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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.






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

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! Catholics Go Un-American

I spent the majority of my formative years in South Bend, IN. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school all my life until college. My high school was located across the street from Notre Dame and it would be safe to say that *most* of my teachers attended that institution of higher learning. In other words, I am familiar with Notre Dame, and I am deeply disappointed with all the bullshit that has been going on there since Obama was asked to be the commencement speaker.

Behold, Catholicism gets hip to youtube and ushers Fr. Corapi, a man with a resonant and authoritative voice, to blather their nonsense.

He claims the Church has “dishonored itself” by inviting Obama to be Notre Dame’s commencement speaker. HELLO, HE IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Normally, as a liberal, I wouldn’t invoke the label of president to elicit a reverent stance towards anyone. Fight the power, right? But in the past 5 months, the label and institution of the presidency has been restored as a respectful one, as it is no longer inhabited by a village idiot who unbalanced the world with cruel and thoughtless policies. Never did American political life (among other things) tip so dangerously toward chaos than during the 8 years of GWB. But now at the helm of our still teetering realm, we have AN INTELLIGENT, COMPASSIONATE, THOUGHTFUL PRESIDENT.

But apparently Obama doesn’t just disrespect life, Fr. Copari says he is the first president to have an “obviously public and pernicious anti-life and anti-Catholic Christian bias.” What the hell is an anti-Catholic Christian bias? What does that mean? Copari and the Newman Center must have added the word “Christian” in there just to throw us all off balance.

That is clearly going too far. I can understand that Catholics might object to some of Obama’s positions, but wtf, Catholics, I always thought you (we!) had better sense than this! LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE.

But maybe I am getting carried away, and the people at ND protesting the O man are just the fringe. After all, Obama received 7 more percentage points from the Catholics than fellow-papist Kerry did in 04. Catholics like Obama. We voted for him.

President Bush gave the commencement speech in May of 2001. Those were simpler times; he may have stolen the election, but it was another two years until he invaded a country and signified his ‘respect’ for life everywhere.

We are still in the midst of a torture scandal, in which our nation’s leadership (on both the right and left) failed to be forthcoming about interrogation policy in our terrorist prisons. This isn’t really big news as we’ve known that torture was going on for a while. But I can’t help but be scandalized that the Catholic Church is wasting its breathe dishonoring and making a fool of themselves by protesting Obama’s commencement speech, when they should be re-examining what it means to respect life, and where the Church’s priorities should lay. Like Bush, the Catholic Church has started to rely on culture wars to define Catholic culture. But if we want to foster a world where compassion, tolerance, and Christ’s love reigns, then we can all agree that torture, unjust war (to use the Catholic term!), and poverty degrade life in noticeable, impactful ways. I am pro-choice (though I have a nuanced view of abortion’s morality), and it is preposterous to devote so much energy to one wedge issue when there is so much more meaningful evil going on out there.

Catholics have a strong reputation for being crusaders for social justice, and I know that some Catholics believe that all injustice stems from abortion (the argument goes: if we cannot protect the innocent, who can we protect?!??!)


[end rant]

by anna

Hillary Clinton Is Still a Badass

Hillary Clinton is pretty great. It’s sort of hard to remember, given the ugly primaries. I was mad at her and other second wavers for playing the victim card when it was convenient, and I was mad at her for dirty tactics that occurred early on in her campaign.
But as Secretary of State, this woman pretty much rocks. I still have a hard time making the mental shift and accepting that our country, though in dire straights, is no longer run by crazy people.

Check this out:


Observe, Report, Condemn

by anna

The feminist blogosphere is all a-buzz with the date-rape scene in Observe and Report. I know I am coming to this a little late, but let me just chime in: Fuck Seth Rogen, and Fuck Jody Hill, director of this movie.

Seth Rogen, on the one hand, seems to realize the shocking nature of the scene, saying in an interview:

When we’re having sex and she’s unconscious like you can literally feel the audience thinking, like, how the fuck are they going to make this okay? Like, what can possibly be said or done that I’m not going to walk out of the movie theater in the next thirty seconds? . . . And then she says, like, the one thing that makes it all okay: BRANDI: “Why are you stopping, motherfucker?”

