When Tina Fey vented about Charlottesville, neo-Nazis and Donald Trump while cramming her mouth with handfuls of a sheet cake decorated with an American flag on Weekend Update: Summer Edition last night, the internet went nuts. “Love Tina Fey, but I’m REALLY not feeling her ‘Ignore racism and stress-eat instead’ take. It strikes me as willfully naive and privileged,” bloggers Tom & Lorenzo tweeted. “Tina Fey’s 'Eat Cake’ Strategy After Charlottesville Is Bad Advice,” The Daily Beast somberly opined.
Thanks for that sharp insight, Daily Beast. The only problem with it is that Fey isn’t in the advice-giving business. She’s in the satire business, so don’t call us crazy for suspecting that when she urged viewers outraged by white nationalism’s depredations to “find a local business you support—maybe a Jewish run bakery or African-American run bakery—order a cake with the American flag on it…and just eat it,” she was mocking a clueless attitude, not endorsing it.
To anyone who took to Twitter to complain that her recommended solution to Trump-induced stress looked like “white privilege in action,” all we can say is bingo. We’ve watched the routine more than once, and it’s brilliant. It’s a brainy, self-lacerating caricature of how easily Trump-phobic vanilla liberals with relatively pampered lives, knowing they’re at little or no risk of being oppressed or marginalized themselves during his reign, can settle for venting their genuine but ineffectual rage without consequences.
White liberals should have winced at the literal demonstration of how we can eat our cake and have it too.
Since the likes of Fey don’t feel remotely threatened (and would sound crazy if they pretended to be), they aren’t under any real pressure to convert their anger into action. That’s how anger ends up turning into self-gratification by other means. We’ll never know how anyone could watch her stuffing her face until her lips were covered in goo as she tried to spit out anti-Trump, anti-Nazi venom while choking down another bite—even Lucille Ball was never crueler to herself for a joke’s sake—and imagine that Fey was earnestly proposing this as a good coping strategy. Not only was it satire, but it was pretty damn brutal satire in the bargain.
The smartasses who were quick to trot out unflattering Marie Antoinette comparisons seemed unable to fathom that turning “Let them eat cake” into “Let us eat cake” might be kind of the point. After all, the odds are awfully good that Fey has heard of Marie Antoinette. The smartest double whammy was that her rant was both heartfelt and acute (we especially liked the jab about Standing Rock), but the way she was chowing down made some of the words indecipherable. Instead of complaining about her insensitivity, white liberals should have winced at the literal demonstration of how we can eat our cake and have it too.
The whole white-privilege subtext turned overt when Michael Che said “Give me some of that damn cake!” Like the good liberal she is, Fey shoved a slab of it over. But she’s the only one who got to talk while she scarfed more of it down. More subtly, her earlier instruction to Colin Jost, who didn’t partake—"Don’t yell it at the Klan, Colin, yell it into the cake"—took on a sneaky double meaning once you remembered that the cake was decorated with the Stars and Stripes.
Yelling at or into the whole country was what Fey was actually doing, of course, at the same time that she was parodying her own status as one of its protected species. Her critics on the left managed to miss both points, and that’s why our advice is to watch the routine first before falling for the instant consensus that she did something awful. There’s a kind of doublethink involved in loving Tina Fey when she zings Sarah Palin but deciding she’s a callous ninny when she zings herself—and, just conceivably, some of us libtards, too.
Watch it again here:
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misstated Che’s quote from the skit. He said “Give me some of that damn cake,” not “Can I have some of that cake too?”