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January 23, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

'I'm a White Girl': Why 'Girls' Won't Ever Overcome Its Racial Problem-an article from The Atlantic with several interesting links on the larger issue of including (or not) black characters into American television.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (189 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The answer surely is to always give your main character a black confidante who isn't actually involved in the plot but who exhibits an engaging and oh-so-plausible mix of motown attitude and sub-voodoo bayou folk wisdom. Sheesh, do I have to explain everything?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:57 AM on January 23, 2013 [49 favorites]


Interesting.

One of the things that struck me while reading that article, talking about the addition of Donald Glover to the Girls cast, was that his character was portrayed as a Republican, when the majority of African-Americans/Black people tend to vote Democratic, either out of conviction or because the Republicans really don't have anything to offer them other than a few token positions in the party itself.

That struck me as symbolic, that whenever a Black character is added to a white cast in a tv series, effort is always made to play them against type, either out of a desire not to get into unfortunate stereotyping, or perhaps to make them slightly more "safe" to a white audience, I don't know. Anybody else noticed this?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Did the writer of this article consider that perhaps this issue will be addressed in subsequent episodes throughout this an other seasons and not flippantly in every friggin episode because the writers care enough to take their time and develop a plot line around this that is just as relevant and real as the first episode for which they have been praised?
posted by spicynuts at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dunham continues to cast non-white actors only when race defines their character

Wait that isn't true.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


he has only one flaw (or what passes for a flaw among 20-somethings in Brooklyn): He's a Republican.

I can't handle the necessary suspension of disbelief.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The answer surely is to always give your main character a black confidante who isn't actually involved in the plot but who exhibits an engaging and oh-so-plausible mix of motown attitude and sub-voodoo bayou folk wisdom.

I am still not over a comment from ~2 years ago wherein someone suggested that the racial inequality in Game of Thrones could be solved by giving Catelyn Stark a sassy black BFF.

posted by elizardbits at 11:01 AM on January 23, 2013 [19 favorites]


Unfortunately, one great exchange does not a truly diverse TV show (or authentic portrait of New York City) make.

I don't think the show is supposed to be an authentic portrayal of NYC so much as it's supposed to be an authentic portrayal of 4 to 10 loosely-socially-connected people, all of whom are awful and solipsistic in varying degrees. I tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates in the last paragraph.

despite the fact that Sandy at least occupies a similar social milieu to the characters, Dunham continues to cast non-white actors only when race defines their character

That seems like a willfully simple reading of Sandy, to say that race -- rather than, say, his surprisingly chill ability to deflect the other characters' neuroticism -- is the most defining aspect of his character.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


We need more black writers on tv, entrusted to write more than just pandering, target-market chasing sitcoms on the far end of the dial or on basic cable. I tried to phrase this in the form of some winningly snarky remark, but opted to go for plainspoken sincerity instead. We need more black writers. The end.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:03 AM on January 23, 2013 [43 favorites]


in a world where the wealthy, white, well-connected Lena Dunhams always seem to end up in the spotlight, those who aren't part of her elite world shouldn't have to rely on her for representation. They need the same platform to be their authentic selves that she's been afforded.

Given this is the conclusion of the piece, it seems a bit unfair to call this Lena Dunham's racial problem.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


'I'm a White Girl': Why 'Girls' Won't Ever Overcome Its Racial Problem

'Cos it just fucking won't. They can add cast, subtract cast, people who are upset on the internets will still be upsets people on the Internet, so really they should make the show the want to make and ignore the Internet, really.
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2013 [27 favorites]


Man, If I was Lena Dunham I would just give up and chill at home eating cookie dough ice cream and Snyder's Honey Mustard and Onion Pretzels and counting my millions. Until they took it back for breach of contract that is.

Remember the first season of Sex and the City where Carrie was BFFs with a web developer? Yeah, that was likely. There are as many sub-groups, and scenes, and cliques and strata of people in New York that something that seems dead on to one person is going to seem like complete bullshit to everyone else.

Just let her do her thing and give Donald Glover, Unlikely Black Republican his own show. Everyone wins.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


We need more black writers. The end.

I was about to ask how many regularly-employed black screenwriters were working today on mainstream properties -- i.e. not specifically targeting an African-American audience -- when I saw this comment.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 AM on January 23, 2013


We need more black writers. The end.

