Masaryk university faculty of education

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Meet the Jordan Family

Some of the old stereotypes of African American men can be traced in the analysis of the Tracy Jordan character. Tracy’s character traits resemble very much those of a coon since he is often presented as a child-like character who can do nothing but entertain and who is crazy, unreliable, and lazy. The black buck image can be traced in Tracy’s character as well because Tracy is often portrayed as over-sexed, and as having violent tendencies. Throughout the episodes of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan is described as “a strange man who can’t be taken seriously” (“Gavin Volure”), “a buffoon” (“Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter”), a “horny child” (“The Collection”) and “a ridiculous, unstable human being” (“Mamma Mia”) who is “always bananas” (“Tracy Does Conan”). Tracy’s intelligence is also often undermined as he is called “a fool” (“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001“), “an imbecile” (“The Aftermath”), or an “idiot” (“The Baby Show”).

Similarly to the coon, Tracy Jordan often demonstrates his craziness. The whole staff of the show Tracy is about to join remembers him for his ridiculous actions of the past. Tracy, for instance, was running on a road wearing nothing but his underwear, holding a sword and screaming he is a “Jedi” (“Pilot”). In the very first episode when the viewers have the chance to create their initial expression of Tracy, he is introduced as insane and mentally unstable and he tells to the head writer of the show, to Liz Lemon, upon their first meeting, that he has “got mental health issues” (“Pilot”). Tracy’s disease has no real name but it can, according to his doctor, be described as “erratic tendencies and delusions brought on by excessive notoriety” (“Tracy Does Conan”). Tracy’s disease serves to demonstrate Tracy’s inability to cope with his fame.

Tracy Jordan is compared to a child in several 30 Rock episodes. Tracy’s wife Angie calls him a “horny child” who “needs constant adult supervision” (“The Collection”). Tracy demonstrates his need for adult supervision through his poor work ethics. It is difficult for the head writer Liz Lemon and the staff of the fictitious TGS to keep Tracy at work because he has tendencies to run away. Tracy prefers partying and fooling around to working and is amazed that the show he is now part of takes place every week and that he has to be present at all the rehearsals (“The Aftermath”). Tracy resembles the “cartoon-like creature only interested in drinking and having a good time” which was a popular representation of African American men in the 19th and early 20th century (Black Looks: Race and Representation 90). Tracy does not read the cue cards and improvises and his laziness makes the work on the show more difficult for everyone else.

Tracy’s irresponsibility and his constant late comings for rehearsals at the studio force the staff of TGS to develop a system which would make Tracy come to work on time. The members of the staff treat Tracy like an irresponsible child when they set his clock to different times so that he would come to rehearsals earlier, they also lie to him about the times at which the rehearsals take place, they usually tell him an earlier time so that he would be present sooner. Tracy finds out about this practice one day when he is late for the rehearsal again and is confused about what time it actually is. He calls the staff “a bunch of racists” for “treating [him] like a child.” However, Liz Lemon reminds Tracy that it was him who taught the staff to be treated this way. Liz uses Oprah Winfrey’s words to support her statement: “Oprah says you teach people how to treat you. And this is what you’ve taught us because you are always late and you take no responsibility for your actions” (“The Natural Order”). But Tracy is not willing to take the responsibility and he constantly requires special treatment from everyone around him and needs to be accommodated to the show.

Tracy has the need to be treated differently and needs to feel special all the time and his two close friends, and his entourage members, Grizz and Dot Com, support him in it. They encourage Tracy’s childish behavior when they laugh at Tracy’s repetitive jokes, when they let him win in video games and in basketball matches and when they try to make him feel like a “king” (“Hard Ball”). When Tracy discovers that Grizz and Dot Com have been giving him this special treatment, he ask them whether they have “been doing this the whole time, treating [him] like a child” and he feels offended and tries to do everything on his own and to live without them. However, Tracy is unable to function without his entourage. He does not know to turn on the television in his dressing room and is not able to do without their protection (“Hard Ball”), which again demonstrates Tracy’s need for adult supervision and supports the idea of him reinforcing the coon image.

