Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What if GIRLS was Created By a Guy?

Photo courtesy of TVLine.com

Just imagine for a second that, instead of being the show’s executive producer/den father/head cheerleader (or whatever he is), Judd Apatow was actually the creator of Girls

How would you feel then, about the Season 2 finale and the myriad humiliations heaped upon Lena Dunham’s character in general?

How would you feel about the ubiquitous nudity, the awkward and sometimes demeaning sex, the grotesque close-ups of Hannah picking at her wedgie or ramming a bloody Q-tip up her ear? How comfortable would you be with Hannah’s OCD, her narcissism, her disastrous haircuts and seemingly unlimited supply of unflattering outfits (neon mesh half-shirt anyone?). 

You’d think that Apatow either hated Hannah or possibly hated women. And you’d feel protective of the young actress who was put in these compromising situations. 

But of course, Apatow isn’t the creator of Girls—Dunham is. In that sense, Girls is the anti-vanity project; a weekly exercise in a kind of strangely mesmerizing masochism. 

 (Have we ever seen a mainstream artist depict themselves in such an unflattering light? Woody Allen would be the obvious corollary—but his alleged self-loathing is strictly amateur compare to Dunham's. It's Self Loathing Lite)

Ironically, with her willingness to lay herself completely bare, Dunham may actually be protecting herself. Women who direct themselves are invariably accused of raging egomania. (I still bristle when I think about the criticism that was leveled at Barbra Streisand for directing and starring in Yentl and The Mirror Has Two Faces: She's too old! She bathes  herself in a beautiful golden light!) Needless to say, male auteurs are rarely subjected to such scrutiny. But, intentionally or not, Dunham has managed to sidestep this criticism entirely. How could anyone EVER accuse her of self-aggrandizement? Tellingly, the one episode—the brilliant, standalone “One Man’s Trash”— where she dared to give herself satisfying sex and a dishy co-star, the Internet positively slammed her for her vanity.

Okay, so now let’s move on to the problematic Season 2 finale —again, acting  under the premise “what if it was created by a guy?”

 Let’s start with Marnie, as I found her character arc perhaps even more troubling than Hannah’s. 

In Season 1, she’s the most accomplished of the “Girls.” She has a solid job at a gallery and a boyfriend, Charlie, who adores her. Problem is, she finds the boyfriend too clingy and effete—she seems to think she wants a man with a bit more machismo. So she breaks up with Charlie and, in short order, her life falls apart. 

By Season 2, she’s been fired from her job and forced to work as a cocktail waitress at an upscale men’s club. Charlie, meanwhile, starts dating a sexy sprite-like hipster—and seems quite happy with her. Then Marnie finally hooks up with the man she’d been fantasizing about—a cocky artist who depicts himself as some sort of stud in the bedroom. Turns out, the artist is a mediocre lay and, what’s more, not interested in being Marnie’s boyfriend. Now she’s single, heartbroken, and stuck in a demeaning dead end job. Let’s check back in with Charlie, shall we? He’s got a cool new haircut and a dream job—he created a successful app and is working (as the boss!) at the kind of edgy Internet company featured in Samsung ads.
In the season finale, he agrees to take Marnie back—essentially “saving her.”

Again, imagine if Apatow had created this episode. (Not picking on Apatow, by the way. He’s just a convenient male figure in the Girls orbit).  What a cautionary tale for women this would appear to be: Break up with the nice guy and you WILL PAY.  Your  life will be ruined, while he will prosper and only once you have been sufficiently cut down to size—the nadir being her humiliating cry for help (oy, that Kanye song!) at Charlie’s office party— will the nice guy condescend to take you back and save you. And he’s rich now, too, so your money troubles will be behind you!
How weirdly regressive is that?

And what about the fate of Hannah—crippled by her OCD and hypochondria, unable to complete (or even start) her manuscript, and, by all reasonable measures, totally falling apart. 

We’ve seen Adam, her recovering alcoholic hulk of a man-child ex, trying to establish a normal relationship with a new girl. But there’s one problem: The new girl has healthy self-esteem and therefore is not turned on by his sexual debasement. “I didn’t like that all,” she says, when Adam tells her to crawl on all fours.

Hannah, on the other end, had willingly submitted herself to all of his debasing fantasies. 

Now remember, Hannah broke up with Adam because she found his energy too intense, his commitment to her bordering on obsessive. She was afraid of him—even called the cops on him once. He's not a bad guy, but he certainly has a lot of demons. On what planet is it a happy ending for Hannah to end up with him?

Season 2 ended like a classic rom-com, with Adam running shirtless through the street to literally scoop up Hannah in his arms and save her from herself. Like Marnie, turns out Hannah didn’t know how good she had it with Adam. Like Marnie, her life effectively fell apart when she jettisoned her man. Like Marnie, her ex got the satisfaction of essentially seeing her hit rock bottom until he had no choice but to swoop in and save her. 


If a man had directed this season, I would’ve truly cried foul.

Look, I love Lena Dunham. I think she’s a genius—a word I don’t toss around lightly. And I certainly don’t think she has to be my kind of feminist. What she’s doing—running her own show (at 26, no less!)—is certainly more than feminist enough. As an artist, she’s well within her right to expose herself, humiliate herself, lay herself completely and utterly bare. But it does bug me that she, the only young female showrunner in the game, has chosen this path—particularly this new wrinkle where her female characters are saved by unworthy men. 

It’s okay to have some self-esteem for you and fellow Girls, Lena. Last I checked, you guys were ruling the world.