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Lena Dunham, Secret Conservative


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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