After last year’s Tony controversy involving an even greater lack of representation of women in theatre than usual, New York City has really stepped up this season with plays written by, directed by, or starring women in major roles. Both The Heidi Chronicles, playing on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, and Iowa, a new work that premiered this week at Playwrights Horizons, follow women’s narratives and their personal and societal connections.
The Heidi Chronicles, written by the late and great Wendy Wasserstein, follows Heidi (a stunning Elisabeth Moss) from her adolescence through adulthood as she grapples with her feminist ideals, pursues a career in studying women artists, and maintains relationships with her friends Susan (Ali Ahn) and Peter (Bryce Pinkham), and her ex-boyfriend Scoop (Jason Biggs). Filled with pop culture references, from Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” to John Lennon’s death, The Heidi Chronicles does not shy away from the cultural milestones experienced by the boomer generation–nor does it demure from honest discussions about feminism (which is now often thought of as a dirtyword), an how it has affected Heidi’s life. Still, the play’s content remains as poignant and fresh as it was when it premiered twenty-six years ago. I credit that to Wasserstein’s emotionally rich characters, which have been brilliantly brought to life by the cast and Pam MacKinnon’s direction. Elisabeth Moss brings a constant inner life with Heidi, while Bryce Pinkham wins over the audience with his disarming charm (begin the Tony watch now). And though Heidi’s conflicts still resonate today, I almost wishtheydidn’t.
The Heidi Chronicles originally had its off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons, which is now presenting Iowa, a new musical play written by Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond. Iowa follows Becca (Jill Shackner), a teenage girl who’s dealing with her crush on her math teacher (Lee Sellars), her not-so-great poetry, and the fact that her mother Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) is marrying her online boyfriend and moving the two of them to Iowa. That’s about as much plot as I can give you, as Iowa is an absurdist romp that includes Becca’s best friend Amanda’s (Carolina Sanchez) issues with body images and popularity, Sandy’s fixation with the internet and ponies, and a pony actually coming on stage with a musical number of his own.
Iowa was disappointing for a number of reasons. The first was its billing as a “musical play.” While that was an accurate description of the show’s format, it allows for a confusing mishmash of songs. In some ways it’s a proper musical, primarily with, “I Don’t Know,” song by Becca and her mother. Their duet clearly delineated the characters’ conflicts and provided insight into their thoughts and dysfunctionally functional relationship. Sandy’s solo “Fun!” especially delved deep into her neuroses, which was both a terror and a delight. Meanwhile, other numbers, like the Amanda’s observations about cheerleaders and the pony’s thoughts about women (simply titled “Cheerleaders” and “Ponies,” respectively), were entertaining, but seemed to exist more in the realm of surreal sketch comedy. (The surreal nature of the show definitely disconnected with some theatergoers, as a few audience members walked out during the performance I attended.) The final blow for me was the show’s closing number, a song so earnest and hopeful that it completely underwrote everything that had preceded it. While I could see how Iowa actually wanted to disconnect from its audience through its subversive content, the results still left me a little too cold. Tickets and more information for The Heidi Chronicles and Iowa can be found here and here.
Norma and Sara celebrated the holiday weekend by recording our first ever podcast for Letters from the Mezzanine! It’s live. It’s crazy. And it’s our voices! So check it out!
The format we’ve decided to go with is a post-show discussion between friends, mucking around in the themes and excitement of the productions we’ve seen that week and making connections between the show and our lives, pop culture, other productions, and other media (tv, books, film, etc.)
In this episode, we talk about Brooklynite the Musical and The Heidi Chronicles, with an emphasis on feminism (hell, yeah):
Part of Into The Wood‘s enduring influence is its deconstruction of popular fairytales. Audiences are afforded an easy entrance into the world of the play through these timeless, universal stories. We can all identify the sly twists that Sondheim and Lapine impose on the tales, and we can appreciate the complexity they add to these classic characters. We can acknowledge that the purpose of the musical is to turn the fairytales on their heads, to subject them to the realities of love, loss, and strife. Cinderella and Prince Charming don’t live happily ever after, Little Red’s maturity comes at a cost, giants can kill innocent people, wishes have repercussions, and morals never come in neat, simple packages.
