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16 articles I’m proud of writing this year

26 Dec

I hardly ever post in this blog anymore, mostly because I’m too busy writing actual articles for work. But in the interest of reflecting on 2015 — and being needlessly self-indulgent — I decided to share the work I’m most proud of this year. These are the stories I spent months reporting and writing. (Along with some I threw together over the course of one productive day.) In many ways they define my year, and while that might sound a little depressing — surely there’s more to life than work! — I have to remind myself that writing is my passion, and I only really write about things I truly love. It’s been a joy covering film, television, and theater: I get to celebrate the art and artists I admire, all while furthering my subversive queer feminist agenda. If I have one regret about the work I did this year, it’s that I didn’t do more of it (hello, poor time management skills). One of my major goals for 2016 is to be more on top of everything so I can produce more. And maybe, every once in a while, get a decent night’s sleep.

1. Eli Roth Thinks Women Will Love His Latest Movie. This year I went to Sundance for the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I saw a lot I loved — and plenty that I hated. Knock Knock fell into the latter category, so it was a pleasure talking to Eli Roth about what I considered a deeply misogynistic film. I was proud of myself for not letting my bias show, because I knew the key here was letting Roth speak for himself.
2. Jeremy Jordan Has Learned From The Mistakes Of Smash. At this point in the year, I had no idea I’d go on to co-create a Smash podcast. I only knew that I wasn’t done talking about my favorite misguided musical drama. With that in mind, I interviewed Jeremy Jordan about The Last Five Years (which I loved), and I got him to be remarkably candid about one of my least favorite TV characters ever.
3. Daniel Franzese Is Still Breaking New Ground 10 Years After Mean GirlsLooking is a series that I feel never got its due, which is why I wrote about it so often. One of my other major passions is writing about size discrimination and fatphobia in the gay male community. I fell in love with Daniel Franzese’s character Eddie, and it was a thrill chatting with Franzese about issues like body positivity and fat acceptance.
4. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Is Not Your Average Disney Production. This year I also expanded my theater coverage. The writing I do on theater never goes as viral as anything I write about film or television — and that’s OK. It remains one of my greatest joys. And as I toy with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for New York, I realize how important this work is to me.
5. The Definitive Ranking Of The Friday The 13th Movies. Another subject I can’t ever seem to write about enough? Horror. (Look for more in-depth pieces on the genre in the coming year.) I love revisiting films that often get overlooked — mediocre horror sequels, for example — and finding a new way to talk about them. And yes, that means I’ve watched a ton of shit, but dissecting garbage is one of the best things about my job.
6. Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him. This was a project that required very little writing on my part, but it’s something I’m still immensely proud of. Reaching out to icons like Patti and Liza and Barbra, and getting gorgeous responses, was a great reminder to always make that effort, no matter how impossible it seems. And I received a lovely note from Sondheim, which I treasure.
7. What The Heidi Chronicles Gets Right About Feminism And Gay Men. Basically no one read this piece, which was a bummer, but hey, all the more reason to share it again. I was able to get more political than I usually can in my work by articulating it in terms of a play. I can’t be as public with my beliefs as I once was, but if I can remind gay men to be better feminist allies and write about theater, I’m satisfied.
8. Inside The Mind Behind The Most Disgusting Franchise Of All Time. Like Eli Roth, Tom Six is basically a troll. Again, I’m including this because I’m proud of how I’ve grown as an interviewer. When you’re talking to someone as performative as Six, you have to use a lot of restraint and ultimately let him reveal more than he intends to. Given how much I hated this movie, I was delighted by how good the piece came out.
9. Half Of the Team That Changed Horror Is Now Flying Solo. Leigh Whannell, on the other hand, is a horror filmmaker who actually has something to say. This was another one of those interviews that reminded me why I’m so passionate about the genre. I love the ability to analyze something so few people take seriously, and Whannell’s astute observations gave me a lot of hope for the future of horror.
10. The Definitive Ranking Of Walt Disney Animation Studios Films. This was a beast to get through, and I think that shows in the finished product. Rewatching every Disney animated film was a daunting task, to say the least, but what made it worthwhile was being able to engage critically with the films I grew up on. I never want to ruin anyone’s childhood, but I do want to encourage people to rethink their treasured classics.
11. How Catfish Helped Max Joseph Make His Major Film Debut. I wish more people had seen We Are Your Friends, which I liked so much more than I thought I would. I also wish more people that I interviewed were as insightful and honest as Max Joseph. This was me stepping outside of my comfort zone, which is so rewarding. I never thought I’d want to analyze “bro culture,” but here we are.
12. Olivia Wilde Is Taking On A More Active Role To Support Women In Film. You know who is fucking great? Olivia Wilde. This was another one of those interviews I did that made me feel excited about the direction film is headed. It was truly inspiring, and I was so honored to be able to pass Wilde’s message along. If I could just talk to brilliant women in film all the time, I would. It’s such a thrill.
13. The Movie That Taught A Generation Of Misfits To Let Their Freak Flags Fly. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, another film I wrote an oral history of, Camp was pivotal to my development. This story took me months to get done, and toward the end I pretty much just wanted it to be over. But this is easily the story I’m proudest of writing this year. I wanted to capture a movie that changed my life, and I think I succeeded.
14. All 78 “Treehouse Of Horror” Segments Ranked From Worst To Best. OK, I’ll be honest: I’m mostly including this here because I’m proud of my time management skills on this one. I busted it out in a few days, because I decided I wanted to do it right before Halloween. Anyway, it was a blast and, once again, allowed me to revisit my childhood in a new way. Writing this much about The Simpsons falls under “dream job” territory.
15. How To Be A Broadway Diva, Or At Least How To Fake It. I love writing about people who just aren’t getting that much coverage otherwise. Lesli Margherita is a big name in theater, but not so much to those outside of the community. I was blown away by her humor and sincerity, and I relished the opportunity to share that with a wider audience. I’m going to continue working to force non-theater fans to give a shit.
16. The 18 Best Plays And Musicals Of 2015. And to that end, this is the first list BuzzFeed has done of the best theater of the year. It’s the culmination of my work to broaden our theater coverage, and while it’s still nowhere near my most widely read story this year, I think it’s a major step in the right direction. I can’t wait to return to New York so that I can continue to remind people that Broadway is more relevant than ever.

