thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘Lena Dunham’

On Lena Dunham and Modern Jewish American Identity

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 5:28 am

Sarah Todd

People have a right to feel offended by Lena Dunham’s recent New Yorker column, “Quiz: A Dog or My Jewish Boyfriend.” But to focus solely on the question of whether or not it’s offensive is to ignore knottier and more nuanced issues.

The Anti-Defamation League has condemned the article for relying on anti-Semitic stereotypes. (Dunham’s theoretically humorous quiz includes such descriptions as, “He doesn’t tip. And he never brings his wallet anywhere.”) New Yorker editor David Remnick rose to Dunham’s defense, arguing that as a Jewish woman she is operating within a longstanding tradition of insider humor and self-deprecation as typified by artists like Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce and Philip Roth. Bloggers and Twitterati are taking sides.

Although I found Dunham’s humor piece neither upsetting nor funny, I’m sympathetic to both sides of the debate. (I’m also a white, Jewish, middle-class woman, for what it’s worth.) It’s true that some of her jokes reference harmful stereotypes about Jewish people–and men in particular–as miserly, coddled and physically weak. And I understand why the ADL is troubled by the historical implications of equating a Jewish person with a dog.

Like Remnick, however, I think Dunham’s status as a member of the tribe informs the piece. Even if her jokes fail to land, it seems likely that she intended it as an affectionate send-up of her own culture. (Part of the problem may be, as Phoebe points out, that Dunham fails to extend this brand of insider humor to herself–the quiz mocks the “Jewish boyfriend” but avoids self-scrutiny.)

But far more interesting to me than the issue of whether the column is inappropriate is the critical conversation it has spurred about American Judaism and cultural specificity.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Girls’ Progressive Portrait of Women’s Right to Choose

In reproductive health, Television on February 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Sarah Todd

The HBO series Girls dodged its first abortion plot line, rendering a character’s appointment at the clinic unnecessary when she started bleeding unexpectedly (whether this was a miscarriage or a belated period was left unclear). Sunday’s episode “Close Up,” on the other hand, addresses the subject head-on.

At the outset of the episode, Adam (Adam Driver) and his new girlfriend Mimi-Rose Howard (Gillian Jacobs) are slumbering in their airy, light-filled Brooklyn loft. Adam wakes up first and easing out of bed gingerly, tucking in Mimi-Rose and kissing her on the cheek. When she descends the stairs to the spacious patio, Adam is waiting for her with a breakfast of crusty bread, a cheese plate and some kind of grilled meat. Clearly they have fallen into some kind of alternate-dimension Anthropologie catalogue. Regardless, Adam gallantly dusts off the chair for Mimi-Rose and scoops her into his arms.

This kind of seven-week-old relationship bliss can’t last for long. Sure enough, when Adam tries to persuade Mimi-Rose to go for a run later that morning, she tells him she can’t because she’s just had an abortion.

What follows is one of the more progressive abortion storylines in recent memory, with Jenny Slate’s wonderful Obvious Child achieving another high-water mark. The episode makes clear that a woman’s right to choose is inherently bound up with her right to be an independent human being.

Mimi-Rose’s abortion happens on her own terms. She chooses to end her pregnancy without talking to Adam first—not because she wants to lie to him, but because she already knows what she wants to do. Then she decides to tell Adam about it after she’s had the procedure, since she wants to be open with him. And when Adam reacts angrily, she gives him space to process his feelings without letting him make her feel guilty or ashamed.

Each of these decisions is in keeping with what the audience knows of Mimi-Rose’s character. As we learned in the previous episode, this is a woman who dumped her childhood sweetheart at age nine because she realized their relationship was interfering with her creativity. She has both the confidence and the self-knowledge to make independent decisions about her life. And it is this independence, rather than the fact of the abortion itself, with which Adam struggles.

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Rock and Roll: Lena Dunham’s Girls

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Sarah T.

Five minutes into the fourth episode of Girls, I realized I’d fallen deep, deeply in love. The signs were pretty unmistakable: I was sitting up in bed, grinning a mile wide, and my hands had spontaneously shaped themselves into a heart that framed Hannah Horvath’s winking face on my computer screen.

I knew Hannah couldn’t see me.

I sort of knew she couldn’t see me.

I felt seen.

