GIRLS! Incognito!

HBO has debuted a new series called Girls from Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow.  So far, the show seems to be full of awkward humor and fairly upfront sex scenes.  I happen to feel that much of the time, this is a lazy grab for attention via controversy.  Girls feels especially so.  The opening scenes of the seconnd episode feel like someone is there, poking you, saying, “Look at how edgy we are!  Look!  See!!!  Are we pushing your boundries????”  And yeah, I tend to find the same issue in male centered shows.  What I do enjoy is the unapologetic way the hero is allowed to fail in brutally awkward ways… it nears Ricky Gervais territory.

But the show recently stepped into some trouble with a snarky twitter comment by staff writer Lesley Arfin:

“What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.” 

Certainly, this may be a satirical jab…and yeah, I like Comedians like Sarah Silverman who use bigotries against themselves.  But the problem is…it is a short sighted shot.  Arfin is hardly evil.  But she (and her defenders) aer missing a bigger point.

The defense, for example from Rod Dreher:

the diversity prisspots never complain when a film or TV show taking place in a non-white social milieu fails to include white people in the mix. Who cares? A good story is a good story. I don’t care if explores the hidden lives of paraplegic Tibetan lesbians. If it’s a well-told story, we all see ourselves in the characters and the lives they lead, no matter what their race, what their class, what their culture. What kind of parochial nitwit reads Tolstoy and complains that they don’t see themselves in the story?

In an ideal world?  A good story would be a terrific defense.  But we live in  reality.  And Dreher’s comments, along with the defense of other white guys for Arfin seem oblivious to how arrogant it sounds.

Of course it is not anything special to see white people on the big and small screens.  We dominate it.  It is literally impossible for a white person to truly understand seeing a person you recognize as sharing the trait of race when yours is the face that has always been there.

At no time have white people in America turned on the TV or gone to movies and found themselves almost non-existent on the screen.  At no point has the white audience been a niche audience, or movies considered “white people movies.”  Minorities do not generally skip movies with all white casts, yet white people often dismiss films with all/majority minority casts as “Not falling into their interest zone”.  Whether it is a drama, comedy or whatever, white people do not go to African American movies.

Is it wrong to tell stories about white people?  Of course not.  Just as it is not wrong to have stories with all male casts.  But, then, the Thing and Crimson Tide are not considered moves made for men the way that so many movies are chick flicks.  Sure, folks will comment on action films as guy movies…but that is about it.  If your comedy centers around guys, it is a comedy.  If your comedy centers around women?  It is a chick flick.  Bridesmaids was one of the few films marketed as an actual comedy, rather than a girls comedy.

I hear from time to time people complain about how many gay people there are on TV.  As if TV and movies are a festival of gay pride every day of the week.  But shows about gay people…we have had…what… Queer as Folk?  The L Word, Will & Grace… and Ellen.  There was Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire slayer.  There have been supporting gay characters on other shows.  But that is about it. 

But the people who get so up in arms about concerns of diversity (who tend to by white) misses the point.  We’ve never truly experienced a landscape where we can be practically invisible in the world of television and film.  This makes it easy to say it does not matter to us if a film features no one directly like us.  That tends to be the exception, not the rule.  And those who express concern about diversity still tend to enjoy films that lack it…they are simply saying that seeing more people reflected than just white people would be good.  Hardly an unreasonable concern.  When we live in a world where 85% (and I am being extremely generous there) of movies and television is not all about white people?  Girls won’t be noticed for it’s focus on white folks.

4 thoughts on “GIRLS! Incognito!

  1. (came here from Dreher’s blog)

    “We’ve never truly experienced a landscape where we can be practically invisible in the world of television and film.”

    Great point.

    This is such a difficult thing to understand for those of us (I’m white too) who have never been on the other side of broad societal norms. When I lived in Egypt, I got a small sliver of this–seeing another white face was a welcome, and not at all unusual, sight in downtown Cairo. I mostly hung out with Egyptians, but being surrounded by them all the time, noticing very clearly that I’m not one of them, made me reflect on some of the challenges faced by minorities in every society.

    I never saw the overwhelming whiteness of television (much less than it was, to be sure) until I experienced being not surrounded by white people myself.

  2. Sean, welcome…I kind of forgot my link would appear on Dreher’s thread. 🙂

    Thanks for your comments, that kind of opportunity can really challenge one’s perspective on things (In a positive way).

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