38 random things you might not know about me, and probably didn’t need to

7 Jan
  1. My favorite film genre is horror. It wasn’t, until I took a summer course at Berkeley that changed everything for me.
  2. I was an extra in the drag horror comedy All About Evil. I have a close-up and everything.
  3. I’ve read more by Stephen King than by any other author.
  4. The movie that made me realize I was gay, at least to some extent, was The Object of My Affection.
  5. The first person I ever came out to was an older guy from my high school who started chatting with me on AOL and asking me increasingly personal questions about my sexual desires. He was a creep.
  6. The first NC-17 movie I saw in theaters was The Dreamers. I had it bad for Louis Garrel.
  7. I was mugged by five guys when I was 18. They punched me in the back of the head, but I don’t remember any pain.
  8. I’ve had two minor surgeries: wisdom teeth, obviously, and the extraction of a benign bone tumor in my big toe.
  9. I was adopted at birth.
  10. When I was in third grade, I appeared in my Jewish day school play A Symbol of Hanukkah. I really liked being onstage.
  11. In middle school, I went to theater camp, but not the prestigious kind you have to audition for. That’s probably why I got a couple solos. Humblebrag!
  12. I also did choir in eighth grade. And then I suddenly became terrified to perform again until my twenties.
  13. I love storytelling and I think I’m reasonably funny, but I’m afraid of trying stand-up comedy.
  14. I speak Italian, but I’m out of practice. I used to speak Hebrew and Spanish, but I’ve mostly forgotten both. I can still understand a lot of Spanish, because Los Angeles.
  15. I took Italian in college because French was full.
  16. I’ve always lived in California. I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Berkeley and stayed there for a few extra years, then moved back here.
  17. Outside of Los Angeles, the cities I’ve spent the most time in are Manhattan and La Jolla.
  18. My first boyfriend was named Mark. We dated for a few months when I was a freshman in college.
  19. My first kiss happened when I was a senior in high school. It was awkward, and my mom was home at the time.
  20. When I was a kid, I briefly played piano and guitar, both poorly.
  21. I was also forced into tennis, gymnastics, and t-ball. I excelled at none.
  22. I have a serious phobia of flying and take Xanax whenever I have to do it. I have recurring nightmares about getting on planes and forgetting my Xanax at home.
  23. I’m very insecure about my appearance, but I like my lips and my calves.
  24. At one point, I dyed my hair reddish-brown. At another point, I had blonde highlights.
  25. My Bar Mitzvah portion was Noah. I still feel an attachment to the story, if not to Judaism.
  26. My Bar Mitzvah party theme was television. All of the tables were different shows. My table was The Simpsons.
  27. When I was 15, I spilled chocolate milk all over a girl’s bag, and I still feel bad about this.
  28. When I was 17, I said that I didn’t think I was a feminist, and I still feel bad about this.
  29. All of my grandparents are dead.
  30. I can count the number of funerals I’ve been to on one hand. I’ve been to even fewer weddings.
  31. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but I had a hypoallergenic dog named Lily. She was a Bichon Frisé, and I still miss her.
  32. Other pets I have had: a tortoise, a hamster, hermit crabs, a pair of rats.
  33. I once wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was not erotic.
  34. I have a scar on my left index finger from when I cut it while slicing bread on Ambien. I have told this story before, but it’s too good a useless fact about me to not share.
  35. I sucked my thumb until I was 10. I know.
  36. My nails are usually long because I hate the way that short nails feel. I get chills thinking about it.
  37. Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do with my time, and then I feel a little embarrassed about expecting anyone else to read it, but I’m publishing this post, anyway.
  38. I wrote a sex column in college. My mom loved it.