I agree that this is the point. If a show is based on one person's experience, I don't think it's especially productive to criticize that show for what it succeeds or fails to represent on a societal level. It would seem more productive to talk about whether there should also be shows based on other people's experiences.
posted by cribcage at 11:12 AM on January 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


What I love about Girls is how everyone has Very Strong Opinions on the show, even if they've never watched a minute.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:12 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


They could even do old school crossover episodes, like when Boss Hogg showed up at Alice's diner and tried to buy it. Do it HBO, it is win-win.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:13 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am still not over a comment from ~2 years ago wherein someone suggested that the racial inequality in Game of Thrones could be solved by giving Catelyn Stark a sassy black BFF.


Helia from Weeds would be perfect.

"Girl, is your sorry ass still hookin' up with your brother? 'Cause you know that shit is just gonna blow up in your face, right? You need to calm your lilly white ass down, go find yourself some cute young prince, tear off a piece of that. Blood is thicker than water. You don't want that crap clogging up your drains. "

"And what is up your other brother, Tyrion? Always trying to get up on me, it's like kicking a damn dog off your leg every two minutes."

"Damn, your family is fucked up."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:14 AM on January 23, 2013 [22 favorites]


I have tried to like her, or at least not hate her irrationally, but it's really difficult when she seems to have a habit of saying utterly clueless shit.
posted by elizardbits at 11:16 AM on January 23, 2013


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television? Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls. Tons of shows could be criticized the same way, but somehow Lena Dunham is the worst? Something else is going on here.

* Except Gob's black puppet Franklin, of course
posted by brain_drain at 11:16 AM on January 23, 2013 [61 favorites]


David Sirota made that a black director would not even have been allowed to make a big-budget film about a former slave slaughtering slave owners.
This is also true for white directors not named Quinton Tarantino. Django Unchained is not a movie that gets made by someone who hasn't made a lot of movies that hit the sweet spot between acclaimed and commercially successful in a way that almost no one else does.
posted by I Foody at 11:17 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The answer surely is to always give your main character a black confidante who isn't actually involved in the plot but who exhibits an engaging and oh-so-plausible mix of motown attitude and sub-voodoo bayou folk wisdom.

Sounds great! Is Whoopi Goldberg available?
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, let's say Lena Dunham can't do it. Who, then, is capable of writing a diverse TV show? I mean, really?

How many people can look around their friend group and honestly say that it's diverse? If it is, that's awesome (maybe you should write a TV show!), but it's probably not.

I'll put myself (a white person) up as an example here:

-in college, my wider circle of friends was extremely diverse (well, let's say "liberal arts" diverse--a good smattering of Asians and brown folks), but my immediate friend group was nearly all white.

-I have (shock, horror) dated a brown person, and at the time was friends by proxy with a number of people of the same flavor of brownness, because that's who my boyfriend was closest friends with

-I have lived in the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago (Albany Park), a city not known for its integrated diversity. I currently live in a neighborhood that is 99.9% an ethnicity that I am not. I am active doer of things in my community. But I still just live here.

-my current primary friend group is back to being nearly all white. This isn't a decision, this is just how it happens, and I have no idea why. (Though, I should add, my current friend group is primarily composed of metafilter people, so whose fault is that, hmm?)

-my workplace is actually the most diverse place I frequent, but they're all in finance, so they're basically a race unto themselves. I just work here



My point is, it is extremely rare in real life that people have truly diverse friend groups. Girls is about a chick who happens to be white, and all of her friends. It makes perfect sense to me that the friends happen to be white, too. Not because Lena Dunham is failing in some way, but because that's just how these things happen.

I don't really know what my point is here, and as a White Person, I'm conditioned to feel shitty even talking about race at all, but seriously: why are we surprised that a TV show that hits so many "this feels so realistic!" buttons actually reflects reality, crummily undiverse though it may be?
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [32 favorites]


I think MartinWisse has a point, too, about heavy-handed efforts to play against type. A black character doesn't have to have to be Felix Unger with added melanin merely to avoid stereotyping, but if that's the best you can do as a screenwriter you need to get out more. The best way to learn about nonstereotyped black people is to actually meet some black people.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:22 AM on January 23, 2013


Girls is about a chick who happens to be white, and all of her friends. It makes perfect sense to me that the friends happen to be white, too. Not because Lena Dunham is failing in some way, but because that's just how these things happen.

