One Woman’s Trash, Or: More Thoughts About Girls And Lena Dunham

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this week’s episode of Girls.  The episode itself was very good; Hannah being out of her element in the “dream home” of a(n initially) kind and adoring stranger allowed for a great contained character arc as she started out unsure of herself, gained confidence in who she was and what she was doing there, then finally dropped her armor.  But, as seems to be required for any episode of Girls, the reaction to “One Man’s Trash” has been just as intriguing.

Yesterday, I posted a Jezebel article examining how numerous online articles reviewing the episode got hung up on the idea that Lena Dunham, a woman who is not “conventionally attractive,” could hook up with the conventionally attractive Patrick Wilson.  I have said in the past that there are legitimate criticisms that one could make toward Girls, but I really don’t see how this is one of them.  Tracie Egan Morrissey, writer of the Jezebel article, did a great job of calling out the other writers’ sexism and objectification.  In particular, she pointed out that many of the same people who complained that the first season of the show lacked people of color are assigning value to women based on how they look.

After posting the article, I felt that I had said my piece on the subject by bringing attention to someone else’s well-written thoughts.  And then I realized I had to say more.  A friend of mine, currently my best and closest friend, replied to my Facebook post of the article.  She had this to say:

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I started thinking about all the media in which we are just supposed to accept that overweight, slobby man children can not only get attractive women to have sex with them, they get them to marry them and raise kids with them.  And it’s not like this is an uncommented upon cliche.  There is a TV Tropes page dedicated to it, labeled “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.”  The one-sheet poster for the film Knocked Up (which was directed by Girls executive producer Judd Apatow) directly addressed this idea, asking women how they would feel if the not-conventionally-attractive Seth Rogen became the father of their child:

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Hell, even the Slate article (written in a conversation format by two guys) mentioned in the Jezebel piece addresses this.  After the first author states that he could not buy the Hannah/Joshua pairing because they were so “clearly mismatched - in style, in looks, in manners, in age, in everything,” the other author claimed that he “wanted to suspend [his] disbelief,” the way he has done for multiple unlikely pairings in the past.  (Emphasis in original.)  He gave the following examples of mismatched couples: Al and Peggy Bundy; Homer and Marge Simpson; Jim Belushi and the actress who played his wife on According to Jim.  Notice how all these pairings are of the ugly guy, hot wife variety?  What allows him to suspend his disbelief for them, but not attractive Joshua and not-conventionally-beautiful Hannah?  (By the way, as I wrote yesterday, I still don’t understand all the attacks on Dunham’s looks; she is by no means a model, but I personally find her very easy on the eyes.)

The Slate authors try to answer that question, but the answer falls flat.  One author states that the reason he can’t buy Hannah and Joshua together is because Hannah was “especially and assertively ugly” in the episode, and lists examples of her being ungraceful (playing naked ping pong), rude (asking about why Joshua’s wife left him), and selfish (asking Joshua to make her orgasm first).  Leaving aside the excellent points made by Morrissey in the Jezebel piece, they make these complaints the very sentence after conceding that “[n]arcissistic, childish men sleep with beautiful women all the time in movies and on TV.”  How are narcissism and childishness any less “especially and aggressively ugly” than the qualities they mentioned in Hannah?

Even beyond the realm of film and television, how often do we accept pairs that are “clearly mismatched - in style, in looks, in manners, in age, in everything”?  We have a term called “trophy wife” to refer to young, attractive women who marry older men.  Just look at pictures of a certain real estate tycoon/reality show host/clown who shall remain nameless and the women he marries.  Could there be a greater divide between style, looks, manners, and age than between him, who John Mulaney once described as a hobo’s vision of what a billionaire should look like, and the models he marries?

The other two articles each posited that the majority of the episode was just a dream.  This brings me back to something I said near the beginning; in the traditional ugly guy, hot wife examples, not only have the unattractive men convinced the beautiful women to sleep with them, they also convinced the women to marry them.  Let’s think about the Girls episode for a second.  Were we ever supposed to believe that Joshua saw Hannah as a long-term love interest?  He was kind and welcoming to Hannah, but did he really go above and beyond what basic respect dictates?  He thought Hannah was cute enough and interesting enough to have a fling with, and once she dropped her armor and let some of her raw self show, he lost all interest.  At that point, he even did act below the standard level of respect by leaving her behind without a word and acting put off and afraid of her complete self.  Is that really what Hannah would fantasize?  Meanwhile, we unquestioningly accept that Cheryl David remains committed to Larry David through much of Curb Your Enthusiasm, despite him looking kind of like a frog and being among the most socially maladjusted man ever.  Or what about Al and Peggy Bundy?  Peggy stays with Al even though he can barely provide for her and chairs a group committed to misogyny.  And then there are Homer and Marge Simpson.  Homer treats Marge as both wife and mother.  When pressed to come up with what he can offer her that no one else can, he proudly responds “complete and utter dependence.”

