Unbreakable Tina Fey

Written in October 16th, 2016

She is rude, weird and dirty. She throws weights on the floor, sprawls on the ground doing fake yoga poses, and talks about her hemorrhoids. This shopper goes around annoying all employees. She either makes fun of the product or people who use it, and then she buys it. It’s everywhere, it’s impossible to ignore: it’s Tina Fey’s newest American Express campaign, and it’s very important.

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Her first commercial was in 2007 for the credit card giant was for the My Life. My Card campaign. Tina plays a spectacled boss who has to take care of the chaos of the being a sitcom show runner. The job requires her to fix some scripts, suck the venom out of a co-worker, and play the flute. She must be superwoman, juggling work and family without breaking a sweat. As problems continuously mount someone finally helps her. It’s American Express, who cancels her large order of racket balls. Here American Express is a role player that every elite team needs. Tina Fey is the successful hardworking star, which is hard not to admire.

This image of Tina Fey is easy to sell. It’s identical to her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon. It’s even easier to sell when the audience knows who Tina is, which is a workhorse who performs exceptionally in the limelight. Two years after being hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live, she was promoted to head writer and Weekend Update host in the same year. During this tenure, she wrote Mean Girls, first feature length film. It grossed over eight times its budget and became a cultural icon. After SNL she didn’t slow down, because that’s not what workhorses do. She created 30 Rock, and under constant threat of cancellation, won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row. So when Tina Fey asks at the end of the commercial, “Are you a Card member?” she is really asking, “Are you a Workhorse?”

Compare that campaign to the new Everyday Rewards campaign. She is a sweatpants wearing, glasses free shopaholic. It is a complete role reversal, creating the chaos instead of managing it. She is at peace, ridiculing society at her leisure, instead of as a profession. Pulling out her card makes her Om like a yoga instructor. The workhorse is long gone, and who needs it when you get “cash back with no annual fee”. You don’t need to run a business or be successful to use our card, only spend money. Here American Express is a roommate, chipping in on your purchases. Tina Fey is a rich woman with money to blow, which is hard not to desire.

This image of Tina Fey is harder to sell, mainly because of the success she has had as the stock character. She has played airhead perfectly well before. In fact her most popular character governor Sarah Palin, she depicts as a doe-eyed simple-minded redneck. It’s just not what you expect when you see her playing the role of Tina Fey.

In a 2013 interview with the Boston Globe, Fey explains that she approaches each role asking herself, “Would I be plausible in this role, in this job?” What does this say about Tina Fey playing the nationally televised role of irresponsible spender?

This role says I don’t care what people think about me. I am not Liz Lemon. I am not a third wave feminist, college educated, overworked and undersexed writer. The Tina Fey who Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara says, “project[s] both oblivious security and hyper-alert insecurity with the same expression” is long gone. As well as the idea that she “fashions her comic persona around her glasses”.

This isn’t new, this indifference of her image been there all along. In her book Bossypants it’s her personal statement. She writes, “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.” Leading by example, she later tells the reader acting ladylike, educating the ignorant, and pets are nothing she’s concerned with.

This ad changes her the same way the Yeezus album changed Kanye West image from ‘sweet Kanye’ to ‘spazzing the news Kanye’. It’s been part of their identity the whole time. It’s just the first time this persona is being promoted on such a large scale. In a sense Tina Fey is more authentic. On Kanye’s song On Sight he raps twice, “How much do I not give a fuck? Let me show you right now before you give it up”. He then cuts the pounding electronic beat for a slowed down gospel song. It sounds good, too good for someone not giving a fuck. Where Tina just lies on the floor moving her body in awkward positions while saying “Splat!”

It would be impossible to compare the success of each commercial. In the words of John Wanamaker “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” They are both promoting different products and were produced in different time periods. What we can compare is which on is more successful on YouTube.

The ratio of like to dislike on My Life. My Card. ad is 89%, while the Everyday Rewards ad is only 63%. There are only few comments on the first commercial but they are mostly positive, while the new one is littered with critiques like “Fey in these commercials is either extremely obnoxious or extremely stuck up.” and “I normally love Tina Fey, but I find her incredibly annoying in this commercial”. However the new commercial has over seven million views while the old one about seventy thousand.

All of that considered there are winners for each commercial. The winner of the first ad is American Express; their spokeswoman is marketing the product using her established image that everyone knows. The first campaign she shared the role with other icons of their profession like Robert DeNiro, Diane Von Furstenberg and Beyoncé. She was just a cog in the American Express machine.

The winner of the new ad is Tina Fey. She’s the only star left from My Life. My Card this campaign. No longer squished between other celebrities, her face is plastered all over the American Express website, YouTube page, and Facebook ads. What’s more impressive, she uses this large platform to change her identity.

This doesn’t mean Tina Fey is going to stop being workhorse Tina Fey. With only a two-year gap from the end of 30 Rock in 2013, she created a new sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and produced two films. However her one-dimensional image is gone, which is very important.

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In the latest season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tina Fey plays the titular character’s therapist who has two versions of the same person. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde they are have different names; the sober professional Day Andrea, and the drunken party girl Night Andrea. Eventually she looses control over her wild side and starts drinking in the daytime. In an attempt to keep Day Andrea sober, Kimmy handcuffs herself to Andrea, so she can keep her away from alcohol throughout the whole day. Unbeknownst to Kimmy, she was secretly drinking the whole time. She reveals this by yelling “Wazzzuuppp!”, squeezing Kimmy’s boobs, and taking off her glasses.

Kimmy then states “Guess what, I like Day Andrea better than you.” Which Andrea responds, “Guess what, I’m not two different people, and you can’t fix me.” It’s a very powerful statement coming from the struggling alcoholic as well as the actress playing her. Glasses or no glasses, Tina Fey is a star, and it’s important that her audience doesn’t her as a one-dimensional. Whether it is a commercial about shopping or a story about dealing with alcoholism, it’s her story.