on to accept a GLAAD Award in 2011. Huh?
Anyway, at the Howard Stern Show, Fey continued her diatribe against Ms. Hilton, “…her hand is like from my elbow to the end of my hand!” Apparently, a woman’s proper hand size seems to be an object of fixation for Fey. Case in point, the cover of her best-selling autobiographical comedy book Bossypants, which features a portrait of Tina Fey’s head on a male torso, her face gently resting against a male hand.
I never read Bossypants. I did pick it up at a bookstore once, opened to the first page, read a wisecrack about adolescents with oily skin, and put it back down. But that’s probably not enough research for an informed opinion on exactly what Tina had in mind for the book’s cover.
Perhaps there was a feminist message behind the image (albeit a slightly retro, second-wave, pre-intersectionality one). Or maybe the punch line was a very base, “Hey look! With Photoshop you can make me look like one of those hermaphrodites, even though I’m actually a cisgender, petite normal woman with small hands!”
Admittedly, you’d have to be pretty sensitive about sex and gender issues to interpret it as the latter. And I’m very sensitive about sex and gender issues. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt if actual intersex folks are reading my critique of the Bossypants cover and thinking, “Child, it is not that deep!”
But moving right along, as promised, my cynicism goes back to even before Tina’s faux pas on the Howard Stern Show in 2006. It dates back to a 2004 movie called Mean Girls.
Two years prior, singer Christina Aguilera released a record called “Beautiful.” In the music video for the hit pop ballad, there’s a scene featuring a gay couple kissing on a bench–tongue and everything–as they ignore gawking strangers walking by. Another storyline of the video portrays a transgender individual, earnestly putting on women’s clothing, makeup, and a wig, before finally breaking a smile when fully dressed and recognizing her true self in the mirror.
Personally, as a young teenager when the video first came out, I had never seen anything like it. It felt ahead of its time. Remember, this was 2002. Before Kurt and Blaine on Glee. Before the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality. And before Tina Fey made a complete mockery of the song (which won a Grammy, a GLAAD Award, and was named the most empowering song of the decade for the LGBT community by a British activist organization called Stonewall) in her box office triumph Mean Girls.
Sure, the lyrics and video for “Beautiful” were anything but subtle, making it pretty low-hanging fruit for a parody. But if you’re gonna make satire out of something so meaningful to millions of marginalized human beings around the world…and if you have that much time to think about…you had better come correct with this parody! Don’t just barge into the writers’ meeting all like:
“You guys! You know that Christina Aguilera song about inner
beauty and self-esteem with the empowering representation of those two twinks making out in its music video? Get this, why don’t we have a husky gay guy, wearing an unfashionable, ill-fitting suit (so, you know, trying to look respectable, but inevitably failing miserably at it), totally butcher the song for like an entire minute with unreasonably off-key vocals, at his high school’s talent show to a reception of guffaws and physical violence from the audience’s front row of good-looking jocks?!”
When making a parody of a community, it’s like hanging a raincloud above that particular group of people–everyone gets a bit wet, but everyone survives. However, when you make a parody of a single person, the impact can strike like a lightning bolt hitting that individual right on the head.
Such appears to have been the case with Tina Fey’s show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Many feel a character on that show, a dermatologist, was based on real-life dermatologist to the stars, Dr. Fredric Brandt. The character on the show, played by Martin Short, was named Dr. Grant but referred to as “Dr. Franff” because after too many rounds of self-administered Botox, that was the only way he could pronounce it. In real life, Dr. Fredric Brandt had been quoted as regretting getting too many Botox injections.
From their similar sounding names to their mid-length, straight, platinum blond hair, the parallels were obvious. And Dr. Fredric Brandt was said to have been “devastated” by the show and its grotesque portrayal of Dr. Grant, which aired on March 6th, 2015.
Thirty days later, Dr. Fredric Brandt committed suicide by hanging himself at his home in Florida.
To my knowledge, Tina Fey never commented on Dr. Fredric Brandt’s death. During her first interview following Dr. Fredric Brandt’s passing on the Today Show, Tina Fey wasn’t even asked about the tragedy. His name was not mentioned.
However, Dr. Fredric Brandt’s publicist clearly stated, “The show was not the reason for his depression, and it was not the reason he would take his own life.” And I believe those words. And I am definitely not trying to say that Tina Fey is to blame for his reportedly long bout with depression, which culminated in his unfortunate suicide.
I’m just saying–it is what it is.