WBEZ | 30 rock http://www.wbez.org/tags/30-rock-0 Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The pop cultural trials of Harriet Tubman http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-08/pop-cultural-trials-harriet-tubman-108548 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1478178288_c14a956fec_z.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="A statue of Harriet Tubman is erected in Harlem in 2007. (Flickr/illdoggie2)" /></div>For a man who&rsquo;s had his finger on the pulse of pop culture for over thirty &nbsp;years - and in the process become almost as rich as Croesus (or Jay Z) - Russell Simons proved postively tone deaf when he put out the &ldquo;Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Or not.</p><p dir="ltr">The sketch came out earlier this month, via Simmons&rsquo; new YouTube channel <a href="http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/5650673/russell-simmons-announces-launch-of-all-def-digital-youtube-channel">All Def Digital</a>, a project that until then had been flying largely under the radar. Its premise is as absurd as it is anachronistic: The famed American abolitionist, seeking funds for her underground railroad, tries to blackmail her master by secretly videotaping them having sex together.</p><p dir="ltr">Horrified critics went to town on Simmons, suggesting he was abusing the image of an American idol while <a href="http://www.racialicious.com/2013/08/20/the-rape-of-harriet-tubman/">promoting rape culture. </a>Tubman&rsquo;s <a href="http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-08-21/features/bs-sc-insider-tubman-video-0825-20130821_1_parody-video-harriet-ross-tubman-slave">ancestors joined the chorus</a> demanding Simmons apologize and remove the video.</p><p dir="ltr">Simmons complied. Now, he&rsquo;s talking about making a biopic of Tubman. And as self-serving and ridiculous as that &nbsp;might sound,I actually think it&rsquo;s a good idea. Granted, Simmons may not be the best man for the job - the reaction to the Def Jam video makes clear the lines we draw around how we talk about the past - and who gets to speak, or even make fun. But he&rsquo;s not the first to do Tubman as comedy. That&rsquo;s actually been a bit of a trend recently.</p><p dir="ltr">Tubman&rsquo;s been portrayed as a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnZagD_jBH4">Black Moses Barbie</a> and serenaded as <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5tAvZ_6t_g">The Sexiest Abolitionist.</a> In one of a series of sketches satirizing Black History Month, comedians Key and Peele imagine Tubman as <a href="http://www.comedycentral.com/video-collections/71aspq/key-and-peele-key---peele-celebrate-black-history/02tcql">&ldquo;the original free runner,</a>&rdquo; who helps runaway slaves escape through a series of parkour moves. And on the last season of <a href="http://www.avclub.com/articles/game-over,90564/"><em>30 Rock</em>,</a> Tracy Jordan tries to make a biopic of Tubman, only to be foiled by his lead, the actress Octavia Spencer, who redecorates his set in sixties modern style because she&rsquo;s not &ldquo;down with the whole cabin vibe&rdquo; and doesn&rsquo;t like Tubman&rsquo;s name because &ldquo;it sounds like a dude. Let&rsquo;s change it to Tubgirl.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Like the Def Jam sketch, the humor of these parodies is in their portayal of a Tubman wildly and wilfully at odds with her historic deeds. But what separates them from the dreck Simmons put out is instead of just sending up Tubman, the <em>30 Rock</em> sketch and others skewer contemporary culture. I mean, what could this moment do with the woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom <em>and</em> soldiers into battle for the Union <em>other</em> than turn her into an action movie heroine or reality TV show star?</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s not such a bad thing: Pop cultural depictions of Tubman, even comedic ones, can be as effective and respectful a way to honor her legacy as memorials or <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-03-09/news/sns-harriet-tubman-park_1_harriet-tubman-park-legislation-on-three-occasions-senator-benjamin-cardin">state parks</a>. And a comedy sketch is a lot more accessible. The problem isn&rsquo;t the portrayals per se, but that there are so few of them, well-done or otherwise. We celebrate Tubman as an American icon with an incredible (some say &ldquo;<a href="http://www.badassoftheweek.com/tubman.html">bad ass</a>&rdquo;) &nbsp;story. But there&rsquo;s not one serious biopic about her (other than a 1978 <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078509/">made-for-TV movie </a>starring Cicely Tyson).</p><p dir="ltr">I don&rsquo;t believe, as some critics suggest, that&rsquo;s simply because we&rsquo;ve forgotten Tubman. I think we haven&rsquo;t quite figured out how to fit her - &nbsp;or this period of American history - into contemporary culture. That uneasy fit may explain these attempts at comedy - isn&rsquo;t laughter a way to confront or at least start talking about the things that make us uncomfortable, the things we&rsquo;d rather forget? That was certainly the case with <em>Django Unchained</em>, a film both reviled and championed that also got people talking about American slavery again.