Thursday, January 22, 2009

A "Little" Problem with 30 Rock

Désolé for the woefully lengthy hiatus in posting. I do have an excellent excuse on the off chance you care to hear one. I have been in the process of moving and after I moved I promptly went down to DC like a good democrat and partied like a rock star for the inauguration. Just got back today and am exhilarated, excited and exhausted all at once. But because I owe you a post, I shall dutifully write one, though sadly as I’ve had no time to watch any TV, my post will have to pertain to last week’s material. Namely 30 Rock.

Quite frankly, it was a super enjoyable episode. It was made up of entirely loveable elements - namely a “classic Lemon” un-PC dating debacle, a cute subplot with Tracy Jordan and his wife (my favorite part of which was when Kenneth sheepishly turns his back on the Jordans as they start to have sex in the hall), plus I loved the Jenna-as-Janis Joplin story and the budding Jack and Salma Hayek romance. It was all good. Good, good, very good.

The downside of the episode was the embarrassing and offensive character of that ubiquitous dwarf, Peter Dinklage. Now I’m not a huge follower of Dinklage’s career so I may be wrong, but in the near recent past I have seen him in both this and on Nip/Tuck and in each he has portrayed dour, bitter, serious characters. Trust me, I am no activist for dwarf rights, but I find these morose portrayals of dwarfs shameful and wholly irritating.

On both shows, his dwarfism is a central facet of his character. On Nip/Tuck, the McNamaras are skeptical to hire him as a nanny both because of his height and his gender, but he then proves himself worthy of the job. On 30 Rock, Liz initially goes out with him so as not to offend him after mistaking him for a child, but then - after she gets to know him – she ends up being genuinely attracted to him. Basically, his dwarfism is a central issue that both characters strive to prove – through their serious behavior and smarts – irrelevant.

What is utterly offensive about this quest to prove that dwarfs are capable and intelligent is that the way these shows do so is by depicting them as gloomy, holier-than-thou types. It’s as if these producers are so eager to disassociate from the outdated stereotypes of dwarfs and midgets as jolly munchkins that they overcompensate by making them ungodly somber. As a result, the dwarfs portrayed on these shows do not transcend the myth that dwarfs are weird but rather prove exactly that. No normal person – or rather, no person worthy of my time – would ever be so depressing.

Further complicating the issue of Dinklage’s disgraceful roles is his statement:
“When I was younger, definitely, I let it get to me. As an adolescent, I was bitter and angry and I definitely put up these walls. But the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humor. You just know that it's not your problem. It's theirs.”
Why then, I ask, does he continue to accept roles that demean him and perpetuate his differences? Why can’t he play a lighthearted, smart and funny character that doesn’t take himself so seriously? TV producers, screenwriters and Dinklage - appeal to my not-so-humble rant: if you want to actually break stereotypes about dwarfs being different then you need to stop depicting and portraying them as solemn freaks!

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