Tracy’s unreliability is clearly visible in his relationships to his family. Tracy and his wife Angie have two sons together but Tracy is not a particularly caring father, he does not attend his son’s birthday party because “There was a better kid's birthday party up the street” (“Dealbreaker Talkshow #0001”). He also picks up his children from soccer practice after a whole night of partying (“The Source Awards”) and when he is asked to pack his sons lunch for school, he packs mayonnaise and a pack of cigarettes (“The Bubble”). Tracy also lives under the impression that his two sons are going to kill him, Tracy misinterprets his sons’ attempts to have more contact with him as their attempts to get rid of him. According to Tracy, his sons “have been acting really weird lately” and he does not want to go home to be with them (“Gavin Volure”). One of Tracy’s sons confesses to him that he “keep[s] having a scary dream. [He] dreamed that [Tracy] would get so rich that [he] would leave [them] and get a new family. And never come back.” Tracy’s sons do not wish their dad to leave them and they love him and Tracy would know it if he was around more and if he tried to talk with his children more. However, Tracy loves his son too, which he tells him but he also threatens him immediately and says: “If anything ever happens to me, you and your brother are going to go to jail” (“Gavin Volure”), which is not something a responsible father should say to his children.

When Tracy comes to his wife Angie with a wish to have another child, Angie tells him that she is “not gonna raise another child by [herself]” (“Dealbreaker Talkshow #0001”). Angie gives Tracy an ultimatum as she tells Tracy that they will have another baby if he buys Christmas presents for the family. However, Tracy does not manage to do so and buys a present for himself instead and tells Angie that he “got something better than presents for [Angie] and the kids,” he bought them “all this ‘EGOT’ necklace” for himself (“Dealbreaker Talkshow #0001”). All the responsibility for taking care of the family is therefore upon Angie. Despite this fact, towards the end of the Dealbreaker Talkshow #0001 episode, Angie agrees to have another baby with Tracy although Tracy himself admits that he “won't be around a lot” and will not therefore participate in the upbringing of their new offspring. Once Angie is expecting their new baby, Tracy persuades an NBC page Kenneth to take care of Angie because there are some complications during the pregnancy and Tracy has hard times taking care of his wife (“Khonani”).

Tracy bears with him the “life-long scarring of an absentee father” (“Gavin Volure”). He grew up in a single-mother family because his parents were separated and his father did not live with them and did not visit Tracy. Some of Tracy’s “acting out” is attributed to his father’s absence during his childhood. In Rosemary’s Baby episode, for example, Jack Donaghy tells Tracy that the only thing he cannot do is dog fighting. And although Tracy himself views dog fighting as “repulsive and hideous,” he is willing to engage in it because who is Jack to forbid him to do something when he clearly is “not [Tracy’s] dad” (“Rosemary’s Baby”). Tracy’s unresolved relationship with his dad projects into his relationship with his own children. Never knowing his father, Tracy is incapable of acting like one and he basically is a third child in the family.

African Americans’ capabilities of having functional families have frequently been questioned. According to Dyson, “Historically, black men are seen as having large sexual appetites and being ultra endowed to perform sexually, but psychologically too immature to have meaningful relationships” (qtd. in Brown 75). The existence of the “matriarchal system” within African American communities, which is “caused by an absent father” or by the presence of an “overpowering Black woman” who stands in the opposition to the patriarchal society of the United States which expects men to be the heads of their families (Bush 49), was marked as one of the reasons for the instability of African American families. It was believed that African American men are not “real men” when they cannot take care of their families and be their leaders. The woman figure, the “Matriarch,” was labeled as “the source of problems in the African American community” and the “overbearing female head households [were held] responsible for the breakdowns of the family” (Carpenter 267). Also, this perceived matriarchy among African American families was viewed as an “obstacle to assimilation [of African Americans] within a dominant patriarchal culture” (267-8).

Tracy Jordan’s frequent absence from his family and his wife Angie’s nurturing of her family suggests that the Jordan family is matriarchal. Angie Jordan is the care-taker of the Jordan family and she practically has to raise her and Tracy’s children on her own because Tracy is frequently absent from home. Angie Jordan’s character can be linked to the image of the mammy because similarly to the mammy, Angie “is a controller of her own people” and also a controller “of the males in her society” (qtd. in Riggs). Angie proves to be extremely controlling when she is following her husband Tracy on every step at his work and when she wants Tracy “not to leave [her] sight for one second” (“Jack Gets in the Game”). Tracy agrees to Angie’s monitoring of him at work because he does not want to lose her and it is Angie’s condition for their reconciliation after an argument they had. Tracy is under Angie’s absolute control, women who usually do Tracy’s make-up cannot do it now because Angie cannot stand it when these women are near Tracy and talk friendly with him. Angie’s goal is to make sure that her husband behaves the way she wants him to.

