Our man in Arkansas, Noel Murray, wrote an excellent piece on what people actually mean when they say something is “too white.” If you’re interested in how we talk about race and what it means for our popular culture, it’s an excellent read.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this.
First off, I’m a big stickler for diversity of TV, almost to the point that certain friends and family members don’t even want to approach the subject with me anymore. I just recently got in an online argument defending why I hoped “Scandal” would succeed even if it ended up not being very good (and it’s pretty decent, to be honest, and Kerry Washington is hitting it out of the park in each and every scene) because I hope that having a black female lead in a mainstream network show will let executives know that it’s possible for a show like that to have cross-appeal.
I don’t want to launch into another defense of “Girls” because there have been a ton of them already, but I think it’s rather telling that this article (which by all accounts is rather silly) is coming from The A.V. Club because one look at the comment section for an episode of the show reveals something incredibly annoying that I haven’t been able to put my finger on yet.
A lot of people are genuinely mad that the show features a very white New York City and while I absolutely understand that concern, I don’t think the blame and anger should be squarely directed at Lena Dunham. “Girls” reflects her world and I don’t find it surprising that it’s so insular, especially when so much of it seems to be a satire on the sheltered lives of upper-middle class white dynasties in the first place. They could easily add a black character or two, but I’d rather allow “Girls” to do what it wants to do and do it well and instead see networks take the chance and foster more creative talent from different communities without fearing that a show with a predominately black cast will be labeled by white audiences as something that’s “not for them.” Part of the reason why I hate Tyler Perry is that I feel he’s tried to monopolize the black film and television industry and he’s absolutely shitty at it. TV’s white problem won’t go away if Dunham adds a black co-worker that she clubs with. The major inroads will come when the actual content creators come from different walks of life and not just the actors. “Girls” has a reason to exist and I won’t fault it. I just want to see a show like it that tackles something like the experience of young black females that’s actually written by young black females.
The reason I think Murray wrote this is because the majority of negative “Girls” comments on the A.V. Club seem to be using the race issue as an excuse to rag on the show for what seem like entirely different reasons. I recognize some of these commenters and I don’t believe for one second that most of them really care about race divisions in TV. There’s so much anger being directed at Dunham that I can’t help but feel that it’s coming from a much uglier misogynist place with race used solely as a justification to tear her down. I can’t prove this, but the fact that she’s getting so much shit for her white NY after 2 episodes from what is almost entirely white men, whereas something like How I Met Your Mother gets none after 6 seasons of the stuff, smacks of sexism to me. I legitimately don’t think half of these people really want to watch shows about black people (or Asians, or Latinos, etc). They just want to insult Dunham.
So basically, this is a good article for white people talking to other white people about race on TV. Outside of that it’s pretty goofy, but not entirely without merit. I just don’t appreciate this segment (and again, it’s just a segment) of people using something important like race to covertly attack a woman that’s making them uncomfortable for being frank about female sexuality and doing it while not looking like a model. As for the whole “daughters of the elite” argument….I assume you’re saying the same thing to other actresses on TV like Anjelica Huston? What about Martha Plimpton?