Absolutely true, yes. But I guess a lot of people are just tired of seeing all white people shows, especially when those shows are touted as glorious must-see groundbreaking tv.
posted by elizardbits at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Tons of shows could be criticized the same way, but somehow Lena Dunham is the worst?

Maybe 'Girls' is more popular among those who experience white guilt.
posted by rhizome at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Fuckin' Christ. I like Girls quite a bit. I want it to succeed. But the Donald Glover storyline – especially in episode 2 - feels like they thought they needed an expert on handling that sort of thing so they brought in the guy who makes Questionable Content.
posted by furiousthought at 11:25 AM on January 23, 2013


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television? Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls. Tons of shows could be criticized the same way, but somehow Lena Dunham is the worst? Something else is going on here.

Now, we could easily frame this as "women face unfairly higher standards than men about social justice issues", but I'd rather frame it as "when I see a white dude program about white dude issues, I assume it will be pretty useless in terms of representing anyone not a white dude, but when I see some art by a person who is in some respects socially marginalized, I have at least a dim, flickering little hope". I personally do expect less fucked-up-ness from marginalized people than from straight white men, but that has more to do with my feelings about straight white men than anything else.

Of course, then we all point to Margaret Thatcher and retire into our rooms to weep.
posted by Frowner at 11:25 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Absolutely true, yes. But I guess a lot of people are just tired of seeing all white people shows, especially when those shows are touted as glorious must-see groundbreaking tv.

I think it's also that Girls gets the "voice of a generation" label, which means that people expect it to be that and not the "voice of a generation of urban white people of a particular socio-economic class." Of course it's little silly to bill Girls that way, because being the voice of an entire generation is basically impossible because of all the types of diversity out there, but I understand being bothered when everyone's talking about how much something speaks for people their age and then finding that it doesn't speak for you at all.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:27 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also: the article links to Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about the show and it's always wise to read what he has to say. I like this bit he says in the comments:
Also, I think people believe artists to have more power than they actually do. You can only write what you want. In fact you must only write what you want. That isn't the problem. The problem is that only certain people get to write what they want. The problem isn't the Lena Dunham show is about a narrow world. The problem is that there aren't more narrow worlds on the screen. Broader is not synonymous with better.
posted by furiousthought at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2013 [32 favorites]


Of course it's little silly to bill Girls that way

Especially since the pilot featured Hannah saying that she wants to be the voice of her generation while also being portrayed as hopelessly clueless and selfish and myopic.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would really enjoy it if they flounce-changed the name of the show to White Girls but I am pretty sure that was already a hilariously bad movie.
posted by elizardbits at 11:32 AM on January 23, 2013


I'm often really surprised that some white people don't have non-white friends. I'm Indian, and I have a very diverse group of friends from all over the country and the world. I went to an elite college in a boondock-y place and I live in DC now.

I just don't get how the daughter of artists only managed to make non-white friends (Mindy Kaling and Donald Glover) after she got famous. It's weird.
posted by discopolo at 11:32 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Especially since the pilot featured Hannah saying that she wants to be the voice of her generation while also being portrayed as hopelessly clueless and selfish and myopic.

I mean, anyone actually saying they wanted to be the voice of their generation would almost have to be hopelessly clueless and selfish and myopic.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


*a voice of a generation
posted by notesondismantling at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television? Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls. Tons of shows could be criticized the same way, but somehow Lena Dunham is the worst? Something else is going on here.

They were a family. Also, they had a number of non-white characters.

Though I will say that I don't get why medical shows with doctors don't have more Indians, Chinese, and Koreans on it. Grey's Anatomy, House, I'm looking at you.
posted by discopolo at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


the racial inequality in Game of Thrones could be solved by giving Catelyn Stark a sassy black BFF

Sassy black women are the new sassy gay male friend.

I knew virtually nothing about Dunham until the GGs. And then I read a little about her background. Learning that she had to overcome an entitled childhood and perhaps *months* of struggle before she got her show just made her and her OTT, Sally-Fieldish acceptance speeches even more of a turnoff.

in a world where the wealthy, white, well-connected Lena Dunhams always seem to end up in the spotlight

