You’re Not Allowed To Question Lena Dunham’s Nudity (Please Make a Note Of It)
HBO’s Girls returns tonight, which means that it’s once again time to be inundated with lengthy, pseudo-intellectual discussions among the digital media about a show very few people are actually watching. Even if you’re someone who can’t wait to ignore the new season of Lena Dunham’s mumblecore monstrosity, you won’t be able to avoid Lena Dunham’s naked body because it’s going to again be a topic of heated debate between people who think she’s single-handedly planting a flag for neo-feminist empowerment in the new millennium and people who can’t figure out what the hell it is that she’s doing. It’s rare that I agree with the women of Jezebel when they get on their soapboxes about one thing or another that’s pissing them off, but I agree that it’s tiresome that three years into this show — this insipid, unfunny, meandering piece of privileged white-girl provocation — we’re still talking about how confused we all are by Dunham’s incessant nudity.
Last Thursday, TV critic Tim Molloy of The Wrap attended a Television Critics Association panel featuring the cast and crew of Girls including Lena Dunham, executive producer Judd Apatow, and showrunner Jenni Konner, and aimed a question at Dunham during a Q&A session that was guaranteed to bring the wrath of the progressive and feminist media down on his head.
“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”
Admittedly a pretty blunt statement.
The immediate reaction was exactly what you would’ve expected; actually it was probably even more hostile than you would’ve expected. The backlash against Molloy’s comment began instantly, with Dunham responding, “Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.” Anyone familiar with Dunham’s depthless and titanium-plated self-love will get that it’s the last part of this response that’s the giveaway. It’s a tip-of-the-cards revealing the real reason Dunham insists on being naked in her own show whenever possible, while also setting up the real trap for anyone who questions her doing so. Dunham thinks she’s the bee’s knees; she’s openly stated as much. And if you don’t agree then that’s obviously something for you to work out. It’s not her, it’s you. What’s more, you’re not allowed to offer criticism, only plaudits. That’s the implied deal: she should be afforded all manner of praise for her daring, but she should also be immune to any sort of judgment or questioning of the rationale behind why she chooses to bare all over and over again in a show where very few others are asked to do the same.
And that’s the point Molloy made after the panel was over, when Judd Apatow confronted him to tell him, as he did during the initial discussion itself, that the question he asked was “sexist and offensive” and “misogynist.” Molloy’s very reasonable response: “I’m not saying it’s bad that she’s nude… Everyone I know has wondered the same thing. I don’t understand as a writer, what the reason for it is… I’m trying to understand it as a TV critic. That’s my job.” He went on to say that Dunham’s gender has nothing to do with it, that if Louis C.K. chose to be naked in his own show in almost every episode there would be questions about that decision as well. Again, the response by Apatow is telling and inherently unfair: you’re not allowed to ask why Dunham does what she does because, well, she’s a woman and you just don’t do that. If you do, you’re a misogynist.
Bullshit. No matter how much of a “rage spiral about that guy” the executives behind Girls may have been going down in the face of Molloy’s question, Dunham chooses to draw attention to herself in that way, particularly when you take into consideration her own personality and the fact that her entire show is one giant self-obsessed navel-gaze, then there isn’t a thing wrong with asking her to explain why. And it’s mildly hypocritical for Dunham to be as blunt as she is in the context of her show — which she conveniently labeled a “feminist action” when offended by a porn parody’s depiction of the sex and nudity in Girls — and not expect to be asked in equally blunt terms to explain herself.
There are so many more questions and arguments you could throw into this discussion: The ways in which the feminist media who defend Dunham would very likely be losing their minds and hurling non-stop cries of narcissism if she were a conventionally beautiful woman; the fact that Dunham, despite claiming that her show is a “realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive,” leaves out plenty of unattractive functions her character would normally go through during the course of a real day; that, yes, none of the other characters are expected to be naked in the way Dunham’s is; the fact that whether Dunham chooses to acknowledge it or not, the nudity is an obviously forced distraction and one that most viewers recognize. (The fact that it’s what the show is most known for proves this.) But really what it most comes back to is the double-standard: being raked over the coals for asking a pointed question about a very pointed creative statement by a television writer, a statement which most viewers likely have the same question about.
HBO just ordered another season of Girls before even seeing the numbers for this one. Maybe that more than anything else proves how much the network banks on Lena Dunham’s continued knack for casual hipster provocation. And maybe that’s the very reason for that provocation in the first place. Because if we weren’t talking about Dunham’s nudity on the show, what the hell else about it would be getting our attention?