thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Rebound: HBO’s “Girls,” Media Madness, and Screen Shots

In advertising, HBO, race, Rebound, Television on April 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Phoebe B.

I have been reading Girls reviews, critiques, and commentary for the last two weeks. And I can’t remember the last time there was SO much media hype for a single show, which inevitably comes with a media backlash. There has been a lot of great commentary here, including discussions of the problem inherent to the show’s universal title (from Kristen Warner) for a show clearly about a specific demographic: white, straight, educated, and privileged young women living in New York on their parents’ dime. This critique happens to be one I wholeheartedly agree with. But, there has also been a lot of misogynistic and bad commentary. And, while I didn’t particularly love the pilot, I didn’t hate it either. It was, like many a pilot before it and I imagine many a one after it, just fine.

However, what is not fine is the backlash from the Girls writers’ room, including Dunham’s “it’s not my fault” defense of the show’s whiteness. And the show is blindingly white. The only exceptions are the former intern turned publishing house employee who wants a Luna Bar and Smart Water, who is Asian, and the crazy old man at the end, who is Black, and I’m quite sure that Hannah (Dunham) passes ONE other Black man on the sidewalk in Brooklyn (right?) early in the episode. This is weird for a show with a claim to realism. I mean, I was recently in New York and in Brooklyn and it didn’t look like the white vacuum world of Girls. But whatever. The problem, rather than this not-realistic-NYC, is that Dunham proclaims her innocence as to the exclusion of people of color from the show—odd for a show that everyone else, and she’s not correcting them, seems to think that she has complete creative control over. This presumption of innocence, as Kristen Warner notes in her post on Girls (linked above), is particular to white women. That Dunham can insist on her lack of responsibility emphasizes that she is blithely unaware of her white privilege at the same time that she mobilizes that privilege.

Then, today! Today, Lesley Arfin (one of the Girls staff writers) tweeted this:

“@lesleyarfin: What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.”


And then there was this, thanks to some nice screenshot work, we have some of Arfin’s other egregious comments immortalized. Aside: I am pretty sure this tweet along with her later apology (which was BS and also didn’t make sense) have now been deleted from her twitter feed.

Forgive my language, but this sh*t is crazy. At least thanks to social media, as Jennifer Fuller said in the “Blogging Girls” Facebook group, “when the mask slips and people show who they are…you can get a screen shot.” Now we have Arfin’s behavior immortalized. The thing about Arfin, like Dunham, is that she is one very privileged young white educated woman who is also quite blissfully unaware of her privilege and seemingly is feeling victimized–presumably by the system. Umm Seriously?!. Unlike Dunham, who denies responsibility, Arfin goes on the attack, understanding the criticisms and commentary on the show’s lack of diversity as personal or individualized complaints (as The Atlantic Wire also notes). Rather, these critiques point at the systemic erasure of people of color and the universalizing and whitening move that Girls, through its title, performs.

OR, as rosasparks says so so eloquently (seriously, read it all!) in response to Arfin on STFU Conservatives:

“However, what is unique about the work of Precious is that it is not a typical story told, in Hollywood, or ANYWHERE. Young, disenfranchised black women are ignored and, too often, erased by society and in many cases, their stories are purposefully stepped over to tell stories about young white women and their plights to find a boyfriend, in a sea of mayonnaise men who look like Ryan Reynolds.

The reality is young Women of Color are a group so often ignored; in society, in cultural, legal and political representation, in educational institutions; that it has become quietly acceptable. We accept that we are under, or worse, completely misrepresented to the universe. We are stepped over, on the daily. It is the construct and fabric of our country and it something that we, as a group, continue to battle.”

Arfin’s commentary on twitter and her blog, including her apology, suggest the underlying privilege and racism that prop up her writing, and so are inherently tied to the production, and my reception, of Girls. For me, Girls isn’t a bad show, or even a good show. However, the media blitz and controversy has revealed the rather icky underbelly of this beast.

**An aside: if you have been paying too much attention to Girls, you might have missed two things in TV that are far more exciting: 1) Scandal and 2) Unique on Glee (post on her forthcoming).

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  1. Phoebe, I completely agree with you about the pilot. I also noticed the white-washing of New York and felt that the pilot was intriguing enough to merit a second watching but not enough for the praise being showered on Dunham and Co. However, those follow-up comments and tweets are truly disturbing and disheartening (and only further proving your and others’ point).

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