Stop using “free speech” to defend bigotry

19 Dec

“I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” said Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal in a statement defending Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s right to homophobia. Believe it or not, I sympathize with Jindal’s frustration: I remember when politicians understood the First Amendment.

Sarah Palin also weighed in on A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from Duck Dynasty indefinitely: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

This is nothing new. When Alec Baldwin was fired from MSNBC after calling a photographer a “cock-sucking fag,” he blamed the “fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy.” Baldwin supporters called GLAAD’s behavior “bullying.” And so, the words that the LGBT community was once forced to defend itself from — “fundamentalists” and “bullying” — are turned around on it. LGBT activists are challenged on their “tolerance.” The unsubtle implication is, you gays are just as bad as the homophobes you’re always complaining about.

That just isn’t the case. The worst thing that will happen to Phil Robertson is that he won’t get to appear on his reality show. He will not be physically assaulted for his views on gay people, the way that gay people might simply for being gay. The same goes for Alec Baldwin, no matter how sincerely he views himself as a victim. He may have lost his MSNBC series, but he won’t get brutally beaten while enduring an onslaught of gay slurs — “cocksucking fag,” perhaps.

For people who have encountered actual intolerance — in the form of schoolyard bullying, workplace discrimination, or physical violence — the perversion of these words is that much more repugnant. But the point Palin and Jindal are trying to make, however misguided, is one that comes up again and again: The “real” intolerance is in censoring people who have opinions that are not “politically correct.” Bigots should have a right to air their bigotry without consequences, because that is what this nation was founded on.

The truth is, “free speech” has never meant what A&E’s critics would have you believe. When you air your bigotry publicly, you are subject to repercussions. You have every right to rail on against the minorities you feel most victimized by — but don’t be surprised when you lose friends, respect, or your job.

And yet, there remains a concerted effort to turn the conversation in on itself. People like Palin and Jindal hope that they can distract from the truth with cries of “free speech” and “politically correct.” What really happened is that a reality show star made comments that were dangerous and shameful. His employers decided to suspend him. And two politicians attacked those employers, because in their minds, it’s more important to propagate a misunderstanding of the First Amendment than it is to engender a culture where LGBT citizens feel safe.

Stop hating Skyler White

31 Jul

WARNING: Vague spoilers through the most recent episode of Breaking Bad. Read at your own discretion.

Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad. Seriously. This isn’t a new development: I’ve loved her from the beginning. But over the course of the past three seasons, she’s become the most sympathetic character. In my mind, she’s our point of identification, the sane person caught in the middle of Walt’s bullshit, trying to keep her head above water and protect her family. Skyler gets shit on the most and offends the least. She’s the victim in all of this.

These are my opinions, and I understand they’re contentious. You don’t have to love Skyler the way I do, of course, but hating her seems unjustified. Again, these things are subjective: I can’t help if there’s just something about Anna Gunn that rubs you the wrong way. But what has the character of Skyler really done to earn your hatred? How can you dismiss her as the show’s weakest link? (Especially when that position so clearly belongs to poor Walt Jr.)