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s one of the best powers of popular culture: Be it respectful or irreverent, salacious or studious, it has the potential to re-activate events that while still significant historically, may have lost some of their cultural force or relevance. And if the Def Jam sketch crossed the line or came <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leighann-lord/harriet-tubman-sex-tape-t_b_3782072.html">&ldquo;too soon</a>&rdquo; (a premise that feels both odd and bittersweet in the year we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation), there&rsquo;s plenty more where it came from. A <a href="http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/7-other-slave-themed-films-for-you-to-look-forward-to-this-year-2013">veritable slew of films and tv shows </a>about slavery come out this year.</p><p><em>Alison Cuddy is WBEZ&rsquo;s Arts and Culture reporter and co-host of <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-changing-channels/id669715774?mt=2">Changing Channels,</a> a podcast about the future of television. Follow her on<a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy"> Twitter</a>,<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=tn_tnmn"> Facebook</a> and<a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport"> Instagram</a></em></p></p> Wed, 28 Aug 2013 09:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-08/pop-cultural-trials-harriet-tubman-108548 Tina Fey's Chicago love affair http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/tina-feys-chicago-love-affair-105241 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 11.24.03 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="358" mozallowfullscreen="" scrolling="no" src="http://www.hulu.com/embed.html?eid=tc_mfzmwer5og-cb4lzsqw" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe></p><p>Tina Fey&#39;s love affair with Chicago is well documented. And on the <a href="http://storify.com/WBEZ/afternoon-shift-240-live-at-the-old-town-ale-hous/preview" target="_blank">Afternoon Shift Thursday</a>, Rick Kogan talked with Second City&#39;s Andrew Alexander about what the show did for local comedians and writers. And Charna Halpern, director and co-founder of iO (formerly Improv Olympic) says about &quot;30 Rock&quot; impact on Chicago is significant.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F77325410&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>As &quot;30 Rock&quot; wraps up tonight, here&#39;s a look back at some of the love she and the show have bestowed on the city.</p><h2><strong>Tina&#39;s two great loves</strong></h2><p>On meeting her husband Jeff Richmond while they were working together at Second City in <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2009/01/tina_fey200901" target="_blank">Vanity Fair</a>:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;(Tina and Jeff) fell in love quickly, soon after a Sunday afternoon spent together at Chicago&rsquo;s Museum of Science and Industry. (&ldquo;We walked into a model of the human heart,&rdquo; Fey deadpans.) The writer-comedian and the musician-director dated for seven years, have been married for another seven, and have worked together in improv theater in Chicago, on Saturday Night Live, and on 30 Rock.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>On food in Chicago, during an <a href="http://www.hulu.com/watch/187122" target="_blank">Ask Tina</a> segment where she said the &quot;internet could run out of space&quot; if she kept talking about her favorite Chicago restaurants:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;I lived on the North Side. You need to go to a place called the Athenian Room on Webster. You need to order the roasted chicken. It&#39;s cooked on a spit, it comes on a bed of steak fries and the chicken juice gets into the fries. Unbelievable.&quot;</p></blockquote><h2><strong>Chicago casting</strong></h2><p>As Chris Jones <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-10-08/news/0610070204_1_mad-tv-paradigm-tina-fey">pointed out</a> as the show began, the cast is a televised reunion of the Second City cast of &quot;Paradigm Lost&quot;:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;I can&#39;t believe I got away with it. I somehow got all those people past all those random hurdles you have to get people past when you are doing television. And if <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Zulevic#Television" target="_blank">Jim Zulevic</a> had not passed away, he&#39;d have been in there too.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>Tina talked more about why she loves Second City actors in the same article:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Second City actors know their purpose within a larger story and ensemble. I know people like <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-23/entertainment/ct-ae-0425-scott-adsit-20100423_1_tina-fey-laugh-second-city" target="_blank">Scott</a> and <a href="http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2012/04/30/rachel-dratch" target="_blank">Rachel</a> so well. We did eight shows a week together in Chicago. So for example, I know that if you want a subtle physical bit that suddenly turns into a fall, <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-23/entertainment/ct-ae-0425-scott-adsit-20100423_1_tina-fey-laugh-second-city/2" target="_blank">Adsit is your man</a>.&quot;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 31 Jan 2013 11:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/tina-feys-chicago-love-affair-105241