If you’re anything like us, you’ve faithfully watched every new episode of 30 Rock this season. But while it may be fresh in your mind, there’s reason to watch the holiday-time rerun at 9:30 tonight. “Dealbreakers Talk Show No. 001” is filled with the trivial pop-culture references we know and love from the show: Alec Baldwin’s character in The Hunt for Red October appearing in the HD-camera monitor when Jack walks by, a shout-out to sketchy Israeli jewelers in the Diamond District, and a main plot device where Tracy Jordan pursues a dream first coined by Philip Michael Thomas of Miami Vice: to score Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards — the elusive E.G.O.T. combination. (Thomas only got as far as releasing two insignificant albums, neither of them better than Don Johnson’s Heartbeat. Ha!) One allusion, though, escaped most people when the show first aired: “EGOT,” the acronym that Tracy Jordan flashes on a necklace, also happens to be a Filipino slur used to describe black people. (Certain bloggers, we should note, did pick up on this.)
Derived from the term “Igorot,” the name of a northern Philippines tribe, the epithet refers not so much to physical appearance as an imagined ignorant behavior. So to see Tracy Morgan wearing a giant necklace blaring what is essentially an obscure version of the N-word, and doing it while sitting across from Whoopi Goldberg, seemed a little shocking to Filipino viewers in the know. Sure, it seems unlikely that this was done on purpose — after all, the show didn’t invent the shorthand for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony; Thomas did. But some viewers suspected the usage might really refer to the slur because there have been so many random Filipino references embedded in past episodes of the show. Blogger Jose Pherdon, for one, has counted them. (They include Liz Lemon, in a business suit, comparing herself to the president of the Philippines and planning a vacation in the Caribbean with a Filipino lover, as well as a giant wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall of her office — large wooden utensils are like the Filipino equivalent of mezuzahs.)
Were the show’s writers truly unaware of what “egot” means, or were they attempting a subversive, politically incorrect stunt? (Let’s assume Alec Baldwin’s comment about Filipina “mail-order brides” on The Late Show last spring was another unfortunate coincidence.) We contacted NBC to find out, asking first about 30 Rock’s fascination with Filipinos, then, in a follow-up, the racial undertones of this “egot” episode. They declined to comment. We welcome any Filipino college roommates of Tina Fey’s to come forward and help explain this phenomenon. The rest of you can tune in tonight and judge the true meaning of “egot” yourself.