Here is what bothers me about the Skyler hate: it’s the same misplaced hostility faced by countless TV wives in the past. And while you certainly can dislike a female character without being a misogynist, so much of the vitriol against Skyler uses the gendered language you might expect: She’s a bitch, she’s a cunt, she’s the shrew wife.

What it comes down to is that Skyler, the ol’ ball and chain, is a thorn in Walt’s side. She’s not submissive or even faithful. She questions his behavior and she challenges his plans. And somehow, that makes her a bitch.

Here’s what all of Skyler’s critics seem to forget — Walt is a fucking terrible person. Whatever noble causes he once had are gone. He’s a power-hungry egomaniac and a danger to those around him. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Walt as a character, but I can’t fathom siding with him. Meth aside, this is a man who let his friend’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit, who poisoned a child just to spur his plan into action. Hating Skyler for the way she responds to Walt is absurd: she’s reacting out of fear and a desire to protect her loved ones.

But she’s a pain in the ass to our main character, and that makes it easy to dismiss her as a “bitch.” We see this often in sitcoms: the obnoxious manchild of a leading man gets a free pass on being an imbecile, while his wife — the one who calls him on his bad behavior — is a nag. In some ways, Malcolm in the Middle is a good example of this, and not only because of the Bryan Cranston connection. It’s not quite the same in that Lois is admittedly a nutball (this being the heightened reality of a sitcom), but I still think she is unfairly maligned. Look at her husband and her asshole kids — is it really any wonder she spent so much of the series losing her shit?

Skyler isn’t without fault: she’s been put into a situation that has forced her to do some terrible things. Which is not to say she’s justified, but rather that her mistakes are a product of her circumstance. There was a time when I would say the same about Walt, but it’s clear he’s no longer doing this for anyone but himself. Skyler’s transition from ignorant wife to scheming accomplice is about protecting her son, her baby, and herself. She’s not mad with power or rolling around in piles of meth money. She’s simply the only one holding it all together.

I’ve posed this question on Twitter and on Facebook, and now I ask it here: Why do you hate Skyler? Of all the characters, she really does strike me as the most blameless. Whether or not she’s a saint, she’s about the furthest thing from a villain. And it’s silly for me to get so worked up, but so much of the response I’ve seen does tend to stem from this anti-feminist conception of a “good wife,” which Skyler isn’t. She’s a bitch because she’s difficult. I can’t accept that.

There’s no denying that, at her most confrontational, Skyler makes things harder for Walt — but can you really argue that he doesn’t deserve it?

Assorted pop culture bitching (5/15/12)

15 May

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mix of pop culture musings and the occasional serious business post about feelings. Somehow it became much more of the latter, which is likely because I do enough pop culture writing for actual publications, and because I no longer have a LiveJournal and this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In the spirit of the former, though, I’m going to try to make “assorted pop culture bitching” a semi-regular feature here. Keep in mind I sometimes go a month or two without blogging. If I manage to churn out one of these posts a year, that probably qualifies as semi-regular.

This particular set of complaints is horror-themed. Boo, etc.

The Paranormal Activity series
I just finished watching Paranormal Activity 3, which was — like the previous installments — annoyingly frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on tonight (I always fall asleep to The Golden Girls, anyway), but frightening in that I jumped several times.

“Annoyingly” because these are cheap scares, and they are the same in every Paranormal Activity movie. These films are not without merit: the first was the closest we’ve come to Blair Witch Project since, uh, Blair Witch Project. And there’s something particularly effective about scenes of mundanity (people sleeping, chattering on about bullshit) punctuated with loud bangs and creepy shit happening.

But “effective” doesn’t mean “good.” Once the novelty wears off, we’re left with reiterations of the same concept, and that pisses me off. There was more creativity in the Saw series, which — while often uniquely terrible — at least gave us different deaths each go-around. I keep watching Paranormal Activity movies because I half-expect them to try something new. Will I ever learn?

Probably not. Look, I don’t mind sitting through 90 minutes of people sleeping and occasionally being thrown into walls once a year, but if you want to actually impress me, find something new to do with the found-footage horror genre. At this point, we’re basically over it, because we get how it works. We’ll jump, and then we’ll shrug it off. There is unique work to be done with first-person perspective. It’s just not happening in this series.