Angie’s influence on Tracy is good, when she oversees his every step, Tracy comes to work on time and even comes up with useful ideas for the sketches for the show, which he usually does not do. However, once Angie abates her supervision and leaves Tracy to go for her hair appointment, Tracy uses the situation into his advantage and disappears into a strip club. Although the head writer of TGS, Liz Lemon, tries to stop Tracy from leaving work, she fails to do so and Tracy’s irresponsible behavior wins, as Tracy himself states: “This is who I am. You can’t ask a bird not to fly. You can’t ask a fish not to swim” (“The Collection”).

When Angie finds out that Tracy disappeared from the workplace during her absence, her control at the studio becomes overbearing, she is not only willing to oversee Tracy, she is also willing to make the decisions concerning the show as she wants to be the decider of which roles Tracy will perform on TGS. Angie Jordan’s character and her temper is described as “controlling,” “manipulative,” and “loud” (“The Collection”). Her overpowering presence makes the work of the writing staff on the show rather complicated. Angie feels betrayed by Liz Lemon and starts to be extremely argumentative and is not easy to deal with. Angie’s behavior resembles very much that of a Sapphire, who was a character on Amos ‘n’ Andy and who became a popular stereotypical image of African American women. Sapphire is “nagging, emasculating, shrill, loud, argumentative, and a master of verbal insults” (qtd. in Jones Thomas, McCurtis Witherspoon, and Speight 429). As a prototypical Sapphire, Angie “assume[s] that the only way to be heard is to be aggressive, loud, or rageful” (qtd. 429). Angie is outraged and demands “new writers for Tracy, or he doesn't do the show” (“The Collection”). She is offered a consultant credit on the show but refuses it, as a Sapphire, she is “obnoxious, and never satisfied” (qtd. 429). At the end of the episode, Tracy has to be the one who intervenes and who resolves the situation although he is “the immature one,” he is forced “to act like an adult.” He tells Angie that her behavior is not acceptable and they start making love in his dressing room (“The Collection”).

The claim that Tracy is a “horny child” supports the idea of both his increased sexual appetite and his psychological immaturity to have children. Tracy, although he is married and has two children, spends an enormous amount of his free time, respectively “eight times a week,” at strip clubs (“Black Tie”). Even for Tracy’s first meeting with the female head writer of The Girlie Show Tracy chooses a strip club because the environs of these establishments are very appealing and comfortable for him.

Tracy is said to be sexually aggressive and has a reputation of being a ladies’ man and is known for attending wild parties and for his “fooling around” with different women. When Tracy walks into the writers’ office for the first time and sees a young, blonde and beautiful assistant named Cerie, he immediately mutters: “Don’t just sit there, come here and give me some sugar […] if you ever want to piss off your parents, you come see me” (“The Aftermath”). In one of the episodes, Tracy is even served with a paternity lawsuit and is accused of having an illegitimate child (“Fireworks”). Tracy is also encouraging one of his co-workers, Pete Hornberger, the producer of TGS and a married man, to cheat on his wife and to “embrac[e] his power” as a man. Tracy is portrayed as a voice of a devil in a bathroom scene where he is telling Pete that he should commit adultery (“Black Tie”). Entman and Rojecki assert that sexual intemperance is one of the most common negative stereotypes about African Americans (41). There is a long history of portraying African Americans as sexually loose, it was by the eighteenth century when “the sexuality of the black, male and female, [became] an icon for deviant sexuality” (Black Looks: Race and Representation 62). The Caucasians “saw themselves as proper and monogamous, and others as debauched and polygamous” (Ginneken109). One of the reasons why African Americans became to be seen as sexually loose and deviant was the difference in dress codes among African Americans:

The dress codes of Europeans originating from moderate climates often became the implicit norm for judging others living in warmer tropical climates. If they [Africans] lived primarily in dense and shadowy forests, they were often half naked or minimally dressed, which was taken as a sign of their shamelessness and therefore probable promiscuity” (108).