Coming in 15 years: The Alice Richmond TV Project.
posted by NorthernLite at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tend to be pretty sensitive to race issues in the media, but I'm pretty adamant that Girls (Season 1) was doing just fine without throwing in token black characters into every party scene, or making the race of a character a Big Thing just for the sake of it. From Tiny Furniture on Lena Dunham has been all about portraying a world that's basically just a thinly-veiled version of her life and social milieu. There's nothing wrong with that. Rather, it's bizarrely and dangerously out of line with reality for people to argue that everyone in NYC has such diverse friend groups that racial homogeneity is not a problem. The other thing is that these are flawed, flawed characters - solipsistic, closed-off, judgmental, you name it. Of course it makes sense that their limited worldview (with unexamined liberalism and unexamined privilege) would lead to them just not hanging out with many people of color. Or as phunniemee suggested, maybe that's just how things ended up. You're recently graduated from your mostly-white elite liberal arts college and hanging around other people from roughly the same socioeconomic background. Shit happens. I'm a POC and most of my friends are white. If I wrote a show about my life would it be criticized for being whitewashed?
posted by naju at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm basically tired of media & pop culture saying only white people's stories are important to tell, only white actors are worthy of attention, and how dare you criticize, Obama got his second term, didn't he? Therefore it's very frustrating when shows like these get constantly heralded.

To me, it has been noticeable that even as the quality of TV shows in recent years has improved (Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad), the main characters have become homogenized. It's been very disconcerting, as I grew up watching The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Fresh Prince, to see how easily modern TV has slipped into tokenism or "ironic" racism. (P.S. Keep the hipster-isms to clothes, bands, and beer.)
posted by lychee at 11:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just don't get how the daughter of artists only managed to make non-white friends (Mindy Kaling and Donald Glover) after she got famous. It's weird.

It's an IRL aspect of that weird unintentional liberal white racism shit that the show makes fun of when she breaks up with Sandy, though. The whole "oh, I don't even SEE race!" thing that many people think is super enlightened. Race just isn't important to many people in the sense that they believe if they aren't actively being outspoken racists - which of course they would not do because they're not inherently terrible people - then there's nothing more that needs to interest them, including meeting anyone outside of their narrowly defined racial and socioeconomic classes.
posted by elizardbits at 11:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am still not over a comment from ~2 years ago wherein someone suggested that the racial inequality in Game of Thrones could be solved by giving Catelyn Stark a sassy black BFF.

I think that was my comment and I'd like to defend myself, if I may.

I made other comments in that thread that showed I felt that more actors of color should have been cast in various roles. I suggested making Jon Snow non-white because, hey, his exact parentage is a bit of a mystery and thus you can't really complain. The objection was raised that this might mean that Catelyn's dislike of him was racially motivated, to which I responded (somewhat glibly), give her a black friend to show that it's not about his race.

By no means did I think that that would solve the racial inequality in GoT.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:39 AM on January 23, 2013


I'm looking forward to the eventual meeting between Sandy and Adam. I can imagine that going many different ways and I'm curious to see which direction they'll take it.
posted by painquale at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, let's say Lena Dunham can't do it. Who, then, is capable of writing a diverse TV show? I mean, really?

Scrubs did a really good job. They had a pretty diverse group of writers (Angela Nissel, Aseem Batra, etc).

Also, Donald Glover was a writer for 30 Rock before joining the cast of Conmunity. The Office was based in Scranton but they still had minority characters.
posted by discopolo at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


We need more black writers on tv, entrusted to write more than just pandering, target-market chasing sitcoms on the far end of the dial or on basic cable. I tried to phrase this in the form of some winningly snarky remark, but opted to go for plainspoken sincerity instead. We need more black writers. The end.

More everybody shows. This a thousand times over picking a random creator to scapegoat.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Brits handle this by just casting non-white actors in roles where race isn't specific. For all that Britain has a much lower non-white population (both absolute and proportional terms), British television seems much more multi-racial than American television.

But this won't happen so long as criticism is laid on creators for adding non-white characters -- yes, the protrayels aren't always going to be perfect and yes, in an ideal world, non-white creators should also have a voice. But to get to that ideal world, we all need to suck it up and be less quick to judge someone's efforts to expand their own empathies.
posted by jb at 11:43 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


The answer surely is to always give your main character a black confidante who isn't actually involved in the plot but who exhibits an engaging and oh-so-plausible mix of motown attitude and sub-voodoo bayou folk wisdom.

