GIRLS and Race

I try to stay away from Internet maelstroms, because they tend to flare up abruptly and burn out even quicker, making everyone who participated look stupid for expending so much righteousness at such a fleeting issue. But the current hullabaloo about GIRLS and race seems to me to be one of the more misled maelstroms of recent memory, prompting my need to comment on it. Those demanding (only two episodes into the series, mind you…) that the show needs to feature more non-white characters are ignoring the context of the show.

The “girls” of “Girls” are white girls from an educated, upper-middle class white world, and the show is COMPLETELY AWARE OF its insular, monochromatic nature. The girls are not part of a multicultural Brooklyn, they’re part of a Brooklyn where upper-middle class people move after college, which (and I say this without snark), is more often white than not. I simply cannot imagine a black or Latina character on this show without it being a completely token role, there to satiate the PC diversity mongers.

GIRLS writer and creator, Lena Durham, is following the old adage of “writing what she knows.” Gonna go out on a limb here and say she knows mostly about white girls.

Surely, feminism at large has often neglected women of color and other minority discourses; and like the feminism of Betty Friedan, Durham’s feminism is born of a certain class standing, which tends to include mostly white women.

I sympathized with critics when, after four seasons of “Mad Men”, they pondered why race had not yet become an issue on the show. Mad Men is about the cultural friction between the 50s and the 60s, when social barriers were being broken down. The rise of women in the workplace is a cornerstone of that MM’s plot, but there is conspicuously little meat in regards to the civil rights issues of the 60s. One naturally wonders if Matthew Weiner is too lazy to confront questions of race head-on or if it’s not on his mind at all.

But with GIRLS, it’s different. This show is not a parable about society at large, it’s about a group of people who have no idea who they are or what they’re about; in many ways, from what I can tell so far, the show is a parable about their ignorance of the wider world, and about how difficult it is to remove one’s gaze from the navel when you’ve been brought up to be entitled about your abilities and promise. The girls do not know diversity, only insularity, and their world is a tiny one: it fits inside their flittering, contradictory, self-involved brains. To ask the show to be diverse is to ask it to go against its artistic goals.

On the one hand, I am glad we’re in an age when feminists and critics are very aware of feminism’s tendency to neglect minority discourses. But in this case, the feminists and critics were sniffing up the wrong tree; they are imposing a P.C. concept on a show for the sake of being P.C.

It would be great if there were shows like GIRLS made about people who were not just white girls. And I hope some girl out there is getting her shit together right now, writing her story about her world. But I just hope she doesn’t call her show “(Insert Race Here) Girls.” As I’ve mentioned before, that wouldn’t be progress.

xoxo,

anna

GIRLS!

GIRLS!

There’s a new show on HBO, have you heard about it? It’s called “GIRLS,” and, guess what? It’s about some girls. A group of 20-something Brooklyn transplants who are girls, to be specific. It’s about life, love, and fucking up in your 20s. GIRLS can relate to this, right?

The first episode of GIRLS is rather like mumblecore meets Sex & The City; the milieu is straight mumble-style, with young people speaking colloquially and inarticulately, wondering what to do with themselves, screwing the wrong people, and eating cupcakes in bathtubs (???). The S&TC influence is evident, not just because of the show’s cheeky references to it, but because it focuses on a group of girls in an aspirational urban locale. In both shows, New York is the place people move to in order to become who they want to be. And yet, despite the grandiosity of self-building I am implying takes place, GIRLS is entirely mundane and bedeviling in the details. It is the tale, like many realist novels before it, of the wayward bourgeois, whose stories “attach to money at the heart of the drama.” As many commenters have already covered, GIRLS has a forthrightness about money: its characters lack of it, their parents having it, their upper-middle class naivete about how hard it is to get. 

I find the show startling if only because it is so humble in its aims; aren’t popular shows supposed to have stupendous costume design (Mad Men & Downton) or have stunning narrative archs (The Wire)? GIRLS, at this point and I am sure moving forward, will merely follow the minor triumphs and failures of its main BFF characters. A triumph in this show will probably include scoring a 30k job at a publishing house, finding a boyfriend who is nice, and/or severing oneself financially from one’s parents.

Refreshingly, I didn’t find the show particularly pandering in how it tried to capture this very specific milieu; unlike other films, television, and marketing strategies trying to capture this cultural moment, it did not proffer brands, musical taste, or broad life philosophy statements as proof of its authenticity (I’m thinking of Portlandia, Justin Long in the apple commercials, etc). The girls’ apartments are believably unremarkable, the “costume design” is not going overboard to prove the characters’ alternative lifestyles, and Jay-Z, beloved by basically everyone in our society, is the music in the background.

