Jack Daniel Betz
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“Girls” Gone Wild

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By Jack Daniel Betz

Art by Blake Jones

 

Modern American society has been carefully engineered to spare us unpleasantness at all costs. We have taken steps to eradicate the repugnant habit of smoking in public (and we’re starting to crack down on smoking in private as well), we put warning labels on practically every product imaginable (lest we be ambushed by the confounding traces of tree nut oils in a praline) and we have been trained to trade unbridled opinions for soft, innocuous euphemisms, especially in the messy areas of race, religion and gender.  America does not like to have its feelings hurt, even at the expense of honest discussion.

 

The examples of this ideological intolerance are with us every day, but they are rarely as obvious as a little-discussed meltdown that movie and TV writer Judd Apatow had in January about TV series “Girls.”

 

Now, before analyzing the events of this outburst, it is fair to point out that the show’s star, Lena Dunham has been the object of much unfair bullying. One of these instances, which the Huffington Post points out in its coverage of the “rage spiral,” was Howard Stern’s rude comments about Dunham’s appearance in Jan. 2013. Career shock jock, Howard Stern, attacked Dunham’s looks, referring to her as, “little fat girl who kinda looks like Jonah Hill.” And if that wasn’t outrageous enough, he also said of the Dunham’s nudity on “Girls,” “and she keeps taking her clothes off, and it kind of feels like rape.”

 

So perhaps that was part of the pretext for Apatow and other “Girls” personnel to explode like ten tons of gasoline-soaked dynamite at the simple question one critic posed.

 

However, the irony of this earlier exchange is that Dunham also forgave Stern,  stating that she was a fan of his, and that he had, in her words, earned his right to free speech. Those words might come back to haunt Dunham though, after her involvement in the following kerfluffle.

 

The exchange in question took place at a press stop for “Girls” cast and crew at the Television Critic’s Association. As the show’s executive producers Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham and Jennifer Konner took questions from the press, they stumbled hard over the following  (verbatim):

 

“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show — by [Dunham] in particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about all the nudity on Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they do it. They do it to be salacious and titillate people. And your character is often nude at random times for no reason.”

 

Read in isolation, away from the drama that ensued, and the cast/writers’ baggage, it’s hard to see why it would cause so much trouble. The Wrap’s Tim Molloy did not call Dunham “a little fat chick,” nor did he say that, “it kind of feels like rape.” There were no “slut-shaming” value judgements about how often the show characters have seemingly less-than-monogamous sex. The reporter did not even go as far to claim that the actions were a bad example for developing young adults. These comments extended to the show’s art and writing-areas that are normally pretty safe from the chilling effect of discussing race, religion and gender in public. Yet the reaction was one that would have looked more reasonable if directed at naive, openly-misogynous, “men’s rights” activists, rather than a critic asking questions about a show’s writing and presentation.

 

From the reportage, it looks as if the first words out Apatow’s mouth upon hearing the question were, “That was a very clumsily stated question that’s offensive on it’s face, and you should read it and discuss it with other people how you did that.”

 

But it didn’t stop there. Dunham jumped in with claws fully extended, taking the response to a whole new, personal level, “Yeah. It’s because it’s [nudity] a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.” Nevermind the fact that Molloy never made comments about her body, weight or general attractiveness. Dunham’s words read exactly like they might have been penned a year prior, in response to Howard Stern’s far-more-pointed comments. Unlike Stern, who had “earned his right to free speech,” there would be no mercy for Molloy.

 

At another point, and the timeline is a bit difficult because there’s seemingly no video here, Apatow calls the question, “Sexist, offensive and misogynistic.” The Rubicon had been crossed. There is no doubt that the panel considered Molloy to be the living embodiment of every gender-based injustice any of them had ever witnessed.

 

The real pity of the entire incident is that Molloy never got the chance to turn the response back around and ask a resounding, “Why?!” Apatow’s outrage in particular was not dialectical-it was axiomatic. In Apatow’s eyes, Molloy should have known better than to ask a question that did not come in the form of an award or some glowing praise. Did Molloy not know that random nudity carries with it such artistic gravitas that it is above reproach? Did he not know that eating a cupcake in one’s birthday suit is the highest calling of a liberated, young actress? The gall!

Nudity, like any trope of writing, can be overused, and is certainly well within fair territory for a career TV critic. The replies really say more about the paranoid, thin-skinned temperament of the “Girls” writing and production team than it does about any sexism in Molloy. Apatow’s self-indulgent antics do nothing more than give doubters of real sexism more ammunition. Maybe if Molloy grovels enough-if it’s not too late-he can “earn” back his free speech.

  • NickCooper

    People are nude throughout the day for various reasons, and of course, most shows and movies tend to only show the sexy-for-hetero-men times — mostly women having sex, dressing, bathing, etc. I don’t see any reason to defend that convention. If we aren’t complaining about the nudity in sexy scenes, but find non-sexy nudity to be “random” or “overused,” we are siding with the sexist convention.

    People think constantly about the deficiencies of their own bodies, be they fat, wrinkly, pimply, disabled, diseased, etc., but one would never know that watching most movies or shows. One would get the impression that bodies are these sexy things to be whipped out.

    Our imperfect bodies are a big deal. People commit suicide, avoid intimate connections, break up with their partners, hate themselves, etc. over them. That there is a show that shows a plump woman feeling comfortable doing normal stuff in front of others or the camera is a big deal. Not that it’s such a great show, but this one aspect should be applauded, not questioned or rebuked.

    Sure, Apatow and Dunham should have explained all this instead of dissing the reporter, but folks sometimes get sick of coming up against the pervasive influence of patriarchy and lose their cool.