Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What if I want to feel like I have udders?

The ongoing Girls review ensues.

Before watching the second episode, I discovered Lena Dunham's New Yorker profile from November 15th, 2010. Her father says something amazing to her:
"There might be the germ of a cautionary tale there for you," her father said, looking at Dunham with quizzical fondness. "We’ve encountered this in the past, where your idea of the funny merges a little too convincingly with the real. It’s funny to say, ‘I sleep with my parents,’ but it’s also too close to being massively weird. And you will have to navigate this for the rest of your life."
This played into the episode. I am still traveling through the layers of stunned and impressed.

Girls, Episode Two, "Vagina Panic"

The fapping sound - I have to know how they made the fapping sound. The two sex scenes - between Hannah and her guy and between Marnie and Charlie - were a genuinely perverse pleasure to see. I have never seen sex scenes that reflect any moment of real sex I've ever experienced/talk to others about. I love that this juxtaposed Hannah's tryst - clearly so much about the experience and morbid curiosity - with Marnie, who is so frustratingly bored that she's liberated sexual satisfaction from the emotional discourse of her relationship. It was really affirming to see the bad - the banal and the unnerving - since sex scenes are like families: the happy ones are all the same, the unhappy ones are all unhappy in their own way.

I felt the following scene, given more time, would have played beautifully as just Jessa’s music versus Shoshanna's. I would take the two of them over most things because they are both so earnest and sincere. I am genuinely riveted to watch their relationship develop, and I want to see Jessa’s vision-board. I love how the vision-board is displaced from its Shoshanna-sector stupidity - where it would be firmly on other shows, I think, like on It's Always Sunny. It's very easy to use it in a cinematic-ish phrase - "idiots make vision boards" - but when Jessa says that she wants to make one, that she wants to determine what it is that she wants, that made me feel so warm and wonderful, that exposure of the vision-board. I have thought about this scene twice as long as the episode's running time.

Hannah's attempt at a joke about her guy’s dirty talk I love, I recognize this - seizing the ugly. I love how deftly she delivers the joke and how poorly it plays. The way Hannah always seems to be talking to herself, I love it - I love Hannah’s word-vomit. The way she remains a step behind, shielded by wit - "I guess I don't really know because this is the first abortion I've ever been to." What I want is for this to anticipate the new contours her world will assume. Her lack of sympathy for those who don't use protection has been cited as an outrageously privileged statement, and it is, and she should experience the limits of that. There will be more episodes when this will happen. Every time I read another criticism of the show I think about Mad Men, which I also watch and analyze ecstatically, which I do not blog about because I love how watching it is like reading one chapter at a time of a sweeping, mammoth novel. It has taken seasons to resolve some things set up at the beginning of the show - I'd rather wait and enjoy the payoff to what's being set up now. And how rapturous that payoff will be when Marnie stops manipulating her boyfriend. I am still saddened by how exposition-y their situation is, because the few moves they've made demonstrate so well how they see each other. She is at the point of open disdain with him and he is merely apologetic, but Marnie isn't severing it. Like the couple in Contempt, like the stories of Salinger - it's not about war, but it's all about war.

Hannah says, "I've only had sex with two and a half men."

Shoshanna's every gesture: her authoritative wielding of the “ladies” book and the way she bestows upon Jessa and Hannah and herself the title of “lady,” feeling so thrilled to have such insight! She has figured out so much, she feels, and I love it. I love that she isn't villainous or the object of ridicule, nor is she posited as being at an advantage versus the rest of the girls because she is so indoctrinated to the pervading idea of High School Musical as it segues into Sex and the City. They might not be linked in anyone else's mind, and I'm glad not everyone has lived the nightmare. My desire is to see Shoshanna be a little more smug about the insight she thinks she has - this is my acquired taste about precocity, I love the underminingly self-righteous. The way she insisted "we're the ladies" - this book is about us and you're short-changing yourself by disavowing it - I love how that shows her ignorance. And I love that Hannah apologized to Jessa for having read the book, and that she read it in the Detroit airport. The Detroit airport kicks ass.

“Dates are for lesbians,” says Jessa, angry about Shoshanna's foisting of the rule book, “I don’t like women telling other women how to feel.” What is implicit in that - all that complexity of feeling between women - I'm excited to see. I wanted to slap Hannah in the best way, the way Charlotte slaps Aura in Tiny Furniture, when she asks Jessa if she's angry with her. That was the most begrudgingly relatable scene for me. Within the past year I fell out with a friend who went through Jessa's exact experience - which, I have not mentioned, this episode revolves around Jessa's decision to have an abortion. I was disappointed, since I think the ground between understanding the situation and making a decision is an important and interesting one, although it is assumed that she's had that time, just alone. One day this friend of mine and I were out and she had just found out - it was the second time. The first time there was no question, her family was involved in making sure it was terminated. The second time she was in college. We went out to eat and she considered what she couldn't have, we went shopping and she looked at cradles. She wasn't extremely verbal about it, as I remember, and didn't talk at all about the abortion. She did say, “I really want to have children. I’m going to be amazing at it,” just like Jessa did. Jessa's remark as she keeps going with this declaration has been cited for Girl's belittling attitude towards the issue of race, but I like that how out-there Jessa's statements become, which co-opts what she is saying from Hannah, who is trying to respond to Jessa like she responds to herself when she rambles. I found it a really authentic conversational tactic, if an unfortunate one because of how closely this show is being scrutinized.