Zombie apocalypse guides
Today I got a press release about a new zombie apocalypse guide. I’m not going to link to it, because I refuse to encourage this behavior. This was (or should have been) a single-use idea. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide is brilliant, because it follows the form of actual survival guides and gives it a fun, supernatural twist.

Treating the horror world with sincerity was a somewhat novel concept at the time, and Brooks’ execution is perfect. It’s hilarious, because you’re reading a how-to guide on an impossible situation, but it’s also a little bit scary — some tiny part of you can’t help thinking, “Wait, but what if…?” Brooks’ novel World War Z works in a similar fashion. I highly recommend both.

But seriously, fuck the knock-offs. We can stop talking about how to survive the zombie apocalypse now. There will never be a zombie apocalypse. I am not sure of most things, but I’m willing to bet on that. If I’m wrong — well, if I’m wrong I’ll be torn apart by the undead, which is at least as bad as hearing you say, “I told you so.” It’s just such an absurd concept to keep milking, and nothing anyone does will stop feeling derivative.

I guess part of me is also annoyed by the way these persistent guides remove the mystery from the supernatural. It’s fun to do every once in a while: tell me how to stop a werewolf, or the best way to ward off vampires. But when you treat this as an actual genre with new, increasingly mechanical installments, you dilute supernatural fiction as a whole. Find a way to make zombies scary again, or move on to mummies.

Horror on television
I would love to see a good horror TV series, but I recognize that’s probably impossible. There are a lot of limitations to the form — on a practical level, a smaller screen size makes it tougher to scare your audience. Also, most shows won’t kill off major characters, so there’s not the same sense of foreboding. And violence, while not essential to all horror, is restricted on non-cable networks.

Still, TV horror could be better. I loved the sequence in the season finale of The Vampire Diaries in which Alaric stalked Rebekah (just smile and nod, non-fans), because it felt like I was watching a slasher movie. On a smaller scale, sure, but the set-up, cinematography, and direction all worked together to give the scene a horror movie feel. More of that, please.

The X-Files used to do it pretty well. But Supernatural is the closest thing we have to The X-Files now, and aside from the fact the current season is awful, it’s just not scary. The pilot was to some extent, so why doesn’t the show try for that anymore? American Horror Story attempted it, but mostly ended up being really gross. I will give the show props for (SPOILER ALERT) killing off essentially every character in the first season. The stakes were high, at least.

One of my silly dreams that I don’t often admit is the creation of a horror anthology series, like Tales From the Crypt. (I’ve seen some episodes of Masters of Horror. Meh.) Perhaps horror doesn’t work episodically: colossal disappointment The River was largely done in by unfortunate pacing and commercial breaks. Anyway, if someone wants to finance Peitzman Presents or whatever, I promise I’ll at least try to creep you out.

Dissecting a bad review of Girls

1 May

Apparently I’m not done talking about Girls. Or rather, I’m not done talking about people talking about Girls. And here’s why: way too much of the criticism surrounding Girls has been overwhelmingly shitty. This is not a flawless series—there’s no such thing as a flawless series. I don’t care if people love Girls as much as I do, but I’d like to read some complex, nuanced reviews of the show. You hate it? Fine. Tell me why.

I’m not going to agree with an evisceration of a series I’m already quite fond of, but a well written negative review will at least give me something to think about. Eileen Jones’ “The Horror of HBO’s Girls for The Exiled is not a well written negative review. It’s actually kind of terrible. And while I usually don’t relish criticizing other writers, I’ve decided Jones’ review merits dissection.

So let’s go through this sucker, paragraph by paragraph!

The tidal wave of reviewer praise for the foul new HBO show Girls has washed up against a wall of resistance recently. But as far as I can tell, nobody, whether praising or blaming, has actually conveyed what this miserable crap-colored show is like to watch.

My first issue with this review? The use of the phrase “crap-colored” as a pejorative. It may seem like a minor point, but Jones later criticizes Girls for not being “real.” Depressing as it may be, the real world is more “crap-colored” than much of what we see on TV. The color scheme Jones objects to is, in my mind, far more grounded than the bubble-gum colors of Glee or anything on ABC Family.