Looking back now at all these works, I must say that the Hannah/Joshua pairing is much more realistic than anything mentioned above.

spokeart:

Last year, artist Tim Doyle changed the pop-culture landscape, literally. His hand srcreen printed posters of iconic TV locations are amazing, here’s a look at a Simpsons-inspired one, “Amanda Hugginkiss”
Check out all of Tim’s re-imagined TV locations here - http://store.spoke-art.com/collections/tim-doyles-unreal-estate

spokeart:

Last year, artist Tim Doyle changed the pop-culture landscape, literally. His hand srcreen printed posters of iconic TV locations are amazing, here’s a look at a Simpsons-inspired one, “Amanda Hugginkiss”

Check out all of Tim’s re-imagined TV locations here - http://store.spoke-art.com/collections/tim-doyles-unreal-estate

entertainmentweekly:

This Sunday on The Simpsons, Benedict Cumberbatch plays both a Hugh Grant-ian Prime Minister and Severus Snape. And we’ve got exclusive video of his appearance right over here.

The video is funny, and Cumberbatch does a great job as both Grant and Rickman.  But I’m pretty sure The Simpsons ripped off an Arrested Development joke.

entertainmentweekly:

This Sunday on The Simpsons, Benedict Cumberbatch plays both a Hugh Grant-ian Prime Minister and Severus Snape. And we’ve got exclusive video of his appearance right over here.

The video is funny, and Cumberbatch does a great job as both Grant and Rickman.  But I’m pretty sure The Simpsons ripped off an Arrested Development joke.

theavc:

And now The A.V. Club has no reason to exist anymore. We have accomplished everything we set out to do.

theavc:

And now The A.V. Club has no reason to exist anymore. We have accomplished everything we set out to do.

Let me point you to this:

Let me point you to this:

Basic Introduction To Common Popular Culture

I saw this post by Samaralex in my dashboard today:

To me, there is no other answer to the question “what are you doing today/tonight” than what she said.  Obviously, her coworkers need some sort of collection of works to introduce them to commonly used pop culture references.  What would be included, though?  I love Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars, but are they widespread enough to merit inclusion in a primer?  Select episodes of The Simpsons would definitely be included (especially “Marge vs. the Monorail”), some Animaniacs episodes, especially ones with Pinky and the Brain shorts.  I don’t know if an entire episode of Firefly would get in, but maybe a highlights reel with quotes like “Big Damn Heroes,” “I call her Vera,” “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” and of course Mal’s pledge to Simon about when and how he’ll kill him.  Probably a little bit of South Park.  Doctor Who would probably merit a Fourth Doctor story and a Tenth Doctor story (“Blink”).  And finally, some Dr. Horrible for good measure.  Keeping in mind this isn’t about talking about your favorite pop culture, what works of pop culture do you think are absolutely necessary to view in order to participate in a society that is beginning to center around it?

Cowboy Bebop Session 6: Sympathy for the Devil

“The blues isn’t about feeling better. It’s about making other people feel worse, and making a few bucks while you’re at it.”  So says Bleeding Gums Murphy, Lisa Simpson’s saxophone mentor, and the first part of the quote certainly applies to “Sympathy for the Devil.”  The episode revolves around a blues prodigy, who appears to be no older than 10 years old, and who certainly spends most of his time making other people feel worse.  But Wen, the blues player, doesn’t solely rely on his music to do this.

After a creepy opening sequence taking place in a laboratory where Spike is being operated on (with lots of focus on his eye), Spike wakes up startled in a blues club where Wen is playing his harmonica for a captivated crowd.  He and Jet are there to collect a 3 million wulong bounty on a man known only as “Giraffe.”  Jet tells Spike about his love for the blues, but gets sidelined when he has to stall another bounty hunter, who is an old acquaintance.  Giraffe leaves the club to pursue Wen when he leaves with a man in a wheelchair, and Spike pursues Giraffe.  He tracks the three of them to a high rise, but before he can capture his prey, Giraffe is thrown through the window, and falls onto the nose of the Swordfish.  Spike lands the ship and tries to keep Giraffe alive – he can’t collect the bounty if Giraffe is dead.  More annoyed than anything, Spike yells at Giraffe to keep quiet so that he doesn’t waste what little strength he has left, but Giraffe insists on telling Spike to “help him” and warns him not to be “fooled by how he looks.”  With his dying breath, he gives Spike a ring with a large pink stone.