Tracy Jordan demonstrates his tendency to under-dress quite often as he is fond of taking his shirt off whenever possible.

Tracy is also very open about his sexual practices, he likes to tell his stories from strip clubs and other wild parties. Both Tracy and his wife Angie are portrayed as sexually very active and loose as they have sexual intercourse even at Tracy’s workplace when there are people around. They seem to be unable to escape their urges, Tracy and his wife make love publicly in several episodes, this can be observed in The Collection, or Senor Macho Solo. According to Jones, “black sexuality is often represented by the dominant culture as animalistic and carnal with a lack of intimacy and true humanity” (qtd. in Brown 75). Tracy’s and his wife’s behavior support “the dominant culture’s perception of African Americans as sex-crazed buffoons who are on public display” (Brown 76).

While African American men have often been portrayed as “sexual predators” (Larson 30), African American women have been presented as “sexually available and licentious” (Black Looks: Race and Representation 65). Bell Hooks argues that “contemporary films continue to place black women in two categories, mammy, or slut, and occasionally a combination of the two” (Black Looks: Race and Representation 74). The portrayal of African American as “sluts” is common in the stereotyped image of Jezebel who uses her sexual power and who “is perceived as seductive, manipulative, hypersexed, animalistic in desires, and unable to control sex drives” (qtd. in Jones Thomas, McCurtis Witherspoon, and Speight 429). The character of Angie Jordan also bears the characteristics of Jezebel when she is portrayed as unable to control her sexual urges.

Tracy Jordan’s connection to the brutal black buck image is demonstrated in Tracy’s violent tendencies and in his inclination towards committing crime which are revealed in several 30 Rock episodes. In Tracy Does Conan episode, Tracy is portrayed as an unpredictable and a violent man. Tracy Jordan is about to make an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s talk show but the host of the show feels uneasy about it because Tracy’s former appearance on the show ended in a disaster as Tracy tried to stab Conan, the host of the show, in his face for no reason. Tracy was claiming he is “a stabbing robot” and that he will stab Conan. This performance did not put a good light on Tracy and Conan compares Tracy to a “loose canon” because people never know what to expect from him (“Tracy Does Conan”).

Tracy is portrayed as quite prone to committing crime. In the twentieth episode one of the first season he is portrayed as stealing a television from a store, which he does only “Because the Jets lost” (“Cleveland”), in the thirteenth episode of the fourth season Tracy claims that he is trying to break into Beyonce’s house because she is not answering to his letters (“Anna Howard Shaw Day”). In the Ludacristmas episode of the second season of the show, Tracy is ordered to wear an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet because he appeared drunk at court. He was only supposed to “sign his community service papers” there but since he was under the influence of alcohol because he made a “stop for a breakfast first,” he has to wear the bracelet. Tracy seems incapable of staying sober one day and although he is forbidden to drink alcohol by the court, he breaks the court order and has “couple of drinks” (“Ludachristmas”).

Tracy is served with the paternity lawsuit in season one and in the third season of the show, Tracy is sued again. In the Do-Over episode, the co-star of the fictitious TGS, Jenna Maroney, is suing Tracy for not compensating her for the voice acting she did on Tracy’s pornographic videogame.

The issue of violence in the hip-hop community is discussed in the sixteenth episode of the first season in which the hip-hop music awards, the Source Awards take place. An African American hip-hop producer Ridikolos is disrespected at one of Tracy Jordan’s parties, because he is not let in, and threatens Tracy that he “is going to eat [Tracy’s] family” (“The Source Awards”). To settle their dispute, Tracy agrees to be the host of the Source Awards which Ridikolos is producing although Tracy is not particularly willing to be hosting the awards because “shooting people at the Source Awards is a tradition.” However, Tracy feels like he has no other choice because if he does not “go, Ridikolos is gonna kill [him]. And if [he does] go, someone else is gonna kill [him]” (“The Source Awards”). The African American community is presented as extremely violent in this episode but 30 Rock makes a parody out of the issue of violence in the African American community when the one who shoots at The Source Awards is not an African American man but a Caucasian woman— the head writer of TGS, Liz Lemon.