First scene: our homely heroine Hannah, played by writer-director-producer-monster Lena Dunham, is trying to persuade her parents to continue supporting her while she lives and perpetually interns in New York City, where everything looks drably brown. These are immediate tip-offs: we’re in mumblecore territory here. Mumblecore’s an indie film genre about contemporary affluent young white people who don’t know what to do with their lives and are generally dreary and despicable. And indeed, Lena Dunham is a mumblecore film director, who did Tiny Furniture in 2010.

“Homely heroine,” Jones writes, as though Dunham’s unconventional look is a mark against her. She will repeatedly return to this point, callously suggesting that Dunham’s “TV ugly” face and curvy body should be kept off of our TV screens.

But I’m almost as annoyed by Jones’ depiction of mumblecore. Maybe that’s because I love films like Funny Ha Ha and Humpday. These movies (and Girls) capture a very particular life experience, one that is worthy of representation. Our problems are relative: are Hannah’s financial woes on par with Greece’s collapsing economy? Obviously not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary as shit to be a creative person in your 20s without a clear idea of where you’re going in life.

Next we have a scene featuring Hannah passively enduring rotten sex with a vile jerk named Adam (Adam Driver). Adam insists that Hannah pretend to be an 11-year-old girl he’s raping after abducting her on her way home from school, and she goes along: fine, whatever. Critic Dave Wiegand, in his rave review of the show, describes this as one of Adam’s “hysterically inappropriate fantasy scenes when he’s having sex.” Yeah, I guess Dave laughed and laughed at those.

Yep, Adam’s a vile jerk, and Girls does nothing to suggest otherwise. He’s a reflection of Hannah’s miserable self-esteem, which—as it does in real life—sometimes manifests itself as sex with someone unworthy. If we’re laughing, it’s because we relate—perhaps we’ve slept with a guy as douchey and noncommittal as Adam. His rape fantasy is, first of all, a fantasy, and second of all, the fantasy of a twentysomething guy who lacks basic courtesy and self-awareness. That’s why it’s funny.

Lena Dunham is getting hosannas from critics for exposing her nude doughy depressing body in humiliating ways throughout the show—makes it all so “real,” somehow. They’re all calling Dunham “the voice of her generation,” and maybe she’s the body of her generation too. She must’ve known she could count on critics to dutifully take dictation when she had her character Hannah ironically describe herself as “the voice of my generation…or of a generation.” You can picture them all noting it down carefully, muttering, “‘Voice of generation’…oh, yeah, that is GOLD.”

Yes, how dare Lena Dunham expose her “doughy depressing body.” (This is Jones’ most offensive phrase, and she should apologize for it.) You know why Hannah’s awkward nakedness makes the show real? Because that’s really Dunham’s naked body, and these are uncomfortable sexual situations that many young women have actually found themselves in. Moreover, what if Dunham’s is “the body of her generation”? Better that than an unhealthy focus on skinniness and “perfection.”

The “voice of my generation” bit is something that many Girls haters have latched on to, apparently unable to identify the irony of the statement. When Hannah says that to her parents, she’s supposed to sound ridiculous—in the same way she sounds ridiculous when she explains that she can’t finish her book of personal essays until she’s lived more of her life. Hannah is both naïve and entitled: these are not qualities Girls is asking us to praise. And if denser critics have chosen to take “the voice of a generation” at face value—well, that’s on them, isn’t it?

There’s been no irony in the way show-creator Dunham augments her generational-voice status by making the PR rounds, talking about how she was inspired to create Girls because she never saw herself or her friends represented on TV shows. So she set out to remedy this by showcasing her particular demographic, the creepy white female.

OK, you can’t have it both ways, Jones. Is Dunham writing for her entire generation, or for the particular demographic you have dubbed “the creepy white female”? It seems to me that she is writing about herself and her friends, which is exactly what she said. She’s writing what she knows, not pretending to speak for all young women. And if you’d object to her assertion that Dunham did not see her friends represented on TV shows, find me another show with characters like those on Girls.

The half-hour show drags on as you meet Hannah’s horrible friends, all of whom hold forth with bizarre self-importance on the topics of sex and abortion and AIDS and media and female identity, even the one who’s a cruel caricature of a provincial inexperienced girl (Zosia Mamet). There’s also the mean, square-jawed, gimlet-eyed “best friend” (Allison Williams), and the nasty Brit bitch (Jemima Kirke). All have hard poker faces and flat affectless voices. It’s impossible to imagine them laughing out loud, or relaxing, or having a nice meal or non-grim sex. Maybe they do those things in later episodes, but like I said, it’s tough to imagine.