Bonus points if she appears to spend a disproportionate amount of her income on her hairdos and fingernails.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:44 AM on January 23, 2013


But I will lay this criticism: Donald Glover should not be doing anything except making more Community, because I miss Troy so badly.
posted by jb at 11:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I hope there's more Donald Glover in it, if only because that last episodes argument between Glover and Dunham was so awfully cringingly hideous and consequentally hilarious there needs to be more of that.
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that was my comment and I'd like to defend myself, if I may

No problem, dude, and I'm sorry that I misinterpreted your comment. I am pretty sure that was the thread in which I came the closest to tableflip ragequitting mefi so it is not surprising that I would remember any comments in an uncharitable fashion.

posted by elizardbits at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


My point is, it is extremely rare in real life that people have truly diverse friend groups. Girls is about a chick who happens to be white, and all of her friends. It makes perfect sense to me that the friends happen to be white, too. Not because Lena Dunham is failing in some way, but because that's just how these things happen.

I don't know that it's "just how these things happen", though. It's totally a product of already existing segregation. The diversity of my social circle peaks in two places: college and queer spaces, where the group of people I'm associating with is restricted by a factor other than race. My college social circle was roughly representative of the university--white and Asian, with everyone else hopelessly underrepresented. Queer spaces I've been in have tended to be roughly representative of the broader community, though I realise that's not the case everywhere. Perhaps if I weren't a grad student, I'd be moving in other circles that were more representative of the city as a whole, but I don't know. (I mean, my dad totally doesn't. I'm seriously struggling to think of an instance where I've been with my dad in a social-ish situation and everyone wasn't white. Maybe at church. My dad's probably the living embodiment of Chicago's segregation.)
posted by hoyland at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2013


I'm often really surprised that some white people don't have non-white friends. I'm Indian, and I have a very diverse group of friends from all over the country and the world. I went to an elite college in a boondock-y place and I live in DC now.

I was going to write that I've gone through periods of my life with only white friends, except then I realized that this has hardly ever been true. It's much more that my friendships with people of color were, prior to the past few years, pretty much predicated on "they have almost all white friends due to parents' work or educational situations and our milieu taught us not to talk about race because it was awkward/painful/rude". So my friendships may not have been all white, but they were very muted on the matter of race...any my closer friends of color were generally international students so they were coming from a really different understanding of race than when one grows up in the US. I'd definitely say that I got through much of my twenties being the kind of person where, while I'd sometimes notice that a show or a book was really, really white, I noticed it as a trivial flaw rather than a foundational one. I could certainly see someone who grew up rich and fancy having a richer, fancier version of my upbringing and being Lena Dunham.

The thing is, the only thing she can do - if she's serious about improving her work - is to keep soldiering on until she proves that she means it.

In addition to the "society should work such that people of color can produce and distribute media" piece (which itself is a pretty difficult pill to swallow since it basically means "we need an economic restructuring", which of course we do, but that's not something that many well-off white people want to countenance)...the thing is, if white people are going to write about people of color, we have to do it from a standpoint that recognizes our complicity in white supremacy. It can't be "la la here are some characters of color" like we're JK Rowling or someone; it has to be "here are some characters, white and POC, living in this unpleasant white supremacist reality". It has to be "here is my white viewpoint character experiencing race as white people really experience it, which is not an attractive spectacle, frankly; it can't be "here is my idealized white viewpoint character who doesn't even see race".

So basically, white artists talking about race in an honest way is unlikely to be escapist fun times, or conducive to promoting the latest in music and fashion, which is why it - along with most of the realities of American life - will never appear on Girls except in the flimsiest and most allusive style.

Basically, expecting profit-driven media in a white supremacist, misogynist and grossly unequal society to produce anything but the most glancing and incidental critique of that society - well, I believe that was tried in the sixties and early seventies, when media was infinitely less consolidated than it is now and society as a whole was much further to the left, and it didn't change much back then.
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television? Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls.

Girls is scathingly dry humor, which rarely needs to work well with a general audience. Arrested Development was gleefully obvious in its lampooning of a dysfunctional family.

Overall, I suspect a lot of the Girls hate is due to Dunham getting the show via her connections. Mind you, anyone else would do that, but when someone else does it, others get jealous and start picking at it. The fact that the characters are throughly unlikable in many ways doesn't help.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:51 AM on January 23, 2013


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television? Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls

Because Obama wasn't president then.

Less snarky, Girls is the current go to hit slice of life comedy, both critically acclaimed and reasonably popular and you should compare it to shows like Friends and Sex and the City, rather than the much more quirky, less "realistic" Arrested Development. Both of those were indeed criticised for their very white portrayal of New York.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:51 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


It has to be "here is my white viewpoint character experiencing race as white people really experience it, which is not an attractive spectacle, frankly
...
So basically, white artists talking about race in an honest way is unlikely to be escapist fun times,


Did you not think that's how it was handled in Season 2, episode 2? How would you characterize the breakup scene?
posted by Greg Nog at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2013


those shows are touted as glorious must-see groundbreaking tv.