However, none of the other characters on the show is being sued or has trouble with law or is inclined towards committing crime as much as Tracy Jordan’s character is. Portraying African American men as prone to acts of crime is considered demeaning and stereotypical because these portrayals point back to the Brutal Black Buck image which portrayed African American men as violent and savage. These portrayals of African American men portrayed as violent were very popular in the era of blaxploitation films, which “were firmly rooted in the traditional genre formulas- gangster, crime thriller, [and] horror movie” (Benshoff, and Griffin 88). These films presented images of African American men as hustlers, gangsters, drug dealers, and Caucasian cop killers became popular at the time when African American civil rights movement became more violent and when the Black Panther Party with Malcolm X as their leader “advocated violence against the system where necessary” (88). These films are called blaxploitation because they “exploited African American audiences in that they took money out of African American communities to fill white Hollywood’s bank accounts.” These films projected negative images of African Americans (89).

The violent images reinforce the notions of bestiality of African American men. Cooper claims that “The bestial black man images […] lead to the hypercriminalization of black men” (876). The accusation of African American men’s bestiality dates back to the sixteenth and seventeenth century when “Europeans alleged blacks were both part of the animal kingdom—they interbred with apes—and animal-like” (877). In the colonial times, “whiteness became associated with positive meanings such as life, superiority, safety, and cleanness, and Blackness became associated with negative meanings such as death, inferiority, danger, and dirtiness.” These images were translated into popular culture and transmitted through newspapers, film, radio, and television and persistent till the present day (qtd. in Brown 67).

It is important to understand that the issue of violence in the African American community is a widely discussed issue in the United States. In 2012, stormy debates aroused when an African American teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot. President Obama delivered a speech about the event in which he pointed to the fact that the African American community’s outrage over the ruling of the case must be viewed in the historical context and that the case evokes “a lot of pain.” In this speech, Obama comments on the reality in which young African American live and also comments on the society which views them as threats and as perpetrators of violence. Obama claims that:

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store, that includes [him]. Every African American man has the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happened to [him], at least before [he] was a senator (“President Obama Speaks on Trayvon Martin”).

President Obama also reports on women in elevators who hold their purses “nervously holding [their] breath” in the fears that their belongings might be stolen when an African American man is in the elevator with them. And although the statistics bring attention to the fact that African American men “are disproportionally involved in criminal justice system,” it is vital to understand that “Some of the violence that takes place […] is born out of a very violent past of this country. And the poverty, and dysfunction that we see in this community can be traced to the history,” which is a fact that is sometimes unacknowledged and which increases the tension in the African American community (“President Obama Speaks on Trayvon Martin”).

African Americans are also often portrayed as “takers and burdens on society” (Entman, and Rojecki 8) and are, predominantly the underclass, “bombarded by messages that [they] have no value, are worthless” (Black Looks: Race and Representation 19). Entman and Rojecki make an interesting point when they state that while media use the term “white trash” to label poor Caucasian people of lower social class and of lower moral standards, no such term as “black trash” exists (XXV). This statement is later explained by stating that for the members of the dominant society “the prototype of the Black person is a lower class or ‘under’ class individual of little economic attainment or status” (53), which is actually an equivalent of the term “white trash”. When African American “men are viewed as threatening, it is easier to pass social policies that contain [them] through means such as consignment to the lower-classes” (Cooper 875-6).

The issue of African Americans being viewed as an underclass is brought to life in 30 Rock when Tracy Jordan gives the head writer, Liz Lemon, advice on how to get rid of a potential buyer of a flat she is willing to buy for herself. Tracy tells Liz that the easiest way to scare off buyers is to make an African American move in. Liz considers Tracy’s advice a good idea and pretends in front of the potential buyer of her desired flat that she has an African American ex-boyfriend who is threatening because he is “unreasonable,” “angry” and who will “be coming by all the time, getting’ jealous [and] takin’ things out of context” (“Sun Tea”). Entman and Rojecki assert that physical traits are very important and that African Americans are in general viewed as dangerous, even if they in fact studied at Harvard, or dressed nicely (52).

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