Wait, twentysomethings discuss issues with “bizarre self-importance”? Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with people in my age group knows how accurately Girls depicts them. I disagree that Hannah’s friends are “horrible”: I’d categorize them as “flawed.” Some are more likable than others, but that’s the way groups of friends are.

And if they seem too serious for “laughing out loud” or having “non-grim sex,” perhaps that speaks to the same self-importance Jones misidentifies as unintentional. There is no question that the characters on Girls alternately take themselves too seriously and not seriously enough. This is a reflection of real-life, not bad writing.

The backlash against the show has been mainly about the all-whiteness of the cast, the way there are no people in color in Lena Dunham’s NYC except bit-part, background workers here and there. Personally I think people of color have dodged a bullet, and should celebrate their own non-representation in this TV-mumblecore hellscape. While this show slimes along, I like to imagine the whole rest of mixed-race NYC having a terrific time everywhere that Lena Dunham and her friends are not, letting Dunhamites move around in a permanent bubble of privileged-white-girl malevolence, shunned by all decent people.

How interesting that Jones complains about “privileged-white-girl malevolence” when her review itself is so needlessly malevolent. The characters Dunham writes about may not be aware of the bubble in which they live, but that doesn’t mean Dunham isn’t. How else would she capture her peers so accurately? And while they may be a very particular group of people in New York, they do exist. Some of them are even “decent people.”

I’ll skip over the next bit, in which Jones remarks on a controversial tweet by Girls writer Lesley Arfin, and a Gawker post by Max Read. Lesley is a Twitter friend of mine, and Max is a colleague: I think that’s a pretty clear conflict of interest. And there’s so much else wrong in Jones’ review, I think we can overlook this section.

Let’s skip ahead to what Jones incorrectly identifies as the final scene of the first episode—it’s actually the final scene of the second. Incidentally, nothing undermines your credibility as a critic more than making such a glaring factual error. But enough about that.

The final scene features Hannah at a clinic where she’s getting tested for AIDS, a personal obsession of hers. There’s a woman of color as the gynecologist who’s forced to play the role as the wise-subaltern, feeding straight lines to Lena Dunham while squatting between her legs, so Dunham can toss off more of her dubious wit and wisdom about the harsh realities faced by snotty white mumblecore females today.

I loved this scene, and Jones willfully misreads it. In many ways, this is the most annoying part of her review—she refuses to look at what the scene is actually saying, because the words coming out of Hannah’s mouth are, on the surface, so offensive.

Hannah tells the gynecologist that she wishes she had AIDS. She actually says that! And yes, what an ignorant, awful thing to say—but indeed, something that a young woman like Hannah might jokingly assert without thinking about the implications. That same self-obsession, coupled with the desire to be funny before being sincere, is why she fumbles her job interview earlier in the episode. Hannah’s date rape joke isn’t funny: what’s funny is how little she understands about what date rape really means, and why it’s not something to be glib about to a potential employer.

There’s a bit more to Jones’ review, but you get the idea: she’s wrong. She’s wrong on every level, and reviews like hers take away from any legitimate criticism that might be leveled against Girls. It’s backlash for the sake of backlash, without any substance to it.

And maybe that’s how Jones would feel about my blog post. In fact, I welcome her response.

The age of entitlement

23 Apr

Gawker turned off comments recently. I miss them. I mean, on the one hand, it’s nice to be able to write a blog post without being subjected to countless iterations of how awful I am. On the other hand, sometimes people say nice things, too. And I enjoy a spirited debate for the five seconds before it turns nasty and name-calling.

That’s not the point. What’s astounded me about Gawker’s brief foray into commentlessness (it’s a word — look it up) and the announcement of a new commenting system is the outrage. I suppose “astounded” isn’t the right word: every development on the internet is greeted with some level of horror, vitriol, and disgust. Certainly I understand that change is scary — I am 25, and I live with my parents (temporarily). But there’s something so gross to me about the way it’s articulated. It’s not, “I’m upset because a website I like is making a change I don’t agree with.” It’s, “How dare you” or “You had no right” or “Do you not care about my needs at all?”

I can’t speak for Gawker, but I can speak for myself. I feel the same way about these comments as I do when people proudly announce that I’m no longer funny on Twitter and they have to unfollow — what makes you think I give a shit?