Friends was also touted as must-see TV, but that didn't make it good.
posted by DU at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Both of those were indeed criticised for their very white portrayal of New York.

You could mention either of them without checking your watch for when the stock complaint would come though.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on January 23, 2013


The Shukla test - a proposed Betchdel test for race.
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's progress for you; we're actually somewhat more aware of these issues now; also many many more people talking on the internet about these issues.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a suspicion that all of this hand-wringing over how the experience and struggles of African-Americans are represented on television is actually a detriment to trying to make really good shows about black people. That's a whole lot of baggage to have to deal with that shows about white characters only ever worry about tangentially.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did you not think that's how it was handled in Season 2, episode 2? How you characterize the breakup scene?

See, I actually think that if the show carries on in that vein instead of letting everyone off the hook or pulling a "nothing to see here", that would at least be interesting.

One thing I worry about, though: when there are television programs - fairly sophisticated ones - about characters who are depicted as kind of hypocritical, ridiculous and unpleasant, I worry about racism and racial inequality becoming just a kind of quirk or foible, like never tipping or being hypocritical about sex. Like "everyone is a little bit racist, so it's just something to poke fun at" instead of "it's unacceptable to be racist, so what is to be done?"

I don't know, in some ways, I'm a little bit skeptical about art by white people about race - I'm just not sure that most white people (certainly including me) have sophisticated enough politics, practice and knowledge of history for it to ever be any good. Possibly because I grew up as an in many ways fairly sheltered white person, more and more lately I find the pervasiveness and brutality of US racism so horrifying that I almost can't imagine any art produced by white people that deals with race and that's not, like, all Michael Haneke all the time. So I venture to suggest that my perspective on fun television may be an outlier. ("In the grim future of Frowner's America, there is no fun television".)
posted by Frowner at 12:06 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I happen to be black and from a notoriously segregated urban area where the vast majority of my family can spend weeks -- months? -- without interacting with non-blacks. We still live in a fairly segregated society.

But imposing a sociological conversation on good art feels terribly wrong.

Toni Morrison on why white characters are few and far between in her novels
posted by Silo004 at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Less snarky, Girls is the current go to hit slice of life comedy, both critically acclaimed and reasonably popular and you should compare it to shows like Friends and Sex and the City, rather than the much more quirky, less "realistic" Arrested Development

Only about 1 million people watch Girls on a good night. (Only 866,000 watched the season 2 premiere.) Arrested Development was canceled for low ratings with an average audience size of 6.2 million. Friends regularly pulled in more than 20 million viewers.
posted by purpleclover at 12:08 PM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


How you characterize the breakup scene?

For the record even though I edited this question I kind of like how the original makes me sound like cookie monster
posted by Greg Nog at 12:09 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


The appropriate term is Blue-American Cookie Enthusiast now.
posted by elizardbits at 12:10 PM on January 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Only about 1 million people watch Girls on a good night. (Only 866,000 watched the season 2 premiere.) Arrested Development was canceled for low ratings with an average audience size of 6.2 million. Friends regularly pulled in more than 20 million viewers.

Wow, those are some skewed numbers for keeping a show going. That properly engenders more hate for it from Hollywood insiders.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only about 1 million people watch Girls on a good night.

(Everyone else has to wait until the torrent has been uploaded. )
posted by phunniemee at 12:16 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am pretty sure that was the thread in which I came the closest to tableflip ragequitting

Oh, god, please nobody steal Tableflip Ragequitting as a sockpuppet name, no matter how tempting it may be. It's too gorgeous for any one person to own.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember in the 90s the show "Friends" getting frequently called out for having such a homogenous cast and painting such an unrealistically white picture of Manhattan (like even it's immediate predecessor Seinfeld, with its far more insular, neurotic main cast was more diverse in its world building and who thinks of Seinfeld as a diverse show?)

It's 15+ years later, more people care, and the problem hasn't gotten much better, if any, PLUS this show is supposed to be depicting Brooklyn. Not nearly as many people watch Girls as Friends of course, but it maintains a crazy high profile for the numbers it does get.

