Old Hollywood may be uncomfortable with appearing impolite or indelicate when one of its own is exposed publicly, but fewer young women are.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s unapologetic takedown of Bill Cosby at the Golden Globes exposed a raw nerve among the entertainment elite. Fey and Poehler’s halfhearted attempt to impersonate Cosby’s syntax and voice let their wholehearted intention—to openly shame the aging actor on his decades of silence and denial of multiple rape allegations—speak volumes.
The audience, arguably, was not entirely pleased to hear it. The discomfort in the room was a marked decline from only moments before, when the two comediennes were delivering a best-of feminist comedy routine to laughter and applause.
Having matriculated in comedy as unapologetic feminists, Fey and Poehler are arguably responsible for bringing a feminist perspective into mainstream comedy through their work as Update anchors on “Saturday Night Live” and in their television programs “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation.” It is easy to get behind Fey and Poehler, who are lovable and wickedly funny while making light of topics like beauty standards or being unapologetically powerful and sexually liberated. (Their “Would You Rather” bit about which of two men the other would choose hinted strongly at both women’s sexual desire and the decrease of sexual desire with age.) What falls flat in a room full of celebrities is apparently shedding too much light on too sensitive of an issue.
Hollywood has never shied away from rape, abuse, and trauma as a vehicle for entertainment. Actors are proud of, and celebrated for, their roles as perpetrators and victims when done “well.” And actors are equally celebrated for real-life exposure when discussing one’s battle with drugs or alcohol or depression or divorce. But real-life exposure of a sexual predator is something the entertainment industry turns a blind eye to. Perhaps the recent exposure of campus sexual assault and a younger crew of feminists will make silence and disregard when it comes to celebrity predators impossible.
Fey and Poehler are in their 40s, but they have influenced a growing number of women who are maturing into womanhood unafraid to call out sexual assault, identify their attackers and even, in the case of Emma Sulkowicz, who carries a mattress across campus every day that her rapist remains at her school and is not expelled, make a private horror into a public act of visibility and protest. Old Hollywood may be uncomfortable with appearing impolite or indelicate when one of its own is exposed publicly, but fewer young women are.
Slate’s Aisha Harris picked up on the Cosby diss quickly after the bit aired, calling the “skewering” the highlight of their introduction. Despite the “nervous laugher,” Harris points out that one woman, Lena Dunham, cheered the bit. Hopefully the new generation of Hollywood celebrity will follow in Fey and Poehler’s steps of being unapologetically feminist, with Lena Dunham already up in front.
Tina Rodia is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She grew up in Connecticut, and has a B.A. in creative writing and women’s studies.