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Lena Dunham, Secret Conservative

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Oh, hai. “Girls” wrapped up its series finale and a bunch of conservatives are apparently planning on renting a time machine so they can go back in time and erase previous freakouts about Lena Dunham.

Ross Douthat, of course, has the biggest platform, and boy howdy he doesn’t waste it, using 20,000 paragraphs to say “Be careful, girls, if you get rid of Patriarchy, you’ll be sorry.”

In large ways and small the show deconstructed those assumptions. The characters’ sex lives were not remotely “safe”; they were porn-haunted and self-destructive, a mess of S.T.D. fears and dubiously consensual incidents and sudden marriages and stupid infidelities. (Abortion was sort-of normalized but also linked to narcissism: The only character to actually have an abortion was extraordinarily blasé about it, and then over subsequent episodes revealed as a monster of self-involvement.) Meanwhile the professional world was mostly a series of dead ends and failed experiments, and the idea that sisterhood would conquer all even if relationships with men didn’t work out dissolved as the show continued and its core foursome gradually came apart.

I tell ya what, I read stuff like this and sometimes I get the idea that comedy is often mined from tragedy and that imperfect– even obnoxious– people are sometimes funny. CAN YOU IMAGINE?

Of course the real-life civilization they are part of just elected Donald Trump as president, making all those prestige-drama portraits of toxic patriarchy seem quite relevant to our circumstances again, and the travails of life under social liberalism a little less immediately pressing.

But the wheel will turn again, and the relevance of “Girls” will wax as it does. There are many ways to capture our society’s complicated reality; the urban white liberal Brooklynite milieu is indeed, as the show’s haters always stood ready to remind us, a pretty narrow slice of American and Western life.

But then again so is the New Jersey mafia or Madison Avenue in its heyday or the Albuquerque drug trade. If those slices, in their different ways, embody the allure and pathologies of old-school male power, the slice that “Girls” portrayed (with, yes, caricature as well as realism) embodies a stronghold of the egalitarian alternative that cultural liberalism aspires to spread to everyone.

And the genius, and resonance, and staying power of Lena Dunham’s show rests not only on its artistic quality but on its message to its mostly liberal viewers: You do not have this alternative figured out.

Well, that much is true. Feminists cannot predict the future, though in the near-future I do predict several more pants-shitting, poo-flinging, hysterical, Gamergate-infected collective spasms from white boys. But, after that–who knows? It could be ok and complicated, life could become a series of complex trade-offs (in other words, exactly like it’s always been) or the streets will run red with the blood of men killed in The Great Extinguishing of the Patriarchy and the world will stop spinning in protest. Could go either way.

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  • FFFFFFIIII

    I remember when the Josh Duggar incestous child molestation story dropped, conservatives were all “OMG you filthy LIBS worship Lena Dunham, who is just as much of a disgusting pedo as he is!!1!!1”

  • Crusty

    I’m waiting for the piece about how its the anti-Murphy Brown. Hannah has a baby by herself and its hard.

  • Nobdy

    Girls aired on Sunday. Why was Ross Douthat watching this show instead of standing in church (where everyone, especially atheists, belong) so he could confess his lust for chunkier Reese Witherspoon and be obsolved of his sins?

    Also it is always weird to me when conservatives think that pro choicers need to be absolute and promote abortion of every pregnancy to be consistent. It’s like…choice is in the label, bro. And the fact that the most self involved character might get an abortion actually shows she likely made the right choice for herself because it doesn’t sound like she was ready to be a parent, or had any desire to have a child.

    They just fundamentally do not get it.

    They also think that all feminists are rabid man haters even though many of the most prominent feminists are married to men.

    Absolutism is only on one side here. You can be pro choice and have kids or be tolerant of non-traditional lifestyles and have a monogamous marriage to someone of the opposite sex. For right wingers this does not, apparentl, compute.

    • nemdam

      It never stops being amazing and they do it to all sorts of lefty causes, but it’s all just a rationalization to be pro-life and anti-feminism. If you paint pro-choice proponents as though they advocate getting as many abortions as possible and feminists as women who are just mad they can’t get a date, it becomes much easier to dismiss the movements.

      Some days I really wonder how you can be a grown adult and still believe such silly stereotypes.

      • Harry Hardrada

        Some days I really wonder how you can be a grown adult and still believe such silly stereotypes.

        Assumes facts not in evidence.

    • jamesepowell

      They just fundamentally do not get it.

      And explaining it to them – over and over and over and over – doesn’t seem to help.

      • Woodrowfan

        have you tried using a baseball bat for emphasis??

        • efgoldman

          have you tried using a baseball bat for emphasis??

          Two by fours are cheaper and just as effective.

          • JR in WV

            But baseball bats have a grip cut into the wood. You can hurt your hand slamming with a 2×4 !! And get a lot more energy into your swing with that grip to hold.