Plus people hate how Brooklyn is really gentrifying by people like the ones featured on Girls, and it feels like the newcomers aren't whitewashing the past or the future but the present world around them.

Plus I don't think everyone realizes that Girls is supposed to be like a grounded, hipster version of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, where everyone in the cast is horrible and myopic, but are subject to real pain and consequences as a result of their refusal to learn from their mistakes.

Also a lot of people hate hipsters and professional women and women who express a semblance of sexuality (especially while not maintaining Hollywood beauty standards) and people hate nepotism and those who have a leg-up from birthright and achieve young like Lena Dunham has and also that one Girls writer tweeted a bunch of ignorant racial shit as a response to the controversy that was supposed to be funny but just came out entitled.

Me? I think the show's alright. I can take it or leave it.
posted by elr at 12:19 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wow, those are some skewed numbers for keeping a show going.

Cable shows don't depend on ratings figures to survive--it's a whole different ball game.
posted by yoink at 12:19 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


spicynuts wrote "Did the writer of this article consider that perhaps this issue will be addressed in subsequent episodes throughout this an other seasons and not flippantly in every friggin episode because the writers care enough to take their time and develop a plot line around this that is just as relevant and real as the first episode for which they have been praised"

Well said. This is sort of where cultural criticism born from literary analysis fails terribly when applied to television. When someone writes something critical about a book, they have read the entire book (hopefully). No one knows where this season of Girls is going, so criticism is impossible to do at this point. We don't have the story yet.

That being said, Girls season one in my opinion took a little time to really reel me in. Girls season one was very sharp, but it took a little bit of time to become that great. I get the sense Season Two is asking that of me again. So far, though, I'm kind of running out of patience. These first two episodes weren't doing it for me, and I'm hoping that next week it'll really start to bring me.
posted by scunning at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2013


Girls: 1 million viewers
2 Broke Girls: 11 million viewers

PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES THIS WAY GUYS
posted by furiousthought at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


One thing I worry about, though: when there are television programs - fairly sophisticated ones - about characters who are depicted as kind of hypocritical, ridiculous and unpleasant, I worry about racism and racial inequality becoming just a kind of quirk or foible, like never tipping or being hypocritical about sex. Like "everyone is a little bit racist, so it's just something to poke fun at" instead of "it's unacceptable to be racist, so what is to be done?"

I think you want the show to be a very different show than it is, though -- more akin to Brechtian agitprop than the realism-heavy dramedy it currently is. I suppose I can't fault you for that, but I can't say that I agree, given that I think the show's so well-done for what it currently is, and that so much of its project is based around presenting what most shows might consider "quirks" as horrifying spectacles of selfish blinkeredness.

Hannah's attitude about her interracial relationship seems of a piece with much of the rest of the show's yawning chasms of cluelessness, whether it's Adam saying "When you love someone, you don't have to be nice all the time," or Elijah being struck by disbelief when his boyfriend breaks up with him for infidelity, or Jessa's temerity about advising other characters when she herself is in such a clearly-nightmarish trainwreck of a relationship.

I don't think the show needs to be any more didactic than it is (and indeed, I think the realism would suffer quite a bit if it was) when so much of it seems so plainly an indictment rather than a celebration of its protagonists.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:22 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


The answer surely is to always give your main character a black confidante who isn't actually involved in the plot but who exhibits an engaging and oh-so-plausible mix of motown attitude and sub-voodoo bayou folk wisdom.

David Milch has said that this is why the captain on NYPD is named Officer Fancy.
posted by dobbs at 12:24 PM on January 23, 2013


Black Republican? Sounds like Childish Gambino is learning well from Hova.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:25 PM on January 23, 2013


Can we toss Dexter some praise for its realistically diverse cast of completely unnecessary secondary and tertiary characters who can't act their way out of a box?

(This is a trait shared by white, black and brown members of the Miami Metro police force alike)
posted by elr at 12:30 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think you want the show to be a very different show than it is, though -- more akin to Brechtian agitprop than the realism-heavy dramedy it currently is.

I just want it to have more people who aren't rich and white.

Blue and pastry-covered is okay.
posted by elizardbits at 12:31 PM on January 23, 2013


Only about 1 million people watch Girls on a good night. (Only 866,000 watched the season 2 premiere.) Arrested Development was canceled for low ratings with an average audience size of 6.2 million. Friends regularly pulled in more than 20 million viewers.