It was the title card, and what had happened immediately before it, that tipped me into head-over-heels territory.

As the show opens, Hannah gets a sext from her caveman-friend-with-benefits, Adam. That’s enough to make her gasp and laugh disbelievingly with her roommate Marnie. But this sext comes with a sucker punch: seconds later, Adam texts, “Sry, that wasn’t for you.”

You’d think a girl in that position would tell her paramour to take a hike, or at least—as Marnie strongly recommends—refuse to dignify the whole thing with a response. But Hannah’s in denial. “If there was another girl, he’d never be this obvious about it,” she tells Marnie.

She’s also insecure (obviously, she’s 24). But best of all—what makes Hannah Horvath, and Lena Dunham, so much fun to watch—she is absolutely shameless. As Marnie retreats back into her bedroom, a heavy guitar riff kicks in. Hannah strips off her shirt and poses for the camera: face turned in three-quarters profile, mouth open like a Muppet, one eye squeezed shut in an exaggerated wink.

“I can’t take a serious naked picture of myself,” she confesses later in the episode. Posing on the couch, she looks ridiculous. Also awesome. And whereas other shows might use the scene to embarrass or condemn Hannah, this show gives her a rock and roll soundtrack and that wonderful title card—GIRLS, all in caps, big bold font, black background, sans serif. That sequence told me that the show was with Hannah through every mistake she was going to make, and I knew then: so was I.

Almost every episode begins with a variation of the same formula. One of the four main characters does something weird, or awkward, or reckless, or rude. Hannah reads out lout from the diary entry that ruined Marnie’s relationship, then pauses to ask Marnie if she’d have liked it if it wasn’t about her, “just as like a piece of writing.” Hannah takes off for the airport with her clothes bundled into a garbage bag because she doesn’t own a piece of luggage. Jessa receives a text from an unknown number and writes back a flirtatious note inviting the mystery guest to a party in Bushwick.

The opening scene is never concerned with flattering the show’s characters; it just wants to be honest about who these people are. And when GIRLS flashes onscreen immediately following whatever messed-up, beautiful thing just happened, I feel a rush of excitement. This is what girls are like, the title card tells us—not all girls, certainly, or most girls. But these girls: check their radical narcissism, their arrogance and anxiety and guts. The show dares you to love them.

There are valid reasons to decline the dare, particularly with regard to the show’s overwhelming privilege. Girls has got some rad feminist politics, but it needs to be more intersectional. God, I hope it will be more intersectional: Imagine the places this show could go. For now, I recognize the problems with its first season as well as everything the show is doing right.

Last weekend, I picked up Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason at a book sale. Bridget is Girls‘ fairy godmother in a lot of ways: messy, funny, bawdy, bizarre. In the sequel, Bridget’s mother offers her daughter a rare piece of good advice. Lena Dunham and company seem to have taken it  to heart, and they’re pushing viewers to do the same.

Women, Bridget’s mother says, can get conned into believing they have to follow a million different rules to deserve to be loved. They end up thinking they have to be skinny and polished and successful but not too successful and coolly unavailable and freakishly young. It’s all basically rubbish, she says. Remember the Velveteen Rabbit. Truth is, all you have to do is be real.

GLG Weekly Round-up

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

Here are just a smattering of good reads from around the web this week. Enjoy! And if you have any links you think we should include in our weekly round-ups, e-mail us at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Jay Smooth on Hip Hop, Conspiracy Theories, and the Prison Industrial Complex, from Ill Doctrine.

The new F/X comedy, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, show featuring W. Kamau Bell, discussed on Racialicious, sounds amazing!

John Scalzi uses video games to explain how privilege works; the crowd goes wild (the post goes viral).

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress on the race and gender demographics of the new fall TV lineup.

A Few Awesome Things About Being Disabled by Sarah Eyre.

On the coverage of the tragic death of Lorena Xtravaganza, by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.

Hanna Brooks Olson explains why women’s razors (and other products ) cost more than men’s, and what to do about it (via The Beheld).

At The New York Review of Books, Elaine Blair explores how Girls “raises questions in its opening episodes about how young women are to understand and make use of their sexual freedom.”

And Sarah S. passes along a slideshow of photographs by artist Jen Davis (and an accompanying interview) that deal with body image, weight, and perception.

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.”

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