Friday, May 04, 2012

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Complete)


The Full Piece that Ran Yesterday at the Daily Banter

Let’s start with the obvious: HBO’s new series Girls isn’t for me. What I mean by that is that I’m not its target audience. I’m not a millennial; I’m not female; I’m not a Brooklyn hipster who’s perpetually drowning in his or her own insufferable ennui; I don’t recognize even a hint of myself or my life in any of the dingbat characters or torturous scenarios the show traffics in. I’m sure Lena Dunham is a nice enough person, but there’s nothing about her that makes me think she’s someone I really need to take seriously as a creative talent, let alone the supposed voice of her generation (God help them all).

Granted, I lived in New York City for quite a while and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t familiar with the kind of “girls” Dunham and her cast try to represent for the TV audience; the city is crawling with them. I just don’t think they’re interesting enough to merit the representation. On the contrary, my reaction to any encounter with them typically lies somewhere between cringing painfully and going full-on Inspector Dreyfus whenever somebody mentioned Clouseau’s name.

With that in mind, though, I think that the criticism Lena Dunham’s been on the receiving end of from some in the black and Hispanic community is unfair. In case you haven’t been following -- and for your own sake, I hope you actually have better things to do than concern yourself with this kind of “controversy” -- a host of socially conscious journalists of color, many of them female, have complained that Dunham’s show is too “white,” that none of the titular girls on Girls are black or brown. The argument is a little dumb at face value, simply because Dunham herself is white and it’s not like that’s something she can change -- and while New York City, both real and the depressing hellhole depicted on the show, is indeed a melting pot, let’s be honest and admit that it’s not exactly unlikely that people like Dunham’s character on the show and her small cadre of friends would all be the same shade of white.

Hell, the show wouldn’t be what it is -- cloying and insipid -- without the pervading stench of white privilege and the ability for characters to mumble complaints about the kind of shit only privileged white kids have the luxury of complaining about. It’s been a common refrain among critics of Girls, but it’s a show about white people problems -- and like everyone else, I say that as derogatorily as possible -- and trying to shoehorn a demographic into the equation which undoubtedly brings a different set of concerns to the table would be a ham-fisted nod to political correctness and little more. There wouldn’t be anything the least bit honest about Dunham taking that tack -- and anyone willing to admit to the world that she’s this tiresome, irritating and unsympathetic is honest if nothing else.

Please understand that I’m certainly not saying that women of color don’t occasionally obsess over some of the same trivialities that a show like Girls attempts to address; everybody has his or her own version of navel-gazing. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a larger forum for shows that either catered specifically to black and Hispanic female audiences or were able to draw the parallels between all women without trying to force the issue in an effort to ward off exactly the kind of criticism that’s been leveled at Dunham. Those upset about the show’s lack of color, so to speak, have a point when they argue that a series like Girls with an all-black or all-Hispanic cast would very likely never be given the cachet of a time slot on HBO -- but again, it’s not like that’s Lena Dunham’s fault, and again, it’s not as if she should be required to adjust her vision for the show simply to satisfy the PC police.

It’s a show about a Lena Dunham-type character and the people she interacts with. And if you’re not included among those people, trust me, you shouldn’t be complaining. You’re a hell of a lot better off.

2 comments:

Capt Clow said...

It's interesting to me that, unlike Sex And The City, where I think they wanted women to identify with which character they were most like (remember the "You're so Amanda!..." discussions), these characters are pretty pathetic and don't know it.

The lead girl is a "writer" who actually can't write. She doesn't know how bad or hopeless she is. It's a pretty sad character and pretty depressing.

So in that sense I guess I'm seeing another level of irony / "gawking at a crash scene" than some others are seeing.

I hadn't heard about the uproar about the all-white foursome, but as you mentioned, it would actually be really surprising if it were any different.

Anonymous said...

There are also no fatties, because you would never see skinny white girls in the city hanging out with Melissa McCarthy or Mindy Cohn.

Looking forward to the Girls / SVU crossover episode.