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Tina Fey on internet outrage: "There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that”

Which is more of a cop-out than an opt-out.

Tina Fey will not be reading this article.
Tina Fey will not be reading this article.
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Despite the Star Wars: The Force Awakens furor that's currently dominating film news and criticism, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have marched valiantly on, dutifully making all the requisite stops on the press tour for their house party comedy Sisters. And on Friday, the London-based magazine Net-a-Porter released a cover story featuring Fey, in which the actress offers insights on Alec Baldwin's "Old Hollywood" truisms, her belief that her young daughters are probably funnier than she is, and how everyone on the improv comedy circuit has been in love with Poehler at one point or another.

Amidst so much lighthearted chatter, however, Fey also addresses the critical backlash that rose up against Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt earlier this year, specifically about a plot in which one of the series' stars — the blonde, Polish actress Jane Krakowski — played a Native American woman who was hiding her true ethnicity. Says Fey:

Steer clear of the internet and you’ll live forever. We did an [Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt] episode and the internet was in a whirlwind, calling it ‘racist,’ but my new goal is not to explain jokes. I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.

Fey's statement makes for a neat sound bite, but it actually encompasses a number of messy conflicts.

Most notably, the internet's expanding role in cultural criticism has grown increasingly contentious for entertainers who see its constant scrutiny as counterproductive to their creativity. I understand that it's frustrating to feel like you have to carefully consider everything you say and do, lest someone call you out online. But the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt plot Fey is referring to really has nothing to do with that. As she said, it was a precalculated storyline. The jokes did speak for themselves; they just didn't say anything worthwhile.

krakowski kimmy schmidt

Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline, née Jackie-Lynn.

Fey's response also reveals a pretty narrow way of looking at the internet, which is not entirely the cesspool of trolls she seems to be imagining.

To be fair, she has been the target of some truly gross internet attention; Fey explains this in "Dear Internet," a letter she published in her 2011 memoir Bossypants — it's addressed to the abusive trolls who slammed her with sexist remarks for years. But it's not like criticism didn't exist before the internet. And while there are definitely plenty of conversational echo chambers online, the internet has, in a way, widened the scope and structure of criticism beyond strictly traditional parameters.

Consider the same situation in the pre-internet era. If people were annoyed about a racist or sexist joke even 15 years ago, it probably would've taken hundreds of letters to the editor before anyone notice — not least because said editor would likely have been a white man who might not prioritize the same issues as women and minorities.

Fey's declaration that she's "opting out" of some criticism just because it's published online is disappointing. After all, many of the complaints against Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came from people who genuinely liked the series; to paraphrase almost every parent ever, some fans were mad, but most were just disappointed.

The internet can be an exhausting place. Anonymous comments can bring out the worst in people, and cultural debates can inspire endless back and forth where no one budges an inch. But these aspects of internet culture aren't enough to justify creative people writing it off entirely. And it's important to recognize the distinction between holding someone accountable for veering into racist and/or sexist territory and berating her just for the sake of it. It's just too bad that Fey, in swearing off the entire internet, will never know the difference.