I have to watch and rewatch these episodes to comment on them. I dreaded rewatching Hannah's job interview. Interview onslaughts are fresh in my mind. The ones for the jobs I wanted but did not get loiter in my mill of conscious thoughts like the location of my keys and my pin number - it's a really grim condition. Hannah has an interview with a trade journal and totally wins with a brilliant remark: “I like a bar where the average patron would be described as crotchety.” This is the moment I feel the most connected to Hannah. She's winning at something I want. She's handling the interview the way I'd aspire to handle it if I didn't know full well I stutter and can't reign in my inner monologue in stressful situations (resulting in my being weirdly tight-lipped in interviews and at work in general). So she has my heart, as she makes such a rape joke it made me gasp. I freaked out. I screamed NO NO NO. I can only believe she didn't spend the rest of the episode resembling a used tissue, tearfully rehashing the incident, because of Woody Allen's decision to not cut immediately after the cocaine sneeze in Annie Hall - she had to accommodate the audience who, in my case, internalized the face off that scene. This is what I was referring to in the beginning of this post - this is her having taken her father's criticism and made something so perfect from it. Jon Caramanica summed it up like an ace in the New York Times:
 "Jokes about rape, or race, or incest or any of that kind of stuff, it’s not office O.K." her interviewer tells her before showing her the door. In other words, feel free to write what you know, but understand it’s not for everyone.
Despite the deftness with which this episode is sliced together - tightly between small conversations - I emphasized a line from each one in my notes. Although "So you know Venice is sinking. And I was like, we gotta get outta here!" loses something without Jemimah Kirke's gesticulation. I really enjoy her. She resembles people I have, on a more profound and tender level, known and had affection for, and I like that so far, her lines have been scant and carefully posited around the action.

Marnie's remark that Jessa has "ruined" her abortion reminded me that I am sitting on a close reading of Melancholia that I need to finish. I love enmeshment, and Marnie is so predisposed towards enmeshed behavior with her friends. I am all for her stories heavily emphasizing this facet of hers. The wild inappropriateness of the conversation/s that she, Hannah and Shoshanna have in the waiting room of the clinic - where Jessa would have an abortion, if she wasn't trysting with a guy she met in a bar - the talk is so horrifically not appropriate for the space. Shoshanna reveals her dark secret with the beautiful “Everyone and their mother has had sex except for me!” The exchange she has with Marnie about blowjobs made me sob with laughter. I love Marnie's stab at humor to try and put Shoshanna off—I hope that Marnie pulls a Liz Lemon and goes, in seasons to come, completely batshit. While they talk, Hannah gets an STD test, and her mouth gets her deeper and deeper into a living hell. She gives a speech about AIDS that is complete lunacy. She’s like a geyser of shameful Google searches.

I will admit to letting Google roll on a search for "Lena Dunham" - these are bits of recent articles I appreciated:
The criticisms being directed at Girls are misguided

[It] focuses on the characters' narrow worldview, the lack of diversity of their friend circle, their sense of entitlement and the pettiness of their problems. Meanwhile, the criticism that the show Girls makes about middle class New Yorkers is that they take their privilege for granted, are entitled, narrow minded, unaware and have pretensions of being special, talented and liberal. The show's creators are attempting to make many of the same points as their critics. (I'd like to address the pettiness of their problems but it's beyond the scope of this article.) Girls is documenting a reality, and people are reacting with outrage about that reality, but they are directing their anger at the documentarian and confessor. People are essentially trying to kill the deliverer of bad news.

Lena wrote, directed and stars in an indictment of her own spoiled self, and was her own target long before she was the target of this current blast of criticism. If Lena hates any race of people it would seem to be white people....People are free to hate the show but some of the backlash has been unfair.

- Jesse Levine at the Puffington Host
More from the aformentioned NYT article by Jon Caramanica:
Television is nowhere near diverse enough — not in its actors, its writers or its show runners. The problems identified by critics of Girls are systemic, traceable to network executives who greenlight shows and shoot down plenty of others. It’s at that level that diversity stands or falls.
And Girls is hardly alone in its whiteness. Far more popular shows like Two and a Half Men or How I Met Your Mother blithely exist in a world that rarely considers race. They’re less scrutinized, because unlike the Brooklyn-bohemian demimonde of Girls, the worlds of those shows are ones that writers and critics — the sort who both adore and have taken offense at Girls — have little desire to be a part of.