    • sigaba

      Douthat-types think all liberal beliefs are based on getting off, sexually, emotively or otherwise.

      Abortion? Liberals believe in it because it makes sexytime more available. Ditto feminism, consent and autonomy.

      Secularism? Liberals believe in it because it removes the rules regulating sexytime.

      Egalitarianism? Liberals believe in it because they’re taking pity on the lesser folk, it makes them feel better, it salves some deep guilt they have that Faith and Tradition have spared conservatives. It also increases the number of individuals available for sexytime.

      A liberal can talk to a Douthat/Dreher whathaveyou until they’re blue in the face about liberty, the categorical imperative, their moral principles and all a Douthat ever hears is “I want to fuck a dog I want to fuck a dog I want to fuck a dog.” Liberalism is just a rational for getting off.

      • Solar System Wolf

        It’s funny how they’re the ones who keep bringing up dog-fucking, however. I’ve learned more about the many facets of human perversity from right-wingers caught in the act than I ever have from godless liberals.

      • It’s always projection.

    • CP

      They just fundamentally do not get it.

      This really is their relationship with the other half of society in a nutshell. I see this over and over in their arguments with the other side, it quickly becomes clear that they really don’t “get” us, aren’t even really listening, and are arguing primarily against the straw men in their head.

      But it makes sense. Maintaining their self-image as the good guys while still in a group like the GOP pretty much requires you to live in a fantasy universe. Acknowledging what we’re really saying would require them to actually consider it and measure it against their own positions. Better to just go “liberals want to force all women to have abortions.” Or “liberals want to kill cops.” Or “liberals are communists whose health care reform is really a cover for their plan to institute gulags.”

  • Judas Peckerwood

    Watch it Ross, you’re gonna make chunkier Reese Witherspoon jealous with all this flirting.

    • Woodrowfan

      I always wondered if that woman ever saw what he wrote and realized Doughhat was talking about her??

      • sigaba

        I wonder if Reese Witherspoon ever heard about it…

  • Ronan

    Ive read it four times now and honestly still dont have a clue what his point is.

    • efgoldman

      Ive read it four times now and honestly still dont have a clue what his point is.

      See? I never read it at all and I have just as much understanding as you do, maybe more.

      • Ronan

        Im actually a little pissed off at myself for using up one of my free NYT articles on that rubbish.

        • keta

          If you delete your browsing history every so often you’ll be amazed at how many free articles become available.

          • Ronan

            oh yeah? thanks, ill do that.

            • efgoldman

              oh yeah? thanks, ill do that.

              Or do it in a private (Firefox) or incognito (Chrome) window.

          • Woodrowfan

            or search your cookies and delete the relevant ones.

            • N__B

              I haven’t tossed my cookies in years. Them again, I haven’t read Douchehat in years.

          • Pseudonym

            Incognito/private browsing mode is your friend. (Except in the case of Douthat pieces, of course.)

            • Woodrowfan

              speaking of coincidences… Monday’s “Cyanide and Happiness”

              http://explosm.net/comics/4596/

            • JDM

              What kind of “friend” lets you read even more of these bits of crapola?

    • ColBatGuano

      The only thing I got out of it was that since the main characters were self-absorbed, they must be liberals according to Douthat.

      • Ronan

        I really cant tell whether he’s just got himself in a tangle overinterpreting it, or if he had literally nothing else to write about so phoned this in at the last minute. Either way it’s absolutely senseless.

      • That’s all you’re supposed to get out of it. I’m really pretty sure.

        I’m a little pissed off that the plot of the final episode has been spoiled for me, in case I want to watch the series someday.

        (I did see the episode with Patrick whatshisname that no one apparently liked, and maybe one other. I thought it was OK but wasn’t signing up for more of the same.)

        • Okay I’ve read it now, and it’s clear his point is: condoms cause unpaid internships

        • Honoré De Ballsack

          I’m a little pissed off that the plot of the final episode has been spoiled for me, in case I want to watch the series someday.

          I wouldn’t worry. Girls is a good show and I recommend it, but if I’d known, watching the very first episode, how the series ended it would’ve reduced my enjoyment of the show not at all. The seasonal “story arcs” of Girls are extremely minimal, structure-wise, when compared to The Sopranos/Mad Men/Game of Thrones etc.

    • Monty

      Abortion was sort-of normalized but also linked to narcissism: The only character to actually have an abortion was extraordinarily blasé about it, and then over subsequent episodes revealed as a monster of self-involvement.

      also, too:

      Feminists elected Donald Trump. Or something.

  • rm

    Somehow this made me recall a book by Joanna Russ in which a collection of Seventies Feminist SF short stories were connected by little dialogues in which a child of the far future kept asking “is that when they saved the world [from patriarchy and everything, implied]?” and after each story, the far future adult kept reminding the child that the world is never saved, everyone has to try and save it all the time.

    I mean, Doubt That is not up to speed on 1970s feminist storytelling. His bewilderment at 21st century feminist storytelling would be cute if he didn’t have a fucking column in the fuck the fucking New York Fucking Times.

    • joel hanes

      Douthat should be sentenced to read “When It Changed” aloud, every four hours, until he Gets It, or until he expires, whichever comes first.

      • rm

        $20 on death by aneurysm before starting the second reading.

      • Chetsky

        On your recommendation, I went and read it. Lovely short story. Also thought-provoking. Now …. putting on my thinking cap ….

        She gets it all wrong. All wrong. In my version of the story, it’s women who’ve founded a space-faring civilization (after the plague that kills all the men) and rediscover Earth, where there are both men and women. That society, which sent the original colonists into space, has collapsed into a barely-industrial dark age, as inevitably happens when men are any sizable proportion of the population. The great moral dilemma with which the space explorers must deal, is whether to -help- these Earthlings, giving them modern technology and allowing them to escape their pre-modern existence.
        The downside is, of course, that they will spread thru space, and eventually cause the same sorts of collapse that afflicted Earth, only on an interstellar scale.

        Eventually, the captain decides to refrain from sharing any technology, and puts Earth on perpetual quarantine. Future sequels involve young women from Earth who make it off (stowing away on very-intermittent survey vessels) and their adventures in space.

        James Tiptree Jr. caused me to think this way …. and there’s her novella _Houston, Houston, Do You Read?_ that is a lovely exemplar of the idea.

        ETA: Tiptree == “Alice Sheldon”. And just to be clear, “she gets it all wrong” is meant in jest.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    The only character to actually have an abortion was extraordinarily blasé about it, and then over subsequent episodes revealed as a monster of self-involvement.

    So…we approve of Lena’s message, which is that only a self-involved monster would have an abortion.

    And we simultaneously want to prevent said self-involved monsters from having abortions, because think of what great mothers they’ll make!

    Am I doing this right?

    • Pseudonym

      Close. Forced motherhood is what those women need to keep them in check.

    • corporatecake

      According to these types, something mystical happens during pregnancy that makes you a good person as well as producing a baby.

      • Harkov311

        It’s like they think abusive and neglectful parents don’t actually exist. They constantly say things like “having a kid will make them responsible.” Um, no. It should maybe, but that’s not the same thing as saying it will.

        • efgoldman

          They constantly say things like “having a kid will make them responsible.” Um, no.

          That’s pf the same ilk as “we should get divorced, but we’re staying married for the kids.”

        • corporatecake

          In their minds, abusive and neglectful parents are rare. This is a combination of willful ignorance and implicit belief that your children are your property, to do with as you wish, and that’s not abuse. (“It’s my right to spank my kids/not vaccinate my kids/do a terrible job homeschooling my kids” and so on.)

        • Pseudonym

          Making women responsible by forcing them against their will to be mothers is a goal worth sacrificing the well-being of a few kids for. The important thing isn't how peoples' lives actually are, it's that nobody ever get away with anything outside the divinely ordained framework for human civilization I support.

        • Mellano

          They constantly say things like “having a kid will make them responsible.” Um, no. It should maybe, but that’s not the same thing as saying it will.

          To this worldview, God, who looks and talks like John Wayne, is testing those irresponsible parents women. And irresponsible women shouldn’t get to avoid being tested. Instead, to submit themselves to Divine John Wayne-lookalike’s stern testing, and to fail it, and to continue failing it, is just. And if some child is hurt as a result, well, that child is also being tested, and also failing.

      • CP

        Well, except as soon as the baby’s happened, you’re treated to endless diatribes about irresponsible bitches on welfare expecting society to take care of the kids they’d never have had if they had kept their legs closed…

  • Pseudonym

    The link doesn’t, though perhaps we’re better off with it broken.

    • witlesschum

      Proof that vacuumslayer loves us and wants us to be happy.

      • Fixed, sorry!

        • Why do you hate us?

        • Colin Day

          But could you slay the vacuum between Douthat’s ears?

  • I didn’t watch it. If he didn’t like it why did he?

    • MAJeff

      I bet he didn’t.

  • Chris Mealy

    Douthat’s piece would have been pretty good if he had just repeated his point about toxic masculinity making Trump president over and over 200 times.

    • The point about how Girls‘s insularity is no more or less remarkable than that of the various White Male Antihero shows of the last decade could also stand to be made a few million times.

  • Marcion

    I hate this stupid show. I have never seen an episode of this stupid show. I have never heard anyone I know talking about this stupid show. This stupid show seems like it exists, or existed no I guess, entirely so that stupid NYC pundits could have some stupid Rorschach blot for their stupid opinions.

    • Dilan Esper

      It’s my favorite show. And it doesn’t anger me that Douthat likes it either. The show, like all great art, supports multiple interpretations.

  • All I could think of reading the piece is Douthat manages to make Girls sound like an Ally McBeal ripoff.

    Which actually might be kind of interesting . . .

    • Solar System Wolf

      Every decade has to have its world-destroying women’s show for the conservatives to cluck about. It’s like having a show about women’s lives is somehow transgressive. Hmmm.

  • Harkov311

    I still say the strangest, creepiest thing about Ross Douthat is that being assured that he could have sex with a woman without having to worry about accidentally impregnating her actually turned him off.

    • Pseudonym

      His idea that “sex without danger of unwanted consequences is especially wrong” explains a lot about him and his ilk.

  • thebewilderness

    Allow me, a feminist killjoy, to predict the future. Misogyny yesterday, misogyny today, and blimey if it don’t look like misogyny again tomorrow.

    • Stag Party Palin

      Well, it beats hell out of rum, sodomy and the lash.

      • Solar System Wolf

        That sounds like some people’s idea of a good time.

        • bender

          ROFL

    • lizzie

      Time’s been up our way, when yer’d have said ‘thank yer Ross’ for a nice bit o’fat valley misogyny like what this is.

  • Hob

    If Douthat had watched the show for real, he might have noticed that one of the main characters featuring prominently in the last episode is Hannah’s mom, whose life is proof that the previous generation did not have this shit figured out either (and– even more relevant to Ross’s idiocy– is also a cautionary tale about how “go through the motions of a nuclear family because you’d like to think homosexuality is not a real thing” is unlikely to be a feasible approach to life).

  • Karen24

    I never watched Dunham’s show, and generally tried to avoid anything she did, because It isn’t my taste and I want to save my precious entertainment time for things I actually like. That said, what is it about conservatives and their desire to make all products of popular culture, especially the ones liked by us EEEEEVVVVILL ELITES (defined as “white Democrats who lives in a city regardless of income level.” These kinds of pieces are their own genre. Rock music, Harry Potter, super hero movies, complicated TV dramas — all get the ‘this artifact actually supports whatever it is I’ve been saying and also that feminism sucks.” As I said at the beginning, I don’t waste my time on pop culture I don’t think I’ll like no matter how many times the person who made it appears in Vanity Fair magazine. Conservatives disagree with me.

  • cpinva

    I honestly don’t get what it is with Lena Dunham and “Girls” that freaks these people out? Ms. Dunham seems like a perfectly nice person, though I’ve never met her. I caught her show a couple of times on HBO, realized it wasn’t really targeted at me (middle-aged white guy. like her father.), and haven’t watched it since. that doesn’t mean it’s a bad show, just not my demographic. these people truly need to get a life.

  • Donna Gratehouse

    Of course the real-life civilization they are part of just elected Donald Trump as president, making all those prestige-drama portraits of toxic patriarchy seem quite relevant to our circumstances again, and the travails of life under social liberalism a little less immediately pressing.

    Was just thinking A Handmaid’s Tale begins in a week and Father Douthat is sure to want to Write A Thing Or Two about it and I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Dear HBO:
    I would like to know why you aren’t re-filming epsidoes of Davey and Goliath but with humans.
    -R. Douthat
    P.S. I am not a crank.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      +1

    • Origami Isopod

      I’m now trying to think of who’d be ideal to cast as Goliath.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        John Goodman. He can do anything.

  • CJColucci

    Whenever Douthat starts talking about sex, I have to fight the urge to slap him and say: “Shut up, kid, the grown-ups are talking.”

  • bekabot

    the urban white liberal Brooklynite milieu is indeed, as the show’s haters always stood ready to remind us, a pretty narrow slice of American and Western life

    The faction which elected Donald Trump (26% of the total electorate) is also a pretty narrow slice of American life, yet you wouldn’t find it out by reading Ross Douthat.

    Of course the real-life civilization they are part of just elected Donald Trump as president

    The “real-life civilization” did not elect Donald Trump, only about 26% of it did; and that 26% is no more representative of the whole of the civilization than an “urban white liberal Brooklynite milieu” would be — plus it’s a darned sight more provincial. Douthat is playing with the facts, and now I have pointed it out. (Thanks; bye.)

  • Roger Ailes

    Ross Douthat is The Leftover:

    Life was filled with culture war
    And Chunky Reese’s a tramp ‘n’ whore
    I wish I hadn’t come already

    Children die and I don’t care
    They’re not enwombed so they’re not really there
    Jesus Christus come already

    There’s no time to change your mind
    I’ll be in heaven — you can suck my left behind
    A man and wife lie in a bed
    “Get off me Ross, I’d just as soon be dead”
    Wad’s gone
    My God had come already

    Two men walking up a hill
    One’s a Jew and he’ll soon be in Hell
    Judgment Day please come already

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