Is HBO’s newest comedy, Girls, racist?

12 Apr

If you have premium cable and frequent HBO, you’ve more than likely caught a commercial or two touting their newest comedy, Girls.

In short, Girls is the brain-child of writer/director/actress Lena Dunham, and follows the lives of four early twenty-somethings throughout the transitional period between college and being an adult. Yet while it’s filmed in New York City and covers topics like sex, having an identity crisis and a slew of shit jobs, it doesn’t seem to be this decade’s Sex and the City, even if that’s how HBO is looking at it.

With executive producer Judd Apatow behind the wheel of the train, Girls looks full of promise. So, why then, does it seem like the show is getting a bad wrap before it even airs?

Most critics aren’t bothered by the content, the acting or even the dialogue. What’s got everyone talking is the fact that Girls‘ main characters are all – wait for it – white girls.

As someone of mixed ethnicity (I myself am half White, half Hispanic), I’ll be honest when I say that even I didn’t notice it. And why is that, you might ask?

In the year 2012, I have grown up watching television shows that feature casts of mixed ethnicity, as I have also seen casts that revolve around an all-White family, an all-African America family and an all-Hispanic family. I’ve seen this in movies and even commercial advertising.  Hell, HBO’s recently-cancelled series Bored to Death featured a mainly white cast, and it was shot in New York City, but I never heard rumblings about “not enough minorities.” Sure, Jason Schwartzman is Jewish and comes from the Coppola blood-line, but does that make him any less white? And what about his co-stars, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danza? Are they not considered white?

So, why then, is Girls getting such backlash?

I honestly can’t answer this question. Many people are saying that it’s because they feel “under-represented,” or because, like Sarah Seltzer of The Jewish Daily Forward said in her article, “if Girls ends up being as good as the hype, then we shouldn’t be afraid to offer strong, but loving suggestions about its racial makeup.”

But do we really need to coddle the audience for them to “get” it? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but people don’t like music, television, or art because the creator is the same shade of tan. People attach themselves to ideas, and they laugh at jokes or cry when the curtain is drawn because it moves them and they relate to it.

Maybe Girls does need a dash of color thrown in to the mix, or maybe we need to stop criticizing everything put in front of us. I’ll admit that I’m always worried to discuss the topic of race, but that’s not because I’m afraid people will gasp at my racism. In fact, I don’t know anyone that’s a bigger advocate for equality across the board, but even the most accepting position on race can be the most complex to explain.

The way I see it, claiming that there is a certain formula that must be followed in order to “properly represent” minorities is still a form of racism. Characters shouldn’t be written as an after-thought, nor should the only reason they were created was to make sure nobody was left out.

It sounds to me that Americans are still putting too much emphasis on a person’s ethnic make-up in the name of being politically correct, and if that’s the case, I’d rather not be. It’d be one thing if Dunham had stated she intentionally left minorities out and then proceeded to give a reason based on racism, but she didn’t. The truth is, minority representation isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a math equation. Additionally, Dunham isn’t racist for having four White leads, just as Tyler Perry isn’t racist for having all African-American leads on For Better or For Worse.

Nona Willis Aronowitz, Associate Editor at GOOD said it well, that “if we acknowledge that the semi-autobiographical details are what make Dunham’s work great, we shouldn’t be demanding the show to appeal to and reflect every girl.”

The truth is that, nobody really knows whether or not Hispanic or African American women (or men of any ethnicity!) will appreciate this television show, because it doesn’t even air until Sunday, April 15. So here’s my suggestion: let’s wait and see how the audience really reacts to the show before we start pointing fingers in the name of “racism.”

Until then… Congratulations, Lena Dunham. I can’t wait to see what Girls is all about.

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5 Responses to “Is HBO’s newest comedy, Girls, racist?”

  1. scintillatebrightly April 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    The US is more concerned with racism than any other country I’ve ever been to. While I can’t say that’s a bad thing, it certainly goes overboard sometimes.

  2. flieralls April 16, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Jason Schwartzman, at a half, has just as much Jewish ancestry as Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet, of Girls. C’mon.

    • Alyssa April 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      So very true! I watched the Pilot and was stunned at how people seem to be focusing only on what is perceived whiteness. Stay tuned for my follow-up blog about it!