Though what Brandi says certainly does not make it okay, he seems to find the scene funny based on the dramatic tension between audience’s moral judgments and the films weak efforts to resolve it. Fair enough.

Jody Hill thinks portraying this date-rape scene is artistically daring. Read his inarticulate pompousness here, courtesy of the Onion’s A.V. Club:

AVC: In the Times piece, they describe the scene you’re talking about as Seth Rogen’s character forcing himself on Anna Faris. Is that how you perceived that scene?

JH: [Pause.] I dunno. I’ve always kind of liked scenes that you talk about how fucked-up they are. I would have been happy without any dialogue in that scene. I wanted to show them just having sex and her passed out, and I thought that would have been funnier. But I think I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So at the end, [Faris’ character] is okay with it. [Laughs.] And that was like, “I’ll shoot it both ways.” So I actually shot it both ways. I just kept the camera rolling. There’s like a line that’s “We’re okay laughing, and you’re pushing the envelope.” But you’re not really pushing the envelope until you cross that line where a lot of people don’t go along with you. I tried to do it in a few scenes in this movie, where a lot of people aren’t going to go along with the film or with what we’re trying to do. Hopefully that means we’re actually pushing the envelope. [Laughs.] You know what I mean by that? I think if you’re really pushing the envelope, you have to not include everybody, if that makes sense. Or else it’s not really pushing the envelope.

DID YOU SEE THAT? I think Jody needs to learn the difference between exploitation/politically irresponsible provocateuring AND ART. Just because something is daring and shocking does not mean it is “pushing the envelope.” And if “pushing the envelope” is your only vocabulary for artistic experimentation, then you need to go back to film school and learn how to be legitimately interesting.

Sadly, though, I must also throw in a heavy-hearted chide against Anna Faris. Anna, I really really really want to believe in you. You’re so funny and delightful. But you keep being in crappy movies that are sexist. WHY????????!

It could be because there aren’t many opportunities for a cutie-blond such as Anna to be taken seriously in a movie. Women like her are not leads, they are objects of our scorn or our pitying laughter. Anna has played either a superficial bimbo (Lost in Translation) or, when she had a lead of her own (The House Bunny), she plays a good-hearted by empty-headed bimbo. Remember when Katherine Heigl spoke up about her Knocked Up filming experience? That was refreshing. I’m not asking Anna F to always represent; that would be unfair. I just want to see her in some good movies, where her goofiness is on full display, and she does not play petty, bitchy sidekick to a Seth Rogen character.

Finally, I admit, I haven’t seen the movie. I plan to, because I want to see the context of this scene as wedged between other scenes of cruelty. Not all portrayals of rape in movies are inherently wrong; but when rape is made light or the object of laughter, that is indeed a problem.

Star Trek: The Feminist Generation

I look concerned because I do not want to be dismissed.

I look concerned because I do not want to be dismissed.

The XX Factor, Slate’s feminist blog and one of the Internet’s foremost feminist blogs, recently ran an interesting analysis of the show Battlestar Gallactica, and asked if the show is indeed as feminist as it is purported to be. The post veers off from Battlestar and does a spot-on critique of women’s role in the genre of science fiction. However, I’ve got a bone to pick with their mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which seems to me an all-too-quick dismissal of the show based on the attire of Deanna Troi.

To fans, this show is simply known as TNG, and I will refer to it as such here on out. I think now and will think forever that TNG is the most politically progressive thing ever shown on television. For those who have not had the pleasure of watching it, please understand that TNG is not about shooting lasers at aliens or fantastic battles in space (well, most of the time). The show is a sincere study of the questions of the universe, including but not limited to: What is being? How do we define humanity? What is the ultimate goal of human existence? It grapples with the delicate balances of interpersonal relationships. It examines the role of humanitarian intervention and asks how best to proceed with interplanetary diplomacy with concern for cultural difference. In short, this show is deep.

As for its take on gender, an old friend once pointed out to me that all the main women characters have jobs that could fall into a stereotyped category, such as care-giver (doctor) or feelings-examiner (counseler).