However, Into the Woods doesn’t free itself completely of the fairytale mythos: in a way, all stories engage with a discourse whether they realize it or not. The predominant discourse of Into the Woods surrounds the family. Nearly all of the characters are trying to redeem themselves of the judgments and weaknesses of their parents. Most central to the plot is the Witch’s curse on the Baker, making him impotent after his father steals beans from the Witch’s garden. Similarly, Cinderella must escape her stepmother’s tyranny, Rapunzel and Jack free themselves of equally domineering mothers, even the Witch herself is cursed by her mother.
Family is the driving force of conflict. Wait. More accurately, controlling women are the driving force of conflict, for even the Baker’s father was urged on to steal by his pregnant wife’s “unusual appetite.” And family is also the driving force of the musical’s resolution. Wait. Actually, it’s a family without any controlling or desirous women, since they’re all dead. The ending restores the strong nuclear family structure that controlling women threatened with their desires: there’s the new father who has evolved into a masculine leader and head of household (Baker), the subservient housewife whose proclivity towards wishing has been quelled thanks to a wish gone wrong (Cinderella), and two orphaned children seeking a home (Little Red and Jack). By the end of the film, we’re still in a patriarchal fairytale. The Rob Marshall film underscores this with its closing image of the new nuclear family sitting down together in the woods, listening to the Baker narrate what we’ve just finished watching.
And clearly, it should be the Baker telling the story. Because it’s been his story all along– a story of a kind but emasculated man earning his manhood, first characterized by his ability to have children, then by his heroism and courage. He succeeds at overcoming the generational curse where the female characters don’t, because female desire leads them astray.
Look at the Baker’s wife. Even though she is not the barren one (the Witch makes it clear that the Baker is the one cursed with impotence), she leads the effort to battle the Witch’s curse. Her desire for a child trumps that of the Baker, and his timidity puts her in control of of the plan, which she repeatedly must defend to other characters (Baker, Prince, Cinderella) who ask her why she is alone in the woods. The men of the play hardly ever have to defend their actions to other characters, even when their actions are clearly wrong (like the Princes’ adultery or Jack’s stealing from the Giant). The men’s actions are never put on trial the same way the Witch’s or the Baker’s Wife’s actions are subject to judgment (“Maybe They’re Magic” and “Last Midnight”). The Baker’s Wife is the character who most often blurs the lines of morality, offering beans for Milky White, or pulling Rapunzel’s with the knowledge it might tumble her from out of the tower. Yet, it is her sense of action that furthers the story and the couple’s mission to have a child. Compare her persistence and action-driven habits with Cinderella’s passivity and indecisiveness. One of these women takes on the role of wife and mother in the ending’s reformed and romanticized family dynamic. The other dies.
While the Baker’s Wife’s death could be interpreted as a random killing (“Your Fault” assumes that imposing logical blame for the death is useless), her death is immediately linked to her adultery and to her new Eve-like understanding of “Moments in the Woods.” Her affair with the Prince is only the last in a series of patriarchy-threatening actions that the Baker’s Wife commits (the others are tied to her role as emasculating leader and moral boundary-breaker). Her death silences her as a threat to the family structure. Plus, it occurs only after “Moments In the Woods” reaffirms her traditional role as loyal wife and mother. The song, meant to exhibit the purpose of and lessons learned in the woods, solidifies the traditional family structure by preaching that those “and” moments that transgress social and moral boundaries reinforce the “or” moments that force women into a dichotomy of good vs. bad, pure vs. slut, seeking to please vs. seeking to be pleased. The Baker’s Wife’s adultery only makes works to silence her desires and put her back in the home, back to lacking desire.
In other words, a woman who acts out her desires realizes that the only good to come from her desires is to passivize her into a non-desirous so as to not act on her desire any more. And then she dies for acting out her desires.
Now, before we start arguing about whether or not she actually died because of her desire, or whether gender actually has anything to do with any of this, let’s look at who else dies and who survives:
Jack, the young boy who is a thief and who inadvertently causes the death of a giant? Alive.
Rapunzel, the young woman who pursues her desire to wed a Prince and escape her mother? Dead.
The Princes, ridiculous and superficial idiots with no concern for their subjects? Alive.
