‘Great News’: The Satire on Harassment Culture We Need

In the days since the Harvey Weinstein allegations came to light, we have witnessed the fall of one of Hollywood’s fattest biggest moguls. Weinstein has been fired from his own company, expelled from the Academy, and morally condemned by the public. Yet the most efficient takedown came from an unexpected source – NBC’s Great News. “Honeypot!,” the show’s most recent episode, deals with a growing harassment scandal in the offices of MMN, not at all unlike Weinstein’s snowballing accounts of abuse. Most surprising of all, this was purely coincidental. 

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Great News, an NBC comedy that has only just begun its 2nd season. I myself dove into this episode without any context whatsoever. Created by 30 Rock writer-alum Tracey Wigfield (Tina Fey’s protégé), Great News is a spiritual successor to Fey’s workplace parody and functions as a whimsical cousin to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, another Tina Fey creation. Did I mention “Honeypot!” was written by Tina Fey? The title alone bears a striking parallel to the Weinstein scandal (unintentional), as the New Yorker exposé features the term “honeypot” in describing how Weinstein would lure hopefuls into a “meeting.” 

In the episode, Tina Fey herself plays Diana St. Tropez, the head of a television news network whom bids her subordinates (mostly men) to do inappropriate things. She asks one male employee to eat a banana, another to dance for her, and the men are so traumatized by their experiences that they beg Katie, the show’s lead, to report Diana to HR. Lacking evidence to back these claims, the team then proposes, you guessed it, a honeypot to lure Diana and catch her in the act. Fey, with a shorthand at surrealist humor, boldly takes on the double standard and the ensuing hilarity (and critique) pays off in spades.

“How many men have to come forward before you believe us?” the men ask, to which Katie replies, “In the words of the Cosby jurors: duh, I don’t know, more than 60.” Fey isn’t making light of sexual harassment, nor is she precluding men from the issue. What Fey is pointing out is the sheer absurdity of victim-blaming, which the narratives of assault and rape quite bafflingly steer toward, the focus somehow shifting from what the perpetrator shouldn’t have done to what the victim could have done (i.e. better defend themselves, dress differently, etc). The inverse of the situation – of men being harassed, of women questioning the validity of their claims – is a demonstration of the double standard and how it doesn’t work both ways. The satire works more pointedly in that regard. Satire, of course, cuts deeper when it reflects the world as it is. Katie even asks the men, “what were you wearing?” 

What makes this episode so unexpectedly brilliant is that the jabs weren’t aimed at Harvey Weinstein, but at Roger Ailes, the Fox News fatty giant whom resigned last year amidst a harassment scandal (and whom has since passed away). The comparison to Weinstein, though never mentioned, is simply a matter of happenstance. Who knew that the conversations sparked by Weinstein’s abuse would mirror the exact same conversations that “Honeypot!” so deftly tackles.

The show’s willingness to talk about sexual harassment inadvertently shines a spotlight on those who have yet to do so. Late-night pundits like Kimmel and Colbert have lambasted men like Bill O’Reilly, yet come up short in the case of Weinstein (James Corden might have tried, but his attempts came at the expense of the victims, whereas Tina Fey is upending the culture). Surely, Weinstein is fair game. Potshots at the infamous producer have been made long before the scandal broke (by 30 Rock no less), but the larger dialogue exists on the periphery. 

We’re so politically invested in the talking heads on television. They voice our frustrations by way of satire, reminding us of the sad state of affairs we have found ourselves in and the moral high ground which we have gone astray. We, quite sadly, need to be reminded that this behavior in the workplace will not be tolerated. We need these abuses of power to be condemned again and again, which they continue to do with Trump. What we’ve gotten in the case of Weinstein is a shrug. Which makes “Honeypot!” all the more impressive. Great News didn’t intend to comment on Weinstein yet provided the most burning sendup so far (John Oliver comes at a close second).

In a darkly hilarious twist, Fey’s character admits she wants to get reported to HR. Why? So she can get a lucrative payout. “I’ve fought for workplace equality for 25 years. I just want what the men get: $40 million to go away” (I don’t know which is funnier, this or the Cosby line). Fey even cites the payouts of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, a reminder that men never suffer for their actions, but are instead rewarded. This inappropriate behavior is essentially integrated into the work environment, marked as another whimsy of the job as proven by Chuck, a male news anchor whose deliberate advances toward Diana are casually shrugged off by everyone in the room (he even walks around in his underwear). 

It’s behavior that’s normalized and the silence commonplace, Chuck’s behavior being a parody, Diana’s a satire – both of them getting away with it in the end, which is all too often the case. Weinstein himself has been checked into rehab, thus giving the perception that he is a victim of his actions rather than responsible, while men like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are as prolific as ever. Bill O’Reilly, too, still has a platform (podcasts, recurring guest spots, speaking tours). None of them have yet to face trial or jail time. What follows instead? Payouts and non-disclosure agreements. The only thing missing in Diana’s concluding speech is a lazy plea for a second chance.

It’s doubly ironic that Great News is the first pop culture critique on sexual harassment in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, the show itself being a parody of a major news network. We seek comedy as a means of escape from the news, yet in the Trump era both the headlines and the punchlines have become absurdly interchangeable, which shows like 30 Rock and Great News so cleverly demonstrate. The episode may seem opportune, but the harrowing truth is that “Honeypot!” would’ve been timely regardless. Sexual harassment is not an industry-specific problem, and the issue is so prevalent that it has reached even the most remote workplace environment you can think of (kudos to Samantha Bee). If Great News’ latest proved anything, it’s that we need satire now more than ever.

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