You know how I respond to your indignation? With indignation of my own. We are absurdly privileged to have access to an infinite amount of free content on the internet, much of which is actually quite good. We don’t pay (or we pay minimally) for movies, music, news, criticism, original fiction, porn — and then we complain about it. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s our right to do so. If I’m following a person on Twitter and he makes a joke I don’t like, surely I should let him know. Even though I’m just one of the people who follows him, and he didn’t write the joke for me, and I’m making the choice to include him in my feed.

Before you start prattling on about censorship, believe me that I’m all for everyone speaking their mind. Of course you have a right to complain about a free service. I’m just saying, I have the right to think that makes you an ungrateful tool. But that’s beside the point. What I’m annoyed by is the entitlement, the sense that you think you’ve earned a say, that you deserve one just by virtue of having internet access and a keyboard. Everyone has the right to speak, but your words may not have any effect. And that’s fine — that’s the way it always has been. Not all comments are created equal. Not all criticism is valid.

I’m not saying shut up. (Or I am, but if that’s the case, I’m telling myself to shut up, too. Not uncommon.) I’m saying take a step back and look at what you’re saying. Are you making a valid point, or are you just whining because a website isn’t catering to your specific demands? Again, I do it, too. I probably won’t stop doing it. It’s just something to be aware of, the next time you or I bitch about a Facebook redesign or a new login system on OKCupid or, yes, Gawker temporarily disabling comments. Complaining is fine, but acting like you are owed more than what you’re getting is obnoxious.

I’m going to take this in a different direction, and I hope you’ll pardon the shift. Just go with me on it, and if you think I’m an idiot, feel free to let me know! (You will.)

It’s the same sense of entitlement that has inspired much of the criticism behind HBO’s Girls, a sharp and hilarious new series that drives most creative twentysomethings a little crazy because, yes, this is what our lives are like, and damn it, Lena Dunham beat us to it. That’s not a criticism of the show: that’s a credit to the voice it has captured. Of course I relate to the English major writing a book of personal essays while trying to find a “real job” and navigate the sexual politics of 21st century dating. To quote the last generation: “duh.”

And while I’m reluctant to dismiss all criticism as jealousy — “You’re just jealous” is a useless response in most every scenario in which it’s used — I do think that many of the anti-Girls voices on the internet are simply people who wish they had written Girls. It doesn’t manifest in simple admissions of that, because this is the age of entitlement. Instead, it goes back to that same indignant question that’s asked when a website opts for a new design: “What gives you the right?”

It is fine to not like Girls. You probably like a lot of shows that I think are terrible. (Smash? Reallly?) But what bothers me is how much of that hatred seems derived from a sense of “unfairness.” The charges of nepotism are ludicrous: everyone in Hollywood has some sort of advantage. You know someone or you’re related to someone or you fucked someone or you’re just naturally more good looking than anyone else. There is no clear path, and more often than not, you don’t end up on TV just because you’re someone’s kid. If Girls were a bad show, then perhaps you could complain about nepotism. But it’s a good show that should be on the air, regardless of anyone’s parents.

Ask yourself this: are you mad at Lena Dunham’s success because you don’t think she deserves it? Or perhaps more to the point, do you think that you deserve it more than she does?

If I can tie this all together — and yes, that’s going to be a challenge — I’d say that the internet has placed all of us on what appears to be an even playing field. We all have a voice and a say and a direct line of communication to “the right people.” It looks that way, but that’s a false perception. Some of us are smarter and funnier and better than others — and I say that as a person who acknowledges that there are plenty of people smarter and funnier and better than I am. We succeed on the basis of our own merits, but also on luck and timing and, yes, who we know.

Regardless, we feel as though we deserve success. That same narcissism and privilege we see reflected in some of the characters on Girls is what drives rejection of the show. Read my blog. Watch my show. Let me be more famous than you.

And none of this is really a comment on Gawker (or its commenters) or Girls or even Gawker’s opinion on Girls. I’m just reflecting on the fact that now more than ever, everyone on the internet feels equally as important as everyone else, and that has caused a tremendous level of perpetual dissatisfaction. The world can’t revolve around all of us at once. And the ultimate irony, before someone else points it out, is that I’ve written a rambling, self-indulgent, 1,200-word post on this that I expect people to read.

Seriously, though, why should you care what I have to say? I’m just another blogger trying to shout above the crowd.