Lessons from 30 Rock: All God’s Children are Terrible
“Jack, for the 80th time, no part of America is more American than any other part.”
“You are wrong. Small towns are where you see the kindness and goodness and courage of everyday Americans. The folks who are teaching our kids, running our prisons, growing our cigarettes. People who are still living by core American values.”
30 Rock tells the story of Liz Lemon, the head writer of a fictional version of SNL, and her boss (and unlikely corporate mentor), Jack Donaghy. The two clash to hilarious effect over everything, and in the episode “Stone Mountain,” they take a trip to rural Georgia to find a new comedic actor for the show. Liz had been looking on the coasts for new talent, but Jack insists that they find someone from “real America.” Hence, rural Georgia.
In episode 4 of Small Town Expats, Andrew and I talked about our conceptions of the city from the point of view of our small-town, teenage selves. We thought that “city people” and “country people” were two different species, and allowed that to color our worldview. Clearly we agreed with Jack that we inhabited the real America. But we came around to Liz’s view: there are no such things as “city people” and “country people.” Just “people” who live in different places.
City folks are always in such a rush–right?
Let’s take “being in a hurry” as an example. When Jack and Liz arrive to their hotel in Georgia to check in, they find a clerk who speaks with a slow drawl, and when Liz demands that he hurry up, the clerk and Jack both observe that city people are always in such a hurry. I think that’s true—but there are plenty of slow people in the city, and plenty of rushed ones in the country.
If you go to a city, especially one like Boston or New York, it’s easy to observe all the people around you rushing to get to wherever they’re going. You can see them on the subway, on the sidewalks, and through the glass storefronts of coffee shops. The human action of getting from point A to B is played out by most city dwellers together in these common spaces.
For small towners, there really isn’t an equivalent to this, but that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily less “in a hurry.” First, there aren’t as many people (specifically, young people) in less-urban areas. You’re not jostling others on shared sidewalks or trains, because those things aren’t there. But you are laying your foot down on the gas pedal on a country road, because that’s what is there.
Small towners are rushed, just not in a way that’s visible in large, collective displays.
All God’s children are terrible
Jack and Liz never drew this specific conclusion on the show, but they did come away realizing that people everywhere are the same. While attending a packed comedy show in Georgia, Liz incurs the crude wrath of the performer, which provokes an incredulous Jack to shout to the crowd: “Why are you people laughing at this? You’re supposed to be better, nicer, but you’re terrible. You’re all terrible! Just like the people in New York.”
His face immediately loses its rage, and he looks at Liz in realization.
“All God’s children are terrible,” she says.
Although they might seem different on the surface because of their different contexts, people from small towns and cities are fundamentally the same species. There is warmth and kindness in both, as well as all kinds of discourtesies. All God’s children can be terrible, but they can also all be great.