And as XX points out, Deanna is quite scantily clad, at least in the first season (she is wearing a rather 60’s looking mini-dress), but this omits the fact that Tasha Yar is the CHIEF OF SECURITY in the first season. That’s right–a woman is the pre-Warf head of security! And she’s not just a man in a woman’s body–she can be sexy if she wants to and her toughness is derived from escaping the rape gangs on her civil war-torn home planet. One of the most feminist episodes has to be “Code of Honor” (although, unfortunately, this episode is rather racist, employing stereotypes of macho tribal cultures to heighten our sense of the Enterprises’ progressive attitudes toward gender).

When the macho leader of the planet arrives on the Enterprise to discuss giving the Federation a much-needed vaccine, he becomes enchanted by Tasha Yar’s strength. He explains that on his planet, women aren’t in positions of military power. So he kidnaps Tasha and plans to make her his lover. On the macho tribe planet, Tasha goes to battle with leaders lover (and financier) and she TRIUMPHS with weapons she’s never even practiced with before! Jean Luc Picard politely explains to the leader that where he is from, people believe women are just as strong and smart as men. Other characters snicker about the barbarism of a people who could possess such an antiquated attitude.

The genius of the show is that the characters’ beliefs are so far beyond thinking of the world in terms of gender difference that it demeans the very idea of sexism. It boldly goes into a new future, where debate is no longer even necessary; it just takes gender equity (the idea AND its practice) for granted, as though it is now and ever shall be the truth. Which it should be.

Too bad Tasha is portrayed by terrible, humorless actor Denise Crosby (who, after being kicked out during the first season, mysteriously returns a few years later to play a Romulan [who turns out to be Tasha Yar’s daughter in a parallel universe, or something like that]). ANYWAY! If you’ve seen nearly every one of the 178 episodes, explaining the plot begins to be a problem.

TNG also tactfully avoids sex and romantic entanglement beyond the PG-13 rating. All characters prioritize their careers above romance, including the women. Women are also to be observed in the highest ranks of Star Fleet, thank you very much.

Finally, the beloved Deanna Troi, though something of a sensitive, new age 90’s stereotype of a person, is a lovely character who derives strength, wisdom and even power from her emotional prowess. We are supposed to value her for her mind and her more stereotypicall feminine characteristics, which I think is unusual today. The sung heroines of the hour are often ones who just act like men. In later seasons, Deanna even decides to train in order to captain the ship, if need be. She learns all the technical stuff women aren’t supposed to learn and even trains in combat, all while maintaining her rather feminine mystique.

In other words, TNG is not sexist, but a nuanced portrayal of a team of characters. Most of the time.


WTF, LA County?!

For the most part I really hate libertarianism and all the self-righteous bullshit that goes along with it.  But socially speaking, we feminists do invoke socially-libertarian slogans on occasion, for example when we shout “Keep your laws off my body!” One day I hope to examine the push-pull between the social-do-gooder impulses of some mainstream feminisms (Ban porno!) and the socially-libertarian impulses (Let us do whatever we want with our bodies!) For now, though, I’d say it makes sense to be a leftist with socially-libertarian impulses, like a Chomsky or someone.

I have drifted into Chomsky-land on many occasions, though rarely have I wandered into Reason-Magazine land, as I did today when I saw this headline: “$#$%##! LA County tries for cuss-free week.” For the first time, I think I saw the words “nanny-state” flash through my mind…

WTF, LA County? On the advice of a puritanical 15-year-old, you’re going to ban cussing for a week? Here’s the rationale: “It’s a good reminder for all of us, not just young people but everybody, to be respectful to one another and watch the words we use.”

There is no penalty for cussing in the County during the week. I might have to penalize the county for this nonsense, since the idea in some way impedes my freedom of speech. I would like to express myself in whatever damn way I please.

Some of language’s most exciting variations occur in obscenity! Some of its most passionate moments appear in four-letter words! In short, we would live in a barren, colorless linguistic landscape without bad words!

I know people say there are more creative ways to express disdain other than maliciously spitting a good old “Fuck you,” at someone, but honestly, I think those two words have all the bang for your buck. Nothing gets to the point faster.

I am a little worried about the 15-year-old who started his own no-cuss club. For f*&@’s sake, there are better things to worry about.