'Girls' and the Conservatives

Lena Dunham might be more self-aware than some assume.
'Girls' and the Conservatives
Image: HBO
Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham, and Zosia Mamet in "Girls"

The other morning, on the subway ride from my home in gentrifying Brooklyn to my office on Wall Street, I read, with interest, New York Times conservative (and Catholic) columnist Ross Douthat's thoughts on why (some) conservatives like Lena Dunham's work—and, particularly, her HBO show Girls, which begins its fourth season this year.

CT's managing editor Katelyn Beaty wrote about what the show says about 21st century womanhood for the magazine last year. In writing about what anyone who's heard of the show knows—it contains sex scenes of a sort we're not accustomed to seeing on TV—Beaty says:

. . . the sex scenes in Girls are uncomfortable, for both the female characters and the viewer—a disturbing look at relationships in a pornified culture, where many young men take their sexual cues from fantasy and have never learned how to date a real woman.

Douthat (who refers to the show's conservative fans as “reactionaries”) says as much, and explains:

The thing that makes Dunham’s show so interesting, the reason it inspired a certain unsettlement among some of its early fans, is that it often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it: as a collision of narcissists educated mostly in self-love, a sexual landscape distinguished by serial humiliations—a realm at once manic and medicated, privileged and bereft of higher purpose.

I too watch the show, partly because I am also among its demographic, having shuttled around Brooklyn to chase the rapidly-decreasing places where an artist (or, in our case, an artist married to a writer) can afford to live for the past eight years. The show's coffeeshop is actually ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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June
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