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.