Yeah, but those shows aren't comparable--Girls is on HBO and, shock!horror! not everyone's got HBO. I have no ideal what decent HBO viewing numbers are. Google suggests the Wire peaked about at 4 million.
posted by hoyland at 12:33 PM on January 23, 2013


What I love about Girls is how everyone has Very Strong Opinions on the show, even if they've never watched a minute.

Yeah, probably Lena Dunham's best response to class-issues barbs thrown at the show would be to point out how much work she's created for underemployed wage slaves in the pop-commentary industry. Regardless of audience numbers, HBO should get a government grant to keep it going as a sort of WPA program for journalists.
posted by gompa at 12:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's been very disconcerting, as I grew up watching The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Fresh Prince, to see how easily modern TV has slipped into tokenism or 'ironic' racism.

Me, too. I grew up watching Good Times, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons with my family in suburban Northern Virginia (pretty white, at least at the time). We loved those shows because they were great shows.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Class is the big elephant in the room no one wants to talk about here. I live in Greenpoint where this show is filmed and so I know the environment being depicted. Throwing some black people into the backgrounds of parties and having a Republican black boyfriend - totally realistic to the class of people this show is depicting and the environment in which they live. Lena may realistically claim she doesn't see race but she damn sure sees CLASS. Would she have dated a Crip from the DuPont area or would those people even get through the door of these people's parties??? DOUBT IT.
posted by spicynuts at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where's the black monster?
posted by lordaych at 12:42 PM on January 23, 2013


You sound like the cookie monster.
posted by JHarris at 12:42 PM on January 23, 2013


Yeah, but those shows aren't comparable--Girls is on HBO and, shock!horror! not everyone's got HBO. I have no ideal what decent HBO viewing numbers are. Google suggests the Wire peaked about at 4 million.

Well, even without comparing it to a massive premium cable hit like The Wire, Girls doesn't have particularly impressive ratings to date. The premiere of 866,000 compares unfavorably to the season premiere of Showtime's Shameless (2,000,000) and House of Lies (1,200,000), according to the New York Times. I don't have any particular interest in watching Girls so I never have, but as an outside observer it's fairly astonishing the amount of attention it receives (even prior to its initial premiere) relative to its actual popularity to date.
posted by dsfan at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2013


(er, I didn't know the thread had gotten that far away from Greg Nog's comment
posted by JHarris at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2013


WHY ISNT THERE A WHITE COOKIE MONSTER, JHARRIS?
posted by Greg Nog at 12:47 PM on January 23, 2013


My point was not that Girls has bad ratings (although they're not great), but that it is not the, uh, cultural juggernaut it's made out to be. It's a pretty modest show.
posted by purpleclover at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2013


Hmm...there's a lot to unpack here. As a black guy, I didn't see much in the script or casting to offend me in those first few episodes (I stopped watching rather quickly). It's perfectly normal for a white, affluent, college-educated young woman to spend most if not all of her free time socializing with other people from that same demographic. Of course, the men she dates are more likely to be white and of a similar background. What drew my notice was how few black people were walking around, aside from the loud homeless guy in the first episode. In the sidewalk and other public areas non-white people seemed to be non-existent. If you walk around NYC in real life, there is going to be a noticeable presence of black people, Latinos, Middle-Easterners, etc. To see this show based in Manhattan and have only white people there was unnerving. Every now and then, it disturbs me when someone happens to remind me that white people don't often notice minorities unless they're actively being "inconvenienced" by us in some way. That's an example of white privilege, but it's not the same as being racist or harboring racist beliefs. I'm far more interested in the systemic racism of Hollywood than what the daughter of some guy named Judd Apatow does.
posted by IShouldBeStudyingRightNow at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Ahh, a fellow commenter who didn't refresh after Greg's cookie monster reference. I feel less ashamed
posted by lordaych at 12:53 PM on January 23, 2013


I keep failing at the meef; back to work.
posted by lordaych at 12:54 PM on January 23, 2013


Why isn't there the white cookie monster, Greg Nog?
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lena may realistically claim she doesn't see race but she damn sure sees CLASS.

I'm pretty sure Lena Dunham would never claim that she doesn't see race. Her character, Hannah, is the one who said that.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, even without comparing it to a massive premium cable hit like The Wire

What? The Wire was repeatedly threatened with cancellation. But you also have to factor in production costs, which for Girls can't be that much probably? I can't find figures on that though.
posted by furiousthