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The Outrage Over Tina Fey’s “Sheetcaking” Bit Is a Waste of Collective Energy

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The internet is aflame over a Weekend Update bit in which Tina Fey condemns the neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend and recommends a novel self-care technique: “sheetcaking.”

“I know a lot of us are feeling anxious and we’re asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’ ” Fey says in a six-minute segment from last night’s episode of the show, a summertime spin-off of SNL hosted by Michael Che and Colin Jost. Instead of “participating in the screaming matches,” Fey recommends people go out and find a local Jewish- or African American–run bakery, order a sheet cake emblazoned with the American flag, “and just eat it, Colin.”

“I’m sorry, how is that supposed to help?” Jost replies as Fey shovels cake into her mouth.

“Love is love, Colin.”

On Twitter, alongside the inevitable packaging of the clip into quick-hit posts for news and entertainment sites, many have responded to the bit with scorn and disgust. Some characterized it as Fey (whose alma mater, the University of Virginia, was the site of the Friday-night rally) urging the American people to ignore what’s going on in their country and stress-eat the pain away. Others pointed out, not without merit, that her parting shot — the suggestion that we “let these morons scream into the empty air” rather than organize counterprotests — is a historically bad strategy for countering violent demonstrations like the one that took place in Charlottesville.

Some critics, like BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen, shared greatest-hits lists of Tina Fey’s most forehead-slappingly tone-deaf moments — from iffy racial jokes on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to her choice to cast white actors as Afghans in her movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot to her 2015 declaration to stop “explaining” her jokes when waves of outrage like this one come crashing on her shores.

I’m not here to defend those examples. I agree with some of the criticisms people have made of her choices over the years, and I’m certainly not suggesting we give her the Wokest Celebrity of the Year award. But the outrage this bit has inspired feels to me way misplaced.

Look, Tina Fey is a comedian. She is not your elected representative. She may be more powerful than you or I, but she’s not the person who has the power to turn the Trump presidency around (by which of course I mean, BURN IT TO THE GROUND). Focus your anger on someone who can do something about this — like, say, every single member of Congress and the Senate. Tina Fey’s job is to be funny, and hopefully not shove her foot too far into her mouth while doing so, and on that front, she did a pretty good job last night.

The bit is funny. It speaks truth to power, particularly when Fey compares the “alt-right” marchers to the protesters at Standing Rock: “The next time when you see a bunch of white boys in polo shirts screaming about taking our country back and you want to scream, ‘It’s not our country, we stole it from the Native Americans, and when they have a peaceful protest at Standing Rock we shoot at them with rubber bullets, but we let you chinless turds march through the streets with semiautomatic weapons’ ” — this gets a big cheer from the studio audience — “Don’t yell it at the Klan, Colin. Yell it into the cake.”

On Vox, Caroline Framke wrote that “on the one hand, of course Fey and Weekend Update don’t want more people to get hurt. But on the other, ignoring white supremacists isn’t going to make them fade away.” I agree. But we’re not talking about, say, Chuck Schumer advising Democrats to stay home the next time the Klan descends on their town; we’re talking about, as my pal Jason Bailey tweeted, “a comic doing a bit about helplessness and despair.”

Do I think we should cede our streets to armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists and yell into a cake instead? No. But it’s not as if Fey is suggesting that counterprotesters are crybabies who need to calm down. Her point is not the same as newspaper and magazine articles arguing that if we all just settle down and quit being hysterical, the country and its institutions will somehow right themselves.

No, that’s not what this bit is about. It’s an expression of the exhaustion and grief that moves people to tweet about all the alcohol and burritos they plan to consume on a Friday night to relieve the stress of the news cycle. A lot of us have made those jokes; that doesn’t mean we don’t care about what’s happening, or that we wish everyone would just shut up about it already. Imagine what it might look like to take this anger over a comedian riffing on collective anxiety and direct it toward the people who are tasked with representing their constituents’ interests.

And for god’s sake, the woman ate half a sheet cake in under five minutes. Have some respect.

 

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