The one thing that does bother me, however, is the presumptuousness of the title. To call a show “girls” is so all-encompassing, one must consider it a manifesta, a declaration that this show is defining or taking part in the definition process of what GIRLS are. Certainly, some might argue that the show is called “GIRLS” in order to distinguish its characters from their adult contemporaries, WOMEN. Maybe calling the show “GIRLS” is a nod to the mundaneness and realism of the show, like when Flaubert called a book about Madame Bovary “Madame Bovary.” A frilly title wouldn’t have worked. But aside from those things, I believe the creator/producers thought that naming the show GIRLS would be some sort of revolutionary move. Maybe it is unusual to capture the life and travails of very typical white, middle class young women going about their business, but it really shouldn’t be. We only make art about women more exotic and more alienating when we harp on how rare it is. I would like to move forward, personally, into a future where it is not revolutionary to portray women. I want to live in a world where half of the shows are about GIRLS, but different kinds of girls–girls in space, girl crime-fighters, girly girls–but without a neon sign announcing that the art is, indeed, about girls. Maybe you don’t like my idea, but indifference to gender is what I think true progress entails.

–Anna Out

The Future of Writing; Or, Paranoid Thoughts on the Future of Discourse

I am so, so delighted that Indira has revived the blog!

As Indira and I met through feminist activism, it seems appropriate to relaunch apparatchicks with a meditation on wtf has been going on in the feminist blogosphere of late.

It all started with Olivia Munn, a new member of the Daily Show cast. Jezebel proposed that she was not qualified and, what’s more, that The Daily Show was a shite place to work if you were a woman. The Daily Show women employees retorted. The internetz fluttered. Then, Emily Gould wrote the mother of all responses, suggesting that the Jezebel column was merely a manifestation of a disease plaguing feminist blogs the world over. The article is appropriately entitled “Outrage World,” and it identifies an Internet culture in which suggestions/accusations/ideas intended to get the blood boiling are favored over sophisticated thinking; ad revenue generated by many page-views is the goal, and writers have to up the ante in order to get the views. She writes:

It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines… But it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy…It’s just how the Internet works.

So, if she’s right, and I think she is, how depressing is that? Ultimately, Gould’s argument is an economic one; she is suggesting that journalistic or ideological integrity can’t win on the Internet, since more thoughtful, less zealous writing wouldn’t get the page views needed to make $$$ at a for-profit media company. For several reasons, this bodes poorly for the future of discourse, the foremost reason being that journalism’s final frontier is the Internet. So, as long as someone needs to make money off your words, and reasonableness must be sacrificed for coveted revenue, what does this mean for the future of writing-and of ideas–in general?

Pardon me if I sound like I’m all on some apocalyptic shit; you must understand, I regard the Internet with a mixture of awe and fear, much like peeps regard their gods. And I know, like people know of their gods, that the Internet is a Force capable of bringing massive good (a savior) along with the bad (a flood). But let me just focus on the bad for a sec.

Indeed, I have often pondered the way Internet communication (e.g., chatting), writing (e.g., blogging), etc, will change the way we conceptualize the world. It seems that Emily Gould has isolated at least one instance of how the business of writing online churns and condenses complicated topics into base and uncouth bylines, and eventually, dollar billz.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

–anna, from her underground bunker

Heidegger’s Legacy

heidegger5

Regardless of what I am proposing in this post, one must admit Martin really had a Hitler 'stache. Maybe this was photoshopped though. You tell me!

Today I was reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Heidegger and his Nazi sympathies. Well, maybe sympathy is too weak a term. The author of the article, Carlin Romano, sides with scholars who say Heidegger’s philosophy is derived from his Nazism, and concludes that Heidegger is too deeply compromised to be taken seriously in academia.

At the end of the article, I was stunned to read this strongly worded assertion: [Heidegger] should be the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations.

Ahem. I am certain that my own opinion on how we should approach Heidegger–that the philosopher should not be condemned or ignored for his political views–has been formed by my teachers. My teachers’ views were probably formed by the literature on Heidegger, which, at this point in time, seems to concern itself with his philosophy and excludes most mentions of Nazi ties. I, for one, rarely heard the words “Nazi” and “Heidegger” uttered in the same breath, as those kinds of beliefs belonged to the book-burning zealots.

Right now, though, I am going to take the zealots seriously, and see if what they are proposing is possible.

Some of my smartest and best professors were invested in Heidegger. (I was a literature student, he is valued for theory.) I found myself reading him every few years, and once even had to read about 60 pages of Being and Time. That reading experience nearly killed me, what with all that Dasein, und Sein, und Zeit, chuckle chuckle.  Therefore, I can see how this most absurdly obtuse philosopher is “bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now.” And yet Romano doesn’t offer a reason for why academics are so interested in him. One could argue that the ivory tower might show vested interest in something just because it’s difficult, but Romano doesn’t say that. He just calls for us to mock Heidegger’s work into irrelevance. He steers clear of any mention of censorship, but isn’t proposing the gradual elimination of a thinker from our canon proposing de facto censorship?!

It does not occur to Romano that Heidegger is valued because his philosophy is crucial. Romano offers no first-hand analysis of Heidegger’s ideas, or even appears to have a familiarity with his ideas outside of their correlation with Nazism. Instead, he notes that scholars have endowed H with “the revival of ontology,” and a “boost to phenomonology,” then proceeds to snarkily dismiss these claims, saying (in between the comforting shadow of parentheses, where timid ideas live), “Would we not think about things that exist without this ponderous, existentialist Teuton?”

Say I accept the idea that it is impossible to separate Heidegger’s antisemitism and Nazism from his philosophy. Then can not his ideas be reinterpreted? Can they not be separate from the context in which they were first conceived? Certainly, the reading of a text should have some objective grounds, but as a student of literature, I cannot possibly admit that a text has just one meaning, has just one correct reading, has just one context in which it is valuable and correct. The argument about whether or not Heidegger should be considered a legitimate thinker is as much concerned with politics as it is the concept of multiplicity. Clearly, multiple readings of Heidegger exist and are meaningful, as he is a Nazi partisan to some (Romano) and a brilliant ontologist to others.

Say I also accept the idea that Heidegger should be untimely ripped from the syllabi of philosophy and literature classes. Would a real thinker of any stripe declare another thinker–be they Nazi, Republican, Corsican nationalist, penguin’s rights activist, whatever– absolutely unworthy of our study? Regardless of how flimsy and partisan a thinker might appear (and I have already tried to say that Heidegger is anything but flimsy or partisan to many), will this thinker not teach us something about a movement, philosophy, or time?

So let us not authorize censorship! But let us not ignore Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations and ideas either. Let us integrate the two viewpoints: that he is one of the most important 20th century philosophers (if you’re into ontology and phenomenology) and that he was, most unfortunately, a Nazi. We have to figure out how much Nazism informs his philosophy and vice versa, and whether or not that should matter to us today. Even if Heidegger couldn’t manage to separate his philosophy from politics, as some assert, we have to rise above it and attempt that separation ourselves. That process is called thinking; any other approach is base and partisan.

For more information on this subject, you can get a good recent bibliography from the previous linked article, as well as Ron Rosenbaum’s recent article on the topic.

by anna

“Communist” Russia and the Health Care Debate

A socialist revolution is brewing in America, and it's coming from that communist country Sarah Palin can see from her shores.

A socialist revolution is brewing in America, and it's coming from that communist country Sarah Palin can see from her shores.

Clearly, much misinformation has been spread about the proposed health care reform.  Obama’s plan is in critical condition, crushed and twisted as it is by so much talk about death panels, nationalized health care horror stories, red revolutions and, by natural extension, Russia.

It is hilarious to me that many of the disgruntled right wing citizens at town hall meetings call on Russia to heighten the pitch of their feverish and delusional worries.

For starters, Bill O’Reilly says the health care debate is about socialism, not health care. This sets the stage for all kinds of interesting things to happen.

A Pennsylvania woman was invited on the Fox show “Happening Now,” after saying to Sen. Arlen Specter at a town hall meeting, “I don’t want this country turning into Russia.” Later, on the show, she appears to be reading from a teleprompter and narrates a little bit about herself, saying that she used to be indifferent to politics, but then she started reading about the “Constitution” and the “founders of this country.” And then she concluded that the country was ripping itself apart and health care was going to turn us into Russia.

Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others also attempted to prove that Obama’s health care plan was leading us swiftly towards the path of communism. Their evidence came straight from the mouth of the beast, or I guess that’s what they hoped we’d think. PRAVDA On-line published an editorial saying that America was turning Marxist. Dobbs, Beck, Limbaugh and others asked hypothetically: who knows Communism better than the former mouthpiece of the Party? If the Russians recognize Marxism in Obama’s policies, it must be there! They’ve lived through it!

The part that sucks was, PRAVDA On-line is not the same thing as Pravda, the communist newspaper which existed 1912-1991. Furthermore, the editorial itself has a number of spelling errors and is surrounded by ads for “Russia’s Most Desirable Single Women,” and an article declaring “Pregnant Baby Girl Born in Saudi Arabia.” Read that headline again. Amazing.

In other words, it’s a classy and reliable news source and should be trusted for its American policy analysis.

It’s not that I am surprised by the slippery slope arguments saying expanded government role in health care = socialism. I expect as much.

But its the conflation between Russia and the Soviet Union that really gets my goat. When these people say Russia, they mean Soviet Union. Hell, if they meant, “I don’t want our health care system to be like the health care system of the Russian Federation,” I would agree with them. It’s not a very good system.

How long will it take for Cold War scare-mongering to die? Apparently, a long fucking time. I feel so bad for Russia. It has just about the worst reputation of any country in the paranoid sector of American cultural imagination.

Fortunately, one crazy out there at least knew the proper name for Communist Russia. “This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China,” he said to Senator Specter. Well, not exactly. But we’ll take it one step at a time.

–anna

I still greatly dislike Maureen Dowd

Apparently, the only thing that can rise me from my politics blog slumber is my hatred for Maureen Dowd. Bill Clinton has just whisked two American journalists from their NO KO gulag nightmare–and all Dowd can think to write is another snark piece on how Bill stole the limelight from his wife.

Maureen Dowd does not rise above petty meanness. She goes out of her way to make fun of Hillary Clinton and “the subjects she most cares about: do-gooder development and women’s issues.” Gasp! Clinton has priorities in life other than character assassination! It’s beyond Ms. Dowd.

Her column is a musing on made-up psychological motivations (her column format of choice) in order to shed a new angle on yesterday’s story. But her concept is not enlightening. It’s just bullshit. I know Ms. Dowd is just trying to be funny, but her 800 words of drivel would not have seemed so clever if she had mentioned the REAL REASON why SPECIFICALLY Bill Clinton was the one to visit NO KO. The Koreans told Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee that they wanted former prez Clinton to visit. The women relayed this message to their families, who relayed this message to the relevant authorities. It wasn’t Bill’s secret coup of his wife’s spotlight. No political jostling between Gore, Richardson and B Clinton took place. And No Ko wasn’t responding to what H Clinton said about them the other week!

North Korea simply requested Bill Clinton. That’s what there is to it. Now, any columnist worth a damn might have chosen to muse on why that is, instead of musing on false pretenses.

In the end, of course I think the press should and must criticize its people in power. And of course, I think opinion columnists can have artistic license to do that however they want to. But Dowd’s sole role on that op-ed page is to gloat with a sarcastic righteousness; it makes me absolutely want to punch her in the face. Krugman is snarky and self-righteous, of course, but he actually has things he cares about–decent healthcare for America, among other things. I don’t really care that K-man is holier than thou, because you know what? He’s a Nobel winner. What’s Dowd got? Red hair and a BAD ATTITUDE!!!

–anna

Maureen Dowd Plagiarizes

You know something? I really don’t like Maureen Dowd. I don’t like her smugness, her hostility towards feminism, her cutesy nicknames and elaborate fictional scenarios involving politicians and Cabinet members. I don’t like the self-congratulatory air pervading her every column, or how she frequently touts her superior experience, name-drops and shamelessly parades her excellent connections.

Indira and I have often shared a laugh in the past about Ms. Dowd, who has written several books, one of them called “Are Men Necessary?” An adapted magazine article that sums up the thesis of her book can be found here.

Dowd blames feminism for her troubles with men, who are apparently intimidated by her beauty and her brains. Feminism, she says, made getting along with men harder. Men now mistake Dowd and her assertiveness for a castrating feminazi and flee in the other direction.

The funny part is that probably she doesn’t get along with men (or anyone? who knows) because she’s likely unpleasant and perhaps a tad boastful. LOOK WITHIN MAUREEN. IT’S NOT FEMINISM’S FAULT THAT YOU HAVE BAD LUCK WITH DUDES.

One other thing I don’t like about her is that she was extremely vicious about Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and was one of her toughest and most unreasonable critics. She often made Chris Matthews’ criticisms look justified.

All this adds up to why I didn’t care when Maureen Dowd was found to have plagiarized a paragraph of another blogger’s work. If at first I found her writing obnoxious and her manner condescending, now I can be justified in thinking that she is an unprincipled journalist and a poor writer.

The Times would do better to stop hiring token conservatives and mix it up by hiring more people of color or an interesting woman or two. To quote my favorite Times critic, Manohla Dargis, I would like to see this happen “not because of some ‘politically correct’ imperative but because it makes the discussion more interesting.” WORD! (Dargis was talking about film critics, but the same principle easily applies here.) Indira once commented that Bob Herbert may be among the best of the bunch, but his genius is doomed to languish in obscurity forever.

Besides Herbert and Dowd (who is the biggest sexist of the bunch), all the other columnists are white men (many with economics backgrounds) in their 50s and 60s. You really know the op-ed page sucks when I enjoy reading David Brooks the most. (I’m not joking. I find him insightful, even if I disagree with him on many occasions.)

So let Dowd take a break to examine her conscience, NYT, and hire Indira or I in the mean time.