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Amy Poehler: Cos she’s an animal, and she’s bigger than you.

May 13, 2010

The following post originally appeared on I Fry Mine In Butter on April 19th, where, you may recall, I no longer post. I’ve edited it a bit, mostly for the purposes of updating and providing a bit of context.

I understand that there is a lot of debate about Tina Fey in The Land Of Feminism. I get why this happens, really. Tina Fey is the only woman I can think of who created and who head writes her own sitcom while also having been the first female head writer for a show that was previously thought of as a pantheon for sexist douchebags and their fans. On top of all of this, she takes feminist positions and self-identifies as a feminist. People tear Tina Fey apart and analyze every aspect of her existence. I get that, and I get why it happens. But I also can’t help but think that part of it is because She’s The Only One. No other woman in her field has accomplished what she specifically has (the SNL thing), despite the fact that there are surely countless women out there who could do her job as well as she does. I don’t think that’s Tina Fey’s fault, but it still sucks. On the one hand, she’s cast as this unrealistic feminist ideal; on the other hand, everything she says is picked apart until there’s almost nothing left.
Although I’ve liked or loved plenty of Tina Fey’s work, I’ve certainly despised some of it: particularly, her portrayal of a really sexist stereotype whose ending wraps up way too conveniently and unrealistically in Baby Mama, and the various times I’ve seen her rag on sex workers, or sluts, or poor people, or her dated idea of bimbos, or whoever it is that she thinks is below her at the time. I’ve always felt like most of the ladies who’ve repped Tina so hard have been pretty different from me. Women who wear their intellect on their sleeve seem to totally heart Tina Fey, which is fine. But in SNL terms, I’ve always been more of an Amy Poehler girl: loud, bossy, obnoxiously charming (or obnoxious, depending on how you look at it), and often covered in fingerpaint and boogers, as I spend much time with the young kiddos.
Amy Poehler’s portrayal of Angie Ostrowski in Baby Mama made me give a shit about the film, and the seriously underrated, straight-to-DVD Spring Breakdown starring Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Parker Posey was one of my surprise favorite Netflix rentals of last year. But it is in her send-ups of, and homages to, young girls where I love Amy most of all. One of her most widely beloved characters on SNL wasKaitlin, a hyperactive ten year old who always wore pink Mickey Mouse shirts and ran circles around her tired (but loving) stepdad Rick, screaming his name over and over again in an obnoxious, garbled and lispy staccato. Kaitlin was hopelessly uncool but never gave up trying not to be, and didn’t seem to care too much when her attempts culminated in colossal failure. Kaitlin was perfectly content to win the cool kids and the grownups over to the weird side, where she happily resided. Kaitlin send-ups abound on Youtube, where they are primarily performed and uploaded by tween-age and teenage girls who loved the sketch while it was an SNL regular.
Amy Poehler veered away from Kaitlin completely with her Dakota Fanning impression on the fictional The Dakota Fanning Show. Amy’s Dakota wears a puffy princess dress with a pink satin sash while waxing poetic about Umberto Eco and Charlie Rose. Faux Dakota Fanning is also wildly insecure, throwing temper tantrums when she encounters guest stars whom she perceives as competition, and booting them off her show when they reflect an interest in topics she deems to be below her. Amy’s Dakota summons her mother (whom she calls by her first name) for a juice box or some Dunk-A-Roos when she gets cranky, then gleefully bounces up and down in her chair when her inner beast has finally been quelled by the snack. The Dakota Fanning Show is a tongue-in-cheek warning about what may happen when a young girl’s inner-Kaitlin is put under lock and key, as this version of Dakota is only truly happy when she receives her snacks and permits herself to bounce around.
Amy’s love for the little ladies extends to her work outside of SNL and sketch comedy. She is a co-creator of and vocal actor on The Mighty B!, a newish Nickelodeon show about a, in her words, “fiesty, plucky, bossy Honey Bee Scout” named Bessie who relies on her imagination to envision becoming a superhero when she encounters trouble. Bessie is the most focused and driven Scout in her group, and has amassed thousands of Honey Bee badges; she believes that when she collects them all, she will become a true superhero. The Mighty B! is one of the only girl-centric kids’ cartoon shows on TV, and it’s certainly the only one I can think of whose main character both 1. is awesome and 2. looks odd. She wears glasses and braids, is sort of googly-eyed, and is missing her front two teeth, plus she seems to have a pretty severe overbite. Basically, Bessie looks like, brace yourself, a cartoon version of a typical nine year old girl. Whoa.
Amy’s most serious and significant contribution to kid culture may be her collaborative, under-the-radar web show, Smart Girls At The Party. Amy’s mission for SGATP is, in her words, to showcase “extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves.” She interviews girls who have a serious interest (gardening and writing have been two covered topics) about the work that they do. Every episode is endearing and empowering, especially if you read the excited comments painstakingly typed out by little girls who watch the show. Amy’s interviews are humorous, but she doesn’t pander to the girls she is talking to; rather, she takes them and their interests very seriously and gets excited right along with them, usually asking the girls to teach her their skill. My favorite Smart Girl At The Party is Ruby The Feminist, who has written a book called A Few Things I’d Like To Share With You about how “boys and girls are of equal value.” She explains feminism to Amy and the Smart Girlsaudience with panache and intellect, and talks about her personal connection to it via her single mom. Ruby is awesome; all of the Smart Girls are. It’s a shame that Smart Girls is relegated to being a web show, because it does something that the very large majority of the media is reticent to do: it celebrates something special that exists in every little girl, and that lived inside of every woman until the world at large knocked us on our butts around age 11 or so.
Perhaps Amy’s most famous, shining moment on SNL was when, about a month before giving birth, she pwned then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin TO HER FACE during ‘Weekend Update’ with a brutal pseudo-gangsta rap send up of every ridiculous aspect of Palin’s campaign. Amy covered everything, from the ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ to Palin’s porch view of Russia to her husband and his snowmobile; she even took out a guy in a moose costume with an invisible gat. All the while Palin raised the roof and beamed like she was in on the joke, but looked absolutely clueless- a fact that did not escape the pundits and media the next day.
There was something particularly poetic about watching Sarah Palin, who so deftly exploited her own motherhood for political gain, being taken down by a woman who was then eight months pregnant. Amy huffed and puffed her way through her performance expertly, periodically turning sideways and reminding us just how far along she was. At the end of her rap she wedged her way between Palin and “Update” host Seth Meyers to “shoot” the already dead moose a few more times for effect, and firmly exited stage left to wild, reverent applause. If Tina Fey’s dead-on Sarah Palin impression built the coffin that Palin’s campaign was eventually to be laid to rest in, Amy Poehler firmly nailed it shut in the two minutes that it took her to deliver her performance.
Next time you’re sitting down to write out a list of the brilliant feminist women who make you laugh, don’t forget about Amy Poehler. She’s repping for those of us at the tiny table in the corner with Play-doh stuck to our fingers and juice boxes in our purses, and for that we are extremely grateful. She’s also repping for that hyperactive preteen niece of yours who plans on being a fashion designer, astronaut, basketball player, and mommy when she grows up- but if she can’t do all of that, maybe she’ll be the next Amy Poehler instead.
We love you, Amy!
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