“Girls” “Rage Spiral” Illustrates the Character of Contemporary Cultural Liberalism

According to Entertainment Weekly, a reporter asked a question at a press event that caused a “rage spiral” among some of the cast and creators of the HBO show Girls.  The reporter at issue basically raised the question whether there was too much nudity on Girls, in particular of lead character Lena Dunham, and whether the nudity was not entirely gratuitous.  Here’s the question as he framed it:

“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show — by [Dunham] in particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you go, ‘Nobody complains about all the nudity on Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they do it. They do it to be salacious and titillate people. And your character is often nude at random times for no reason.”

For raising this question, the reporter was informed, in various ways, that he is a bad person.  The show’s Executive Producer, Judd Apatow, who has made a lot of money making comedies using humor that many people would find offensive, lectured the reporter that his question was “offensive,” as well as “sexist” and “misogynistic.”  Later, one of the show’s other executive producers confessed that she was still “spacing out” in a “rage spiral” over the man who had the temerity to ask whether the nudity on “Girls” was not too much and too pointless. She said: “I was just looking at him and going into this rage [over] this idea that you 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.”


What does this episode teach us about contemporary cultural liberalism?

First, it is aggressively self-righteous.  It is not enough for it to prevail in transforming public expectations about decency.  It also has to demonize as evil and crazy anybody who questions its excesses.  For the record, the reporter does not even appear to be a conservative of any kind: he thinks the nudity in Game of Thrones is OK precisely because it is designed to titillate.  But he questions the nudity on Girls because it seems wholly pointless to him.  Shame on him!  Doesn’t he know that it is right to break down traditional inhibitions about public nudity just because we can!  That kind of thinking seems to be part of the motive for denouncing this reporter, since nothing he said in the question could justify Apatow’s lame accusation of “sexism” or “misogyny.”  So much for evil, what about crazy?  Here’s Lena Dunham’s response to the reporter: “I totally get it. If you’re not into me, that’s your problem and you’re going to have to work that out with professionals.”  As if you need mental help if you object to seeing her naked on TV.

Second (and this is related to the self-righteousness), this liberalism has to justify itself in terms of high ideals that are in fact transparently phony.  In response to the question, Dunham said that her nudity on the show is part of a “realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive.”  Similarly, Apatow predictably justified the nudity in terms of authenticity and “honesty” and credited Dunham’s “courage” in doing such scenes. (This, by the way, raises the question whether Apatow’s mind is capable of conceiving the difference between courage and shamelessness).  Why are such justifications phony?  Because there are any number of aspects of being alive that Girls does not depict.  No work of art depicts things just because they are part of being alive; otherwise they would all depict all manner of things that even Apatow and Dunham don’t want to show us.

People get angry when you ask an impertinent question.  But they also get angry when you ask a pertinent question to which they have no good answer.  This episode falls into the second category.



  • Kenny Kamel

    Lena Dunham’s “honesty” and “courage” are sinfully prideful ways of convincing another or yourself to engage in hedonism. Its no less than the kind of rationalization that pornographers use on the people they exploit to make them feel as if this is actually acceptable and even to be seen as positive and beneficial.

  • Derek Icenhour

    I never heard of this show until yesterday when I happened on the critic’s version of the big incident. Then a friend of mine, who is a fan of the show, shared an article from the other perspective.
    While I agree with the points Carson Holloway makes, and I side with the critic in the whole kerfluffle, I also think I see what sparked the “rage spiral”. It seems that they all assumed the critic questioned the nudity on the show because Dunham is somehow less attractive than the women on “Thrones”. In actuality he was saying that “Thrones” doesn’t pretend not to be titillating, while “Girls” does, but he can’t see any other reason for all the nudity. Apatow and his crew seem to be so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness that they can’t even conceive that someone would question them from that angle.

    • Slats

      I saw more of a post-feminist conception of pornographic behavior being about female control and empowerment, and the accusation that the critic was engaging in some sort of ideological/”spiritual” enslavement or oppression of Dunham and her fellow cast members for questioning Dunham’s power-and-commodity-(under-the-disingenuous-cloak-of-artistic-expression)-driven usage of her own sexuality, whether from a pro- or anti-pornographic traditional male perspective.

  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/ Todd Flowerday

    Looks more like unfettered capitalism to me. Women as objects of sexual stimulation manufacture profit for the corporation. The corporation objects to questions. Women can be pawns of plutocrats as much as men can be. This is as conservative and sexist as sweatshops and slavery.

    • Rod

      To call anyone associated with this show “conservative” is imbecilic. Nice try, Todd.

  • Ben Warren

    They are not liberal. They are illiberal. Labels matter, so always call those on the contemporary left-of-center either leftists or “illiberals”.

  • Slats

    Well-said, sir!!

  • Matt

    I think Dunham is trying to serve as a positive role model for teen girls who obsess over body image. They are used to seeing perfectly photoshopped models on the covers of their magazines and in movies and its no wonder so many girls have body image issues. I think Dunham is mainly trying to remind women what a “real” female body looks like through her abundant nude scenes in hopes that she can serve as a positive role model and inspire some self confidence in impressionable teens and young adults. Not that she is without sin, but I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt this time.

    • Evensong33

      Really?! Appearing nude is helping girls. The reason why Adam and Eve hid their naked bodies after the Fall was because they would be looked upon as objects. Do you think we are better than they? No, in fact we are worse. Whether or not we look good naked is not the issue, here. It’s very naive to think that nudity is not a source of temptation for most people. I don’t think girls need to see nude female bodies, attractive or not, to have a positive self-image. They need to respect themselves as loved by God. That is the cure for this sexualized culture.

    • Slats

      That’s nice if you’re coming from a non-Catholic perspective. For a Catholic perspective, please check the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the 9th Commandment. Only God can judge the state of Dunham’s soul due to our ignorance of her level of knowledge and freedom in her heart, but Catholics can pretty easily 1) see that her actions and 2) discern that her motivations are pretty direly awful. If nothing else, her motivations come from a diabolically misled perspective on anthropology or the philosophy of personhood. Sad to see anyone buying into it, and even sadder to see an influential person spreading it to others.

    • Kathi McDougall

      You don’t become a positive role model for anyone by doing nudity on television. Sin is sin, stop making excuses for it.

    • Kristi

      Female actresses are positive role models when they AREN’T nude on TV. I’m sorry but she is not a positive role model. She has the ability to be one, but her nude scenes prove otherwise.



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