  3. SoyBoySigh May 6, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    I’m a guy in his thirties, and I freakin LOVE this show. It makes me think of women I dated, it makes me think of female friends, it makes me think of my teenaged ex-daughter (ex’s daughter aka ex step-daughter aka “ex-daughter” ha ha) AND her friends many of whom are my friends too…. As such, I have a great deal of empathy for these characters that trancends the whole gender BS thing because their youth itself is a universal thing to relate to. Really hilarious stuff. Why in the hell would you think that a dude wouldn’t want to watch something because it’s called “girls”? I’M not one of those dudes who’s repressed homosexual side compells him to watch men pummel and wrestle each other wearing nothing but shorts, or uniforms or … you get my point. I have lived my life surrounded by women on all sides, I have more than respect for women, as a boy I learned to fear them. So how could there be a misogynist bone in my body? Ha ha. Really though, I love this show, I love the characters…. I love Girls, in part because I love girls. So what does it mean to say you don’t know if men of any ethnicity will like it? First of all, the whole concept of race itself is a fallacy, so I’ll just go with ethnicity in the sense of National Identity and how people self-identify with their parents’ or grand-parents’ history etc, and of course a lot of people internalize the way society as a whole pigeon-holes them into a charicature of their demographic designation, so there’s THAT sense of “race” as well. But you’re still a racist if you swallow that bull-shit anyway. Anyway what I mean to say about the whole “race issue” is that … the fundamental essence of racism is the assumption that people would be different based on race itself, whether you’re pointing that lens at others or even at yourself. When really, people are individuals. Period. But yeah, it goes beyond that, the whole gender thing is bullshit too. I say “Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it!” Ha ha. PC thinking is just pseudo-intellectual appologist crap, it’s like … trying to make sense out of non-sense here. Feel like “YOUR” ethnicity or gender or … chosen occupation or sub-cultural fashion sense, is under-represented? Well fuckin’ represent it then! Write your OWN damned sit-com! The prick who runs the network is “racist” aka doesn’t like your pitch? Build your OWN network. Comedic entertainment may actually play a large role in the whole melting pot effect, sometimes in spite of itself like when a right wing prick like Bill Cosby supposedly represents all “Black” people while out the other side of his mouth he’s “black-balling” Lisa Bonet for being pregnant out of wedlock…. But yeah, often as not sit coms can have a huge effect on “race relations” etc. And people’s positive self image, etc. One can only imagine the effect that “Jersey Shore” has on young “Italian-American” guys with a I.Q. between 65 and 80…. Not to be “Intelligist” or what-ever. Being a stupid, “white”, balding over-weight guy, I should be the one bitching about negative portrayals…. But yeah, TV could actually have a positive impact. Archie Bunker for example, broke a lot of boundaries. Oddly enough Carrol O’Connor had people come up to him and spit in his face for years afterwards, which I suppose is high praise for his acting. Or, an indigtment of people’s inability to tell fact from fiction…. Anyway, what I am saying is, YEAH, that kind of shit if very educational. I am sure that for my generation, watching Sesame Street probably prevented a lot of us kids from repeating all of the “Nigger this Faggot that” shit that our parents spouted. But that’s all an ACCIDENT! It’s not intentional, it’s just a by-product. Makes me wonder, if the fact that people have TRIED to do this stuff intentionally is why it sucks so hard! I mean, yeah I suppose they do it intentionally on kids’ shows. As much as anything, people accept that thinking that it’s directed at OTHER people’s kids. The whole Avenue Q “Its Okay to be Gay” theme songs and other wonderful “inclusive” neo-liberal shit that people pat themselves on the back for liking. But if they felt it was dierected at them-SELVES, or even like it was for THEIR kids, they’d be royally insulted. “MY kid is well adjusted, and perfectly prepared for the distant and improbably day when we have people of another colour over for dinner….” Damned white upper middle class liberals getting that whole glow of racial harmony from watching a sit-com with the … the whole cast of RENT… you know, the token characters of every SIGNIFICANT demographic (presumably based on the voting clout of their group as a whole) that’s like when the “ignorant” white folk on the Jerry Springer show pump their arms and shout “We Love Lesbians! We Love Lesbians!” over and over. It’s phony and tired and insulting and you know what that’s one of the things that makes this show good! And my personal sense of representation was fulfilled by the combined efforts of Hannah’s douche-bag weight-lifting boyfriend and her ex with “the fruity little accent” ha ha. That was enough dudes for me. Oh, and the presumptuous, pretentious young artist guy that you wanna punch in the face. THAT was enough dude representation for ME. So I mean, if you’re “black”, and you didn’t like this show because the characters are all white? Well, you’re a fucking racist. Sorry. Maybe if you would have spoken up while “Friends” was still on the air? Maybe they could have killed off … I really wanna say Ross Geller but people would say that’s antisemetic…. Phoebe, Monica and Rachel were kinda hot, though only when the sound was off … and Chandler Bing was kind of human and likeable, but only because I’m an introverted “white” guy…. Would I offend the Italian-American demographic if I said Joey? Or just the women who had the hots for him? I only hope that people wouldn’t take it personally if I picked any one of them. So I guess I’ll just say ALL of them. Yeah, it could have had the same set, the same appartment building, and damned Jerry Sienfeld and his wretched friends have moved, and a bunch of cool people could move it. Intelligent wymyn, guys with some fucking balls, maybe some real fucking human beings…. Yeah, if you wanted this shit to be worked out on TV, so that you can hope that life will imitate art, then push that kind of crap on the shitty TV shows. I’m sure they could give the canned laughter some “ebonic” flair in the bass tones and a harmonic chorus of a shrill homoslavian accent while they’re at it.

    • Alyssa May 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

      Thank you for such a long, lengthy response to my post. Although I will say that I’m not quite sure if you were upset with what I wrote or at the topic, your comment rang true to me on many levels. However, if it’s the former, I do know that you can’t win ’em all, but the fact that you read my entire post and responded to it at all, especially in such great depth, is something that I really do appreciate.

      That being said, I would like to assure you that I wasn’t attempting to be sexist in any way, shape or form. My teasing jab about how I “wasn’t sure if minority women (or ANY man) would appreciate the show” was more of my tongue-in-cheek way of reminding people that they were getting up in arms about something that hadn’t even aired.

      I haven’t gotten around to posting my response just yet. I do have a draft of my review for the pilot sitting in my dash, but I wanted to allow myself more time with the characters to see if the show really has any depth when compared to all of the shows it HAS been compared to by everyone else. I’m enjoying finding the humor in the show, and like you, I warmed up to it right away and look forward to it each week (and I watch it at least twice!)

      I hope that you’ll come back in the next few days and read my follow-up. Thanks again for reading, and trust me, I am definitely thinking about what this show presents to both genders of all ages.

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