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No ‘Girls’ Allowed: Problems of a pedigreed, “peak vagina” and the cultural danger of “labia saturation”

Rachel Fox

by:
April 19th, 2012

For some reason, Lena Dunham's new HBO series Girls has caused a total sh*tstorm.

Before the damned thing even aired it received an enormous amount of media attention, including a red-carpet premier at this year's SXSW that saw creator/director/writer/actress Dunham in the spotlight alongside producer Judd Apatow.

For fans of Dunham's distinctly underglossed aesthetic, comedy, female filmmakers, Ladycentric entertainment in general, awkward sex moments and earthy depictions of estro-anything (I'm clearly counting myself in this category), the show was something to be celebrated by virtue of its mere inclusion on HBO's schedule.

Girls is proving to be entirely divisive, which in and of itself is interesting if only because its content isn't especially controversial. Concerned with the lives of four "privileged" twenty-somethings making the transition from girldom to womanhood (whatever that means) in New York City, Girls drew inescapable comparisons to that other offering with the veneer of a similar premise on the same network, Sex and the City.

Because, you know, there can only ever be one show on TV whose central protagonists are women. If the balance skews towards too much lady-driven content, the possible result is the dangerous, frightening cultural phenomenon known as "peak vagina." Noted gender equality champion and co-creator of the of the progressively pablum Two and a Half Men, Lee Aronsohn, expressed his concern over the recent proliferation of vagina-comedies like Girls during his keynote address at a screenwriting conference earlier this month in Toronto.

Now, in addition to Aronsohn's fear over what he decried as "labia saturation" (which is weird, because I always thought a saturated labia was a good thing), the debate over Girls has shifted towards possible nepotism. Because, you know, if you come from some sort of privilege or pedigree then it's impossible that you might achieve success on your own merit.

In the premier episode, Dunham's character Hannah laments her desire to be, if not "the voice of a generation," than "a voice" of it. With the latest round of scrutiny over Dunham's success, the nepotism accusation attempts to diminish and sully the potential of her generational voice by placing it on par with a notoriously pedigreed (yet far less talented) victor from another TV era, Tori Spelling.

I enjoyed the first episode of Girls, though I wouldn't say I was blown away by it. Firstly, I was not impressed that it was scheduled to air in the middle of a new episode of Mad Men. That was a poor programming decision, reeking of a kind of arrogance and cocksuredness most often encountered in privileged white people. Secondly,  there were some distracting directorial inconsistencies which I perceived as a stylistic tension between Apatow and Dunham; the tones of the two are unquestionably different, and occasionally I found that episode's overall flow to be a little jarring.

Pilot episodes carry a heavy burden and don't always end up reflecting the overall impact or message of a series in its entirety. Certainly, the Sex and the City pilot seems light (and stylish) years away from its final episode; Carrie's narration in the show's early days was not solely limited to her column, and seemed more like a "thought bubble" at times.

I recall watching the first several episodes of Ricky Gervais' The Office at the home of a British friend before it was unleashed here, and she warned me, "It will take you a few episodes to get into it." I remember sitting there bored, looking around and thinking, "Stupid British hew-mah." But by the time I heard the opening chords of the David Brent classic, "Free Love on the Freelove Freeway", everything finally clicked and made sense. That moment was a comedic revelation and  though it did take a few episodes to (finally) get the joke, eventually I did -  sans laugh track! (I'm looking at you, Aronsohn.)

According to the Great and Wonderful Apatow, Girls was built for controversy. "When we made it, we always knew that it was a show you should fight about," he told Vulture. "It was built to be a show that you'd have to defend or argue about — for some people, it would make them angry — and we go over that terrain for the course of the ten episodes. So hopefully people will fight about it every week! Not just one week."

It's quite possible that those who feel it necessary to point fingers ("J'accuse... népotisme!") with lame-brained, desperate, rubbishy explanations to account for their own inability to either appreciate or get "the joke",  may appreciate Apatow's  step-by-step guide to understanding Girls:

"There's funny things to hate about it, because it is about people who are self-entitled and smart and screwing up their lives. It's supposed to be about people who are a disaster and privileged, and every time you do something about people like that, people go, 'Why are they like that?' Well, because that's the point of the show. The joke of it. People go, 'Why are men immature in your movies?' Well, because they are immature and it's funny to see them try to figure it out... I think guys like it [Girls] as much as women. They get into it. Girls are just as demented and neurotic as guys."

Source Jezebel via World of Wonder, Vulture

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