Back on the Bebop, Faye opens the fridge to get some food, but is dismayed when she finds that it only contains a single can of dog food.  Ein begs for it, but she eats it herself.  She monologues to Ein, explaining more of her philosophy about how life is a game.  To her, life is not just a game, but a rigged game in which the rules apply selectively and may be manipulated by those with power over others.  She mocks Ein, telling him that he doesn’t eat if he doesn’t work, but this rule doesn’t apply to women, due to their nature as “delicate and refined.”  (She then proceeds to shovel the dog food into her mouth.)  When she sees the notice about the bounty on Giraffe, she smirks that she’ll have Spike and Jet capture him for her.

Based on that comment, it’s no surprise that her relationship with Spike and Jet has not improved.  She tries to take the ring from Spike, but he angrily tells her that it will pay for food for him and Jet (and maybe Ein), but specifically not her, as she hasn’t been pulling her weight.  Here, she passes on explaining the rules of the game to Spike, for he has the bargaining chip and more agency than a small dog.  Jet also hands her a bill for all the expenses she has racked up since coming to the Bebop.  Why Spike and Jet haven’t kicked her out yet is a bit of a mystery.  It isn’t too hard to see a situation in which Faye could be a valuable asset to Spike and Jet; she clearly has skills as a pilot, card player, and gun fighter, and she could act as a distraction or bait for bounty heads.  However, why she hasn’t left of her own accord is hinted at when Spike is about to leave for the episode’s climax.

The trio begins looking into Wen and the man in the wheelchair, who turns out to be an old friend of Giraffe’s, and goes by the name “Zebra.”  Stories suggest the pair had a falling out when Zebra turned on Giraffe for money.  While investigating Zebra and Wen from the Bebop, Faye accepts this story as likely being true, but Jet scoffs that betrayal comes easy only to women, while men live according to “iron codes of honor.”  This is a bit strange coming from a man who uses a dirty ex-colleague as a source within the police station.  We have seen Jet act pretty honorably throughout the series to date, but he and Spike are pretty much the only honorable men who have received extensive screen time… and Spike used to be a ruthless gangster.  Even Jet admits as much when Faye asks him if he truly believes in his statement, and he replies that he is trying to.  The comment is probably more of a statement about how Jet feels about women than he does about men; he would rather tell himself a lie about the goodness of men than let himself believe that women are humans capable of mistakes.

Spike meanwhile tracks down Wen and Zebra, and Wen reveals himself to be a creepy little sadist.  He speaks very articulately, enunciating every syllable and using no slang words, and uses a cold monotone.  He casually shoots at Spike, grazing his arm, and when he talks about the world around him, his voice drips with contempt.  When he needs to escape, he pushes Zebra’s wheelchair, with Zebra still in it, down the flight of stairs separating him from Spike.

A flashback reveals that he used to be a happy child who lived on the terraformed Moon of Earth before a hyperspace gate explosion blew apart half of it.  Nearly everyone living there died except for Wen, who awoke with a look of pure anger on his face.  He has lived for decades in the body of a child, “recruiting” people to serve the role of his parent.  If his behavior towards Spike and a cab driver, whom he shoots in cold blood immediately upon entering the taxi, are any indication, he has no qualms about killing people who get in his way.  And his definition of “in his way” is disturbingly broad.

Spike brings Zebra’s barely living body back to the Bebop, and through a machine that translates memories into screen images, the Bebop crew learn that the stone will render Wen mortal again.  The stone was created by the same gate explosion that made Wen immortal, but the contact between the two anomalies may release enough energy to cause a massive explosion.  As Spike leaves to confront Wen, having carved the stone into the point of a rifle round, Faye is clearly upset as she says goodbye to him for what could be the last time.  Spike, as usual, is very blasé about the prospect of dying, which only upsets Faye more.  Is it possible that the overly cynical Faye, who doesn’t need anyone’s help with anything, has found a reason to stay in the form of another human?

As Spike and Wen meet for their showdown, Spike forces Wen’s cab off the road, and it crashes into a gas station.  The resulting explosion creates a beautiful but haunting image of Wen in front of a wall of flames, with his green eyes shining against the red, yellow, and orange behind him.  When they fight this time, Wen can’t seem to land a bullet on Spike, but he gets the stone right between Wen’s eyes, causing a transformation similar to the corrupt American at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: his body immediately ages decades before our eyes, going from a child to a shrunken, gray, skeletal dwarf.  As his harmonica falls out of his pocket, Wen is finally put at peace, and changes from a rage-filled immortal to an old man at the end of his life, claiming to understand everything now.  With his mortality has come his humanity and appreciation for life.  For without death, why would we appreciate life?

Up next: Very loud heavy metal music plays while Spike tries to yell to Jet and Faye.  Faye can’t hear anything, and continually asks Spike to repeat himself, while Jet begs Spike to turn the music down, before grudgingly deciding that he’ll try to sit out next episode…