The Witch, clearly the most powerful character who exacts revenge for a likely rape? Dead.
Mrs. Giant, seeking revenge for her dead husband? Dead.
Cinderella, a woman with no clear desires and who likes to clean? Alive.
Jack’s Mother, a demanding and unpleasing woman who hassles her ideal-prone son? Dead.
As much as the musical resists fairytale tropes and fairytale themes, it can’t seem to get away from the classic fairytale trope of “let’s punish a woman for acting in her own interest.”
Let’s talk a bit about the Witch. Witches are traditionally unfeminine figures, and from that they gains their power. She is historically considered to cause barrenness, and she is anti-family, unnatural, and the far opposite of maternal. The Witch in Into the Woods literally takes away the Baker’s manhood and she is the greatest threat to the nuclear family structure and the restoration of masculine leadership. Besides, she’s not the greatest mother to Rapunzel (understatement much).
What better way to neutralize a female threat (besides killing it) than to make it pretty and take away her powers! The Witch starts as a subject with power to an object of desire when she drinks Milky White’s potion, returning to her youthful beauty and losing her magic. Why her magic is lost is never really addressed in the show, but the fact that the loss is linked to her restored femininity insinuates a connection: power is unfeminine.
Now, you might say that we’re supposed to identify with the Witch. She’s actually good! She has the most emotional songs! We sympathize with her! She is the voice of truth in the play! This is only partly true. What does her truth, her experience bring to the play? She is reckless and cruel. Her emotions make her a bad mother and a threat until the very end, where she is all for giving Jack to the giantess. Her truth doesn’t actually reflect the realities of the play (her rape, for example is never explored) and she isn’t really ever right (children will listen). Her ‘truth’ doesn’t make her a heroic subject, she doesn’t lead the characters to victory*. It’s the Baker who leads the way to victory (by killing another threatening woman). It’s the Baker who restores order, order not being very high on the Witch’s list.
The moral of the story? Don’t give into the desires of troubled women. They don’t lead to much good.
*If you want to read a more thorough analysis of female desire in Into the Woods and have access to articles via some kind of academic library, look up “Back(lash) Into the Woods” by Peter C. Woods from Text and Presentation journal. It’s a wonderful, accessible read, and it adds way more context and evidence to these ideas. I used Woods’s article as a sounding board to better shape my own ideas, particularly about the Witch.
About a month ago, Showtime released a new poster for the fourth season of Homeland, which premieres in October. I didn’t see the poster until a few nights ago displayed as a subway platform advertisement. The poster displays a red-hooded, distressed Carrie (Claire Danes) looking lost in a sea of grey, burqa-clad women. I’m shocked that culture commentary websites haven’t picked up on it.
The poster is eye-catching and visually impressive. There’s a fairytale aspect to it– the dazzled, naive Little Red Riding Hood trying to find her way through murky, dangerous forests. Carrie looks like an innocent and vulnerable player in a dark and shadowy game, and she has bitten off more than she can chew. Even though anyone who watches the show, or even saw the trailer, knows that Carrie is hardly an innocent player in the game of international intelligence, the ad is a thrilling and effective visual, especially for those who care about Carrie and her disrupted future.
Showtime’s marketing has never portrayed the show’s Middle Eastern dealings. Past season posters have focused more on the turbulent relationship between Carrie and Brody, the recovered veteran with shady ties to his captors. I don’t think the posters have ever portrayed a Middle Eastern character, even though the Middle East is central to the show’s plot. With Brody out of the picture at this point in the series, the marketing has clearly chosen to put its locale front and center, both in the poster and in the plot, as the trailer shows.
Given that so much of the show’s greatness (at least in the early seasons) has been in putting a human face on the effects of war, it’s a sad failure of this poster to dehumanize the women Carrie is surrounded with. True, Middle Eastern women wearing a burqa are consequentially faceless and covered in head to toe. But, each one of them looks exactly the same. They are just landscape to Carrie’s illuminating figure. They are not portrayed as distinct human beings but rather an obscure background. This has never been the way that past posters have portrayed their white, American characters. Carrie, Saul, Brody and even minor characters like other CIA agents and family members have always been distinct parts of their respective advertisements. They stand out from their background. The burqa-wearing women in this photo could easily be replaced by something non-human like trees or bazaar stands and have the same effect of making Carrie look lost and vulnerable in her surroundings.
Now, let’s take the implications of this dehumanizing aspect. First of all, burqas are usually the first thing people mention when discussing feminism/women’s rights in the third world. It used to be a divisive issue, but most feminist scholars with an interest in the third world would now say that it is unjust and naive to decry the evils of the burqa, which for Muslim women has great religious significance. Many of them freely wear it with pride, and to attack it as a sign of oppression is to approach it from a narrow Western, privileged frame of mind with no real knowledge of Middle Eastern practices or Middle Eastern women’s cultural notions. To look at a woman wearing a burqa and see her as an oppressed woman without knowing about her background and her choices is to ignorantly judge her based on your own cultural experiences and not hers. And to look at a woman wearing a burqa and see a frightening, mysterious, or threatening individual is racism on a whole ‘nuther level.
Unfortunately, this Homeland poster does both. It places these shadowy women in Carrie’s background perhaps as a sign that Carrie has come to help them. Bright, white, and illuminating Carrie looks like the Western savior, like the young beautiful white teacher about to set all her minority students straight with her compassion and lofty ideas. It’s dangerous when a minority group is presented as a group to be pitied or saved by a more civilized, knowledgeable party (often the very same civilized party that oppressed them in the first place).
That’s one interpretation. The other is that the shadowy women are there to set up a mysterious, threatening background to Carrie’s illuminating, heroic presence. They are like the dark woods to Carrie’s Little Red Riding Hood, the towering waves to George Clooney’s steamship, the blighted Mordor landscape to a determined Frodo and Sam. Isn’t great, though, that in those examples, the threats are things and in the Homeland poster, they’re the very people Carrie is supposed to protect? Can you imagine how it would feel to be a Muslim woman, with or without burqa, passing by this advertisement on a subway platform or a street corner? Can you feel the hostility and the fear rising from the poster? The sudden pit-in-your-stomach self-awareness it induces? The ignorant attack on your culture, your beliefs, your appearance?
We first fell in love with the Royal National Theatre about five years ago, when we participated in a month-long study abroad focusing on London theater. The National is such an energetic and progressive space for theater. It present fantastic, on-point productions in a diverse, democratic space, and, since it receives public funds, tickets can be bought for half the price of a regular theater ticket, if not less.
And now, starting in 2009, the National launched NT Live, a program that films some of the National’s most in-demand stage productions and broadcasts them live to cinemas around the world. It’s an innovative program that hopefully will be adopted by other prominent theater companies, not only to further promote and spread excellent theater, but also to preserve it. Theater is a far less accessible medium than film, for reasons of cost, specific location, and specific duration, and any opportunity to enhance the theater’s audience and ensure a production’s longevity should be taken. Since it start, NT Live has increased its accessibility among international audiences, with screenings of noteworthy productions like Frankenstein (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller), Coriolanus (a Donmar production starring Tom Hiddleston), and soon-to-be Broadway productions like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Audience, and Skylight.
Helen McCrory and Danny Sapani in Medea
You’d expect no less from a forward-looking company than this powerful production of Euripedes’ Medea. Using a new translation by Ben Powers, Carrie Cracknell directs Helen McCrory in the title role. McCrory is a powerhouse actress with a knack for playing turbulent and/or conflicted women. She adds a quiet and authentic severity to Medea, and is more than capable of tacking the physical and emotional demands of the role. Unlike most tragic heroes, Medea begins already grief-stricken, with a history of conflict and violence long enough to fill its own Greek tragedy. Out of love for Jason, the Greek adventurer and leader of the Argonauts, Medea again and again saved his life using ancient magic and strategy throughout his quest for the Golden Fleece. She killed and dismembered her own brother in order to provide a distraction for Jason’s escape.
Jason (Danny Sapani) is now Medea’s husband and father to her two children. Her new grief is due to the newly announced marriage of Jason and Glauce, King Kreon’s daughter. Jason rationally argues that this new marriage is a political and economic ploy to ensure the the protection of Medea and his sons. But Medea refuses to see the marriage as anything but betrayal. Historically, rationality has been seen as a male trait and superior to female emotion. Here, Jason’s emotionally distant logic counteracts Medea’s deeply rooted, instinctual fervor. She envelopes herself in grief and plans her revenge. To make matters worse, Kreon (Martin Turner) banishes Medea, a threat to the happiness of the kingdom. What struck me about Medea’s eventual decision to murder her children is how she must adopt the same oppressive patriarchal logic in order to execute the plan, abandoning her instincts and alienating her actions from her feelings. It is her mind, not her emotions, that brings about this atrocity. This is clear in Helen McCrory’s beautifully executed soliloquies debating the act, revealing the psychological twists and turns of her motives. For me, this is the triumph of the play, this rationalization of the murders that mirrors the rationalization of the male authority figures. This adoption of male logic, as opposed to her abundance of emotion, is the perpetrator of her actions.
This production is set in a modern home, albeit a crumbling one. The dirty, peeling patterned wallpaper and 70s-style tiled floors give the house a look as if it hadn’t been cared for in years, the result of years of neglect, even though Jason’s marriage to Glauce has only been just announced. It gives one the feeling that this oppressive grief, this anger, is a deep-seated one that has always been latently present, but only recently surfaced. Knowing what we do about Medea’s history with Jason and ancient Greek patriarchy, it is clear that Medea’s betrayal is only one face of female sacrifice, of the abuse of male power, and of a (perhaps unconscious) long-lasting resentment between the sexes and neglect of feminine humanity. This latent anger is further emphasized by the way that the set gives way to a lurking forest in the background. Atop the house is a hall walled with glass, the scene of Glauce and Jason’s wedding party. Structurally, the forest may be like the lurking subconscious, the otherworldliness of Medea’s mysticism and powerful emotions (She is traditionally seen as a representative of the old mystic, uncivilized world of witchery and magic, while Jason ushers in a new structured civilized age). It is the unbridled rawness of human nature, the id, if you will. If Medea’s home is the ego, struggling to balance her emotions with her thoughts, then the glass hall above is the superego, the civilized, the home of rationalism, logic, and ideology. It is the realm of the accepted status quo, that which has been deemed correct by the patriarchal hierarchy of Greece.
The chorus of this production is comprised of the women of Corinth, the bridesmaids at Glauce’s wedding. They comment on Medea’s actions, but they too struggle with the emotional and psychological contradictions of patriarchy. Accompanied by a chilling score written by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, the chorus convulsively dances at pivotal points in Medea’s plan, their bodies becoming symbolic incarnations of Medea’s mental state and of the psychological distress that exists in the psyches of oppressed peoples. Sometimes the choreography seemed too much like break-dancing (there were a few giggles in the audience in one scene) but its purpose was clear.
To find local screenings of NT Live’s Medea, as well as upcoming NT Live productions, visit their website here.
“There’s no sex in Pakistani homes,” Nadia Manzoor’s narrator says. And it would certainly seem that way in a household where watching Dallas in something you do in a locked room and a list of rules hangs in your college dorm room, which includes staying three feet away from a member of the opposite sex.
All this would be a little easier for an adolescent Nadia to swallow if she weren’t surrounded by modern Western values in North London, where her parents’ no-touching, no-dating policy is not quite the norm among her white friends. Burq Off, Nadia Manzoor‘s one-woman show, follows Nadia’s search for a feminine identity from childhood to her early 20’s while navigating the cultural conflicts of her British-Pakistani home.
Burq Off is funny and incredibly endearing. Each one of Manzoor’s 21 characters, largely her family and friends, feel like tangible, complex individuals. From her kind and affable mother to the violent unrest of radical Muslim college boys, Manzoor captures their physicality, motivations, and history with intuitive clarity. Every inch of Burq Off‘s set, designed by Mitchell Ost, is covered in colorful pieces of Middle Eastern women’s cloth. Manzoor creatively uses these cloths and some simple furniture as her props. Burq Off can also be exhilarating. Manzoor splits intervals of her show with short dancing pieces. She re-creates one dance from a Bollywood movie her family has gone to see, but puts her own edgy spin on it so that it both honors her cultural heritage but imbues it with wit, attitude, and sexiness. It’s a pretty great micro-representation of the show’s approach to Nadia’s cultural influences.
Burq Off covers such a wide range of Ms. Manzoor’s experiences and one scene can contain just as diverse an array of emotions. But what stands out most in the show is how Nadia finds the strength time and time again (and in radically opposite ways) to feel confident as a Muslim, as a woman, and as a daughter. For example, in her early teens, it’s her modesty that makes Nadia feel empowered. Later on, it’s showing off her bare skin. And when her mother is on her death bed, it’s maternal acceptance that allows Nadia to move forward as a mature woman and love herself for who she is. Burq Off refuses to portray Nadia as a victim; instead Nadia’s journey has many layers to it– it’s sexy, it’s fun, it’s ambitious, it’s honest– and we’re all left feeling a bit more empowered ourselves through her.
Burq Off plays at Walkerspace (46 Walker St.) through March 30. Tickets here.
Native New Yorker that I am, I had never been to the Brooklyn Museum before. This was recently rectified when I attended its Target First Saturday,when the museum is open at night every first Saturday of the month and features special art and entertainment events.
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any of the special events besides a hip hop group performing in the lobby. Instead, I got to see the fantastic collection the museum has, from an extensive Egyptian collection to contemporary installations littered throughout the museum. My favorite piece is The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s feminist installation artwork that has been a part of the Brooklyn Museum since 2007. The Dinner Party showcases famous women throughout history in an elaborate dining room. Each place setting denotes a different woman, with ceramic Georgia O’Keefe-esque plates as the centerpieces. What makes the work even more significant is that each place setting represents scores of other women, as outlined in a series of displays outside the room.
The atmosphere of the museum during July’s First Saturday had a fun, youthful edge—as if it was a field trip for well-dressed twenty-somethings. And once the museum closes, there are several bars in the area to continue one’s weekend studies.
Poor Emilia Clarke. Not only does she have to do like a HUNDRED different costume changes. She also has to:
a) Deal with those weirdo Game of Thrones fans who haven’t been to Broadway play ever (CriticKate is a GoT fan, but she’s not there for that ish… or is she???)
b) Be co-stars with a fat, ginger cat who hogs (pun intended) a bit too much spotlight and doesn’t scram when told.
c) Talk with those Old Hollywood fake British accents so that EVERY other WORD is EMphasized and it just becomes DREADful DARLing, can you STAND it? It’s like IAMbic penTAmeter gone AWRY!
d) Have a nude bath scene. This, in and of itself, is not the problem. See Point A for the problem.
Why is it the the character of Holly Golightly continues to be holed up in all these restricting representations of feminity that are only good for making Holly iconic, yet distant and undiscernable?
Yes, she’s a mystery. The play opens with the image of an African statue carved in Holly’s likeness. Or is it? (Spoiler Alert: I don’t know) It feels a bit like the ancient art slideshow from Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (greatmoviegowatch) The point in that film is that love and beauty never truly rest in reality but in ideals— in their representations. Thus Catherine (in the film) and Holly transcend their earthly realities. Their beauty, their likeness stretches back to Ancient Greece and tribal Africa. Men love them, not because of who they actually are, but because they embody an ideal, a representation of beauty. And in Holly’s case, her image continues to inspire, to confound, long after the play’s main events take place.
…kinda like what Audrey Hepburn has essentially become today. Say Breakfast at Tiffany’s and without fail, the first thing that comes to mind is an image. You know the one. I don’t even need to explain it, but I will- Audrey with the pearls and the bun and the long cigarette and that little black dress. It hovers over every discussion or viewing of the film. It overshadows any actual idea of what the film is even about. I could even go as far as to say it overshadows even any idea of Audrey Hepburn’s actual life.
And the Broadway producers evoke this very same image in their advertisements, hoping that the image of Emilia Clarke will do for the play what Audrey’s did for the film.
Starting the show with this in mind, I was hoping that the play would break the transcendental hold these images had over the story. Maybe we’d actually see the REAL Holly Golightly. Maybe we’d see behind Holly’s false exteriors, her glamorous costumes and gorgeous charms, and see something of her actual reality.
And yes, there are parts of the performance where Holly’s Hollywood-ness chips away. Her accent drops during the seldom moments she’s angry. She struggles out of a hospital like a old, broken woman towards the end. But even when facing her past mistakes, Holly’s facade never fully drops. And I wanted it to so desperately. There was plenty of opportunity for it— the preview that criticKate and I saw was close to 3 flippin’ hours long… But Holly’s true self remained a mystery, an icon. Like a sacred relic, a museum piece, that you mustn’t get too close to.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s a terrible thing to treat Holly like an icon. In fact, I think that’s the whole purpose, the essence of the play. But as an audience, we expect to see the truth of things. To glimpse behind the curtain and understand our character’s motivations, their drives, their purpose. (This would be an interesting place to put a discussion of audience expectations versus readership expectation but… you know…) So while Holly becomes a figurative AND literal work of art, a commodity of beauty, if you will, couldn’t we at least see the reality of its process? It’s one thing if the male characters glorify Holly, but should we the audience have to as well?
The backlash against HBO’s “Girls” has been immense. While an overall critical success, many educated, urban-centered women of my age (the show’s target audience) have been incredibly outspoken about the show’s lack of diversity and its portrayal of life for women in New York City. The discussion exploded even before the show’s premiere date, with many compared the “white-washed” cast to those of the 90’s favorite shows set in NYC, like “Friends” and “Sex and the City.” (Shoshanna has a SATC poster, but its an ironic gesture and not an homage). Now, I can’t find a single one of my friends (whom I would say fit the target audience) who watch the show, and many refuse to for moral reasons.
Now, I DO find the discussions about the show extremely important and many of them have opened my eyes to the responsibilities of releasing a cultural product to the masses. I particularly find the non-diversity of the cast troubling and I’ve had many a gchat conversation with friends far more knowledgeable on the issue than me. I will address my titular demand of “Girls,” which addresses a diversification of the cast, at the end of this post so PLEASE STAY TUNED.
But I can’t help feeling that this backlash against the show is misguided and, at worst, quite gendered. For example, let’s take the claim that “Girls” glamorizes an irresponsible, self-victimizing, and emotionally dependent way of life. I’ve seen a couple of articles where writers have argued that the girls on “Girls” are bad role models for the girls watching it. I’ve also heard people talk about how despicable the characters are, that they couldn’t find anything positive about them and thus have no reason for liking the show. My usual response is along the lines of “Well, yeah. That’s the point. No?” Is Hannah privileged? YES. Is she dependent on others for her emotional stability in infantile, immature ways? Yes. Does she flirt with self-victimhood to feel morally superior to others? Yes. I’d even go as far as to say that she exhibits all of the above tendencies and more in each and every episode. She’s a wreck and God help me if I ever turn into her. There are moments in the show where I really despise her and/or give up hope for her. Take the ending of season 1, episode 4. After seeing in the preceding episodes how Hannah’s boyfriend Adam emotionally manipulates her and obviously doesn’t care about her, Hannah finally gains the confidence to go to his apartment and break-up with him. Standing in the doorway of his apartment, she makes a stand. If not eloquent, it’s definitely empowering.
AND THEN THEY MAKE OUT AND SHE APOLOGIZES AND I’M ALL YELLING AT TV NOOOOOOOO!!!!
Hannah makes mistakes. A lot. But is Lena Dunham glorifying this behavior? NO. In fact, in the scene, we’re made to glorify in her growth and self-realization. And we really our own praise of her self-realization when it all plummets and she apologizes for her glorious self-realization. Will I be letting it all go like Hannah did? No, because when I see her make stupid choices, or elitist remarks, or ridiculous assumptions, the writing criticizes rather than glorifies these actions.
And since when has moral goodness implied likeability? Or for that matter, since when has likeability influenced whether a show is watchable? Don’t we all thrive on “Breaking Bad’s” masterfully evil ways? (We know there ain’t no redemption there) Is there a single likeable character on “Mad Men”? Is Don Draper teaching us how to be misogynist? Do the Lannisters teach us to be cruel and conniving? So why does “Girls” suddenly need to be a center of moral goodness? Continue reading “In Defense of “Girls.” And Then a Demand.”→