I’ve become a pretty loyal fan of the HBO show GIRLS — that fresh new take on NYC life from the perspective of a pack of early 20-something girls right out of college (written, produced, directed, edited, cast, and generally birthed by Judd Apatow’s new wunderkind, Lena Dunham). The show consistently scores major publicity (nearly always good), and I think this is because of its combination of particularly well–scribed leading characters and the writers’ complete lack of fear in granting them a POV without filter.
One of the most noted missing filters thus far is the lead character’s clothing. Yes, Hanna Horvath — another role filled by creator Lena Dunham — is naked a LOT. She’s naked so often that I hear there is a college drinking game keyed to the number of boob shots in each episode. It’s been talked about quite a bit in the media, and such discussions ran a little heated last Thursday during a panel interview at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, CA. Dunham was asked to comment by a male reporter at the event:
I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show by you particularly. I feel like I might be walking into a trap where you’ll say something like, “Nobody complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones,” but I get why THEY are doing it — they’re doing it to be salacious and, you know, to titillate people. But your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.
One would have thought the man had stood up and basically said, “you aren’t very attractive, and your show doesn’t seem to be very ‘deep’, so how do you explain the nudity?”
The panel was instantly enraged. One could barely distinguish the different speakers as they all yelled at once to answer the reporter who dared to find fault with their art — or with Dunham’s body. In fact, after reading the entire transcript three times, I’m still not certain exactly what caused the infernal blowup. I must be another insensitive man.
From my interpretation, the reporter has noted that conventional cinema (i.e., not porn) sometimes contains nudity, but that nudity is shown for only two reasons he undertsands:
- It has artistic value. It is shown as part of a larger context; that is, the combination of the nudity and the dialogue and the expressiveness of the actors — blended within a specific environment and augmented with meaningful back story and carefully incubated tone — it all becomes a work of art that has value greater than the sum of its individual elements. In synergistic creations like these, to leave out the nudity would somehow radically destroy the artistic value of the entire scene. You know, it’s “deep”.
- It is shown for the sole sake of satisfying the audience’s prurient curiosity and fantasy. That is, it’s porn.
Dunham reacts explosively to the question. As do her fellow panelists. Executive producer, Jenny Konner, was even unable to answer the next question fielded to her…saying instead:
I literally was spacing out because I’m in such a rage spiral about that guy that I literally could not hear. I’m so sorry. I really don’t mean to disrespect you. I was just looking at him and going into this rage — this idea that he would talk to a woman like that and accuse a woman of showing her body too much. The idea, it just makes me sort of sick. And I just want to apologize to everyone. I’m going to try to focus now, but if I space out, it will be because of that guy. I’m not usually like that but I can’t believe he would speak to a woman like that.
Some newspapers writing about the event are throwing around words like “misogyny”. “Testosterone dominated press”. The “out of line” reporter.
Personally, I thought that it was a fair question. Given that she is not our society’s typical ideal of beauty, I think it does warrant an answer. I believe that she must have desired to be provocative by performing in the nude in unusual contexts — so it is also somewhat disingenuous of her to pretend to be surprised or insulted when asked to explain the intent behind it. For example, I’ve not been able to divine any deeper meaning from the scene where she eats cake while sitting naked on the bathroom floor. I’m left guessing that it might have something to do with women’s body image struggles. Or it might have been really hot outside. I’d honestly like to know what her answer to that question would have been if she had not been so offended by it. For all I know she’s revealing a long hidden secret about all women. Or cake tastes better in the buff. I’ll never know.
UPDATE 2014/01/13: When I wrote this post, I totally forgot that I had given a shout out to the series in an earlier blog entry — an entry where I myself posed the question, “why are you naked all the time!?!?” It’s a question on peoples’ minds whether Dunham wants to admit it or not.