Thus far the tone of the reception to Girls has been distinctly personal, as if its arrival has remedied a longstanding grievance of certain vocal members of the news media: that there weren’t any shows aimed squarely at them, with characters who live lives they recognize. But Girls ended up* being a letdown to some of those viewers for precisely the same reason it is an innovation: It has no real competition. It is the antidote to more conventional programs, but it has no antidote of its own. It has to carry the hopes of a whole class of viewers who ache to see themselves represented but who can’t all possibly fit in.
Ms. Dunham’s relatability also plays a part in the intimacy of the critiques. Many of the naysayers are themselves young creatives who identify as squarely in, or near, Ms. Dunham’s demographic. Ms. Dunham — as a young female show runner, a rarity — is readily identifiable to her target viewers. They likely feel more access to her than to, say, Tina Fey, and therefore find it easier to share true feelings with her, even the negative ones. That Ms. Dunham is an anomaly has also made her more vulnerable.
What’s a worse fate: clumsy token diversity or honest whiteness?
* - this after the second episode!

And then Laurie Penny brought it up in a context I am so excited to see. In her post "Chains of oppression: Katie Roiphe, Lena Dunham and the sexual counter-revolution," Penny discussed a cover story for Newsweek by "noted rape apologist Katie Roiphe" who...
argues that modern "working women" - I'm sorry, was there ever a time when women actually did no work? - find "the pressure of economic participation... all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world...exhausting." Roiphe goes on to theorise, based on precisely one film, one tv show and one novel, that "for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality."
Penny writes off Roiphe's bizarro generalization by digging into the problem of which such batshit behavior is a symptom:
In a culture where women who express sexual agency are punished, humiliated and threatened with real rather than ritualised violence, that sort of fantasy is entirely comprehensible. What is more significant is that submission - alongside, from time to time, sex work - is the only kind of female sexual ‘unorthodoxy’ that is currently deemed worthy of discussion - unorthodoxy trussed up tight by the bondage tape of patriarchal expectations. Unorthodoxy that happens to involve fantasies of being dominated by men. Unorthodoxy practiced exclusively, if we go by the ‘examples’ Roiphe’s investigation turns up, by women who are young, and white, and straight, and middle-class, and, most importantly, fucking fictional.

INCIDENTALLY - why is it that young, white, straight, middle-class, fictional women are the only type of women that routinely interest the trendmaking mainstream press? And why is it that women are not permitted to be creative without having to speak for the entire condition of womankind? The most exhaustively discussed new cultural artifacts in recent weeks - Fifty Shades of Grey and Lena Dunham's new HBO show Girls - are being treated as if they were straight memoirs, rather than, in one case, a piece of redrafted fan-fiction based around a story that was originally about vampires? Is it because we don't believe that a woman can truly create fiction or write meaningfully without drawing entirely on her own experience? Is it because mainstream culture still lacks a language to talk about women's issues and women's lives that is not at once confessional and riddled with lazy stereotypes? Is it because most 'fictional' women are still created, cast and directed by men? Is it because we don't believe women can actually be artists?
"Having to speak for the entire condition of womankind" - I have said it before.
After she finished "Medusa," Plath realized how little its strategy resembled that of her other October poems. Unlike "Bees," in which apparent autobiography is really calculated melodrama, or "Daddy" and "The Applicant," in which apparent autobiography is really black farce, "Medusa" relies for success on its artful construction: an imagined narrator, placed in the throes of an invented situation, responds in direct and emotional language….At no stage in her career did Plath engage in writing strict autobiography. Yet the strained voice of "Medusa"'s narrator echoed the pain Plath felt as she wrote the poem. – Paul Alexander, Rough Magic: a Biography of Sylvia Plath
In a 1968 interview with the Paris Review, in response to being asked why it took her thirty years to begin writing, Anne Sexton said, "I didn't know I had any creative depths." Sexton's attending physician informed her that the value of her poems lay in what was springing forth without her knowledge—the secrets she was too damaged to appreciate, that she had any depths at all—and not the skill with which they were crafted.


  1. "I can only believe she didn't spend the rest of the episode resembling a used tissue, tearfully rehashing the incident, because of Woody Allen's decision to not cut immediately after the cocaine sneeze in Annie Hall - she had to accommodate the audience who, in my case, internalized the face off that scene."

    I know that scene was an accident and they didn't cut to accommodate the laugh, I don't get this connection to this part of the episode though?

    1. I took a stream-of-consciousness approach to these recaps, but what I meant by this very convoluted sentence was about how Hannah later reveals the impact of film on her life (fear of AIDS being a very Forrest Gump-based fear) and how mortifying and without-end her job interview felt, and I imagined that moment in Annie Hall might hang in her head to comfort her and give her own accident some context because I do that sort of thing, and when I was watching GIRLS at this point I was all about reacting to my closeness to the subject matter.

    2. All of which is to say these early recaps do not make much sense! I'm writing a book about GIRLS right now and revising revising revising.