Liz & Jack: The 30 Rock Mentor Relationship
The relationship of mentor too mentee has been present in human societies throughout history. The mentor relationship has taken many forms over the vast expanses of history and geography, taking various conceivable forms. From officially sanctioned relationships such as that between a commander and his soldier during wartime or military training to pederasty relationships in ancient Greece even existing in on form in the modern era in executive training programs at modern corporations. All of these relationships share the same general tenants and goals of comradely and the maturation and development of the weaker partner. They all seek to engender learning and the advancement and the betterment of the individuals involved and the society or organization that the individual inhabit. The modern executive relationship between an upper level and mid level manager is of particular interest because of its dynamic and evolving contemporary nature. This relationship in its very essence changes and adapts to suit circumstances unforeseen by the paradigms of ancient relationships. The fictional depiction of a relationship of this nature between Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon in the NBC show 30 Rock exemplifies this relationship exceedingly well.
The relationship between Jack and Liz is both integral to the story and philosophically profound in its own right. Their dialectic discussions touch on everything from metaphysics, to politics, the good, love, death, loss and many other aspects of the human condition. Their relationship is originally based on the explicit stated goal of Jack mentoring Liz, for the betterment of both her professional and personal lives. Throughout the first two seasons their relationship is heavily one-sided, with a dominant actor Jack and dependent actor Liz. With Jack acting as the conferrer of emotional stability, encouragement and guiding wisdom and Liz relying on Jack as her primary resource of counsel and direction in her struggle to find happiness and balance in her chaotic life.
Jack’s investment in their relationship is at first purely professional, with stated goals of their relationship extrapolated from his personal creed and professional values. Jack seeks to refine Liz, educate her and elevate her status in society. He sees her as unkempt, uncouth, a diamond in the rough, living in perpetual chaos. Jack dose not sympathize with Liz’s plight but rather sees her problems as a hindrance to the smooth functioning of her department in the company, and thus his responsibility as her boss, to rectify. Jack seeks to help Liz for the betterment of the company, sighting his observation to her that her mood affects the quality of her work. It is Jacks values, of community and hard work, which lead him to mentor Liz. In this case Jacks ‘community’ or ‘society’ is the General Electric Company. Jack attacks Liz’s personal problems as he would a business problem, because to Jack it is a business problem. He sees potential in Liz and wishes to cultivate her for the melioration of the company and for her own pride and self-confidence.
Jack and Liz’s relationship in its initial phase warrants comparison to the pederasty relationships that occurred in ancient Greece. These relationships served the societal function of preparing young men to become active and contributive citizens in Greek society. They involved a younger adolescent male and an older matured male citizen. The older male is charged with training the younger, in all aspects of life; including but no limited to, social mores and acceptable behaviors, utilitarian skills such as crafts, artisanship and other ways to make a living. There was a sexual element to these relationships, however in a comparison with Jack and Liz this element is removed. The modern aspect of their relationship makes them unique when judge against the pederasty relationships of Greece. To a regular observer of their interaction throughout the series it is clear that Jack thinks of Liz and treats her as such as a male, remarking and joking about her masculine features almost constantly. The modern professional setting of their interaction makes a sexual relationship counter intuitive to the narrative and the morals of the stories. By maculating Liz the sexual tension that other wise would have been there because of her being female in the modern setting is gone. Simple comments such as Jack constantly referring to Liz by her last name Lemon or comically calling her a man outright, maculates her and alleviates the sexual tension that would other wise be a hindrance to the story line in the show.
Their relationship parallels additionally with Greek pederasty relationships, after scrutinizing the emotional states of all of the parties involved. In the Greek relationship, the parties involved would be an adolescent male and a middle-aged man. Here the distinction is clear, one is immature and emotionally infantile. The older male is supposed to be socially mature, emotionally stable, learned and containing a plethora of life experiences to impart upon his young counterpart. While this may seem divergent from the case of Liz and Jack who are close in age, it is in fact eerily similar. Jack fits the role of the older male fairly well. He is, relative to Liz, emotionally stable; he is highly accomplished, extremely well educated, mature and has life experiences that only the elitist of the elite have experienced. Liz on the exterior seems to not fit the role of the male youth at all, until a closer examination of her character is taken. She is to Jack for all intensive purposes male, she has the social maturity of a twelve year old, the emotional maturity of a five year old, a considerably less prestigious and comprehensive education, set of skills and a set of life experiences that seem common place if not uninteresting and awkward.
Throughout the first 36 chapters Jack spends a significant amount to time mentoring Liz. Setting her up on dates, buying her nicer clothing, taking her to exclusive restaurants, as Jack would say living life like the elitist she pretends not to be. However, his lessons also run the other side of the gambit, Jack attempt to teach Liz humility and teamwork. Jack has high expectation of his mentees. In the 5th seasonal Jack’s finance Avery feels uncomfortable with Jack and Liz’s relationship and tells him to find a new mentee. Jack tries to counter this argument stating that he does not take on a mentee lightly and that “the Jack Donaghy mentor experience is, immersive”. Finally however, his wife tells him that all mentor relationships must end and tells Jack it its time to let her go.
Jack reluctantly searches for a new mentee that fits his stringent criteria. Jack sets out to find a new mentee that meet all of his requirements by putting the people he encounters in his everyday like through a series of tests. Jack requires his mentee to have drive, intelligence, humility and chaos and goes around to various characters testing their moral fortitude against these requirements. This chapter demonstrates the seriousness Jack puts into each person that he mentors and how he is seeking the perfect balance in this mentor relationship for both him and the mentee. At the end of the episode after extensive searching Avery reluctantly agrees with Jack. After recognizing that none of the candidates including her meet all of his necessary requirements, Avery acknowledges that Liz still needs him and in a way he still needs her.
Liz benefits from the mentor relationship in many obvious ways during the first half of the series. Jack’s net gain however is harder to quantify in the initial chapters. Jack, does however benefit in interesting and complex ways. His propensity to meet a challenge head on and not give up until it accomplished is why he needs Liz, just as much as she needs him. She is “a never-ending black hole of problems and despair”, that he relishes guiding out of ridiculous and awkwardly pitiful circumstances. The pleasure he gets from bettering the company and bettering his own personal ego by doing what seems impossible, solving Liz’s problems, is what drives him to continue mentoring Liz.
Bt the third season of the show the relationship between Jack and Liz shifts and is altered interestingly. While there is not doubt that Jack is still mentoring Liz and is the dominant actor in the relationship, they interact more like friends, however still not equals. The dynamics change between them; with Jack beginning to trust Liz’s judgments for problems he encounters in his own personal life. They act more as compatriots or battle herded comrades, commander and solider. While Liz still relies on Jack more frequently and many times for much more profound issues the beginning of season 3 does mark a turning point in their relationship, Jack implicitly accepts that there are things that he can learn from Liz.
Both characters see life as a battle. Jack is on the front lines, engaged in the war of capitalism and Liz he slowly learns can be a powerful ally. While she lacks many of the qualities that make Jack the powerful man that he is, she embodies many qualities that Jack lacks and he learns their usefulness, relying on the more and more frequently. Liz on the other hand, sees Jack as not just an ally in her battle, the battle against her chaotic lifestyle and quest to find happiness, but as her rock. However much Jack relies on Liz in the later chapters Liz relies on Jack more, even stating “he is the most stable person that she knows”. This is evidenced by Liz’s actions, constantly turning to Jack for advice, even while Jack took a brief hiatus from the General Electric Company.
Jack and Liz’s relationship does to many outside characters seem unusual. Coming into conflict with relationships in the story that would seem more typical. Many times it is Jack’s girlfriend at the time, which has a problem with it or sees it as strangely unique. In season 4 Jacks girlfriend Elisa, tells Jack that she is not jealous at the amount of time that he spends with Liz or that they talk after hours about personal issues. Saying “I get it, Lemon is your bro”. Here Liz is again maculated and the dynamics of their relationship are put forth in and easy to understand way. They are friends, brothers, comrades; they cannot be lovers because the attraction will never be there because Jack does not see Liz in that way. In their own words they describe their relationship from Liz’s point of view, as “a work husband/uncle” and from Jack point of view as “a coworker/little brother”.
While in the later chapters Jack relies on Liz implicitly for very important things in his life, he still guides her, utilizing his wealth of life experiences. In the 5tth season Jack attempts of help Liz enter into an ‘adult relationship’ and help her work through some of her deep-seated intimacy issues. He teaches her tactics for dealing with many situations in relationships by leading by example. In the first chapter of season 5 Jacks tutelage seems more like a military commander teaching a young solider military tactics, then friends discussing their relationships. Teaching her tactics and lessons to use in her relationship and in life.
Jack and Liz’s friendship is unique in many ways. It started as a professional relationship of mentorship and developed into a quirky friendship between coworkers. The mentorship aspect of their relationship never wanes but is augmented by new ever-changing aspects of their interaction. They develop trust and a deeper understanding of each other. They become bonded by their experiences, both successes and failures and become each others most trusted confidants. Their relationship incorporates many characteristics of many types of relationships friendship and epitomizes the complex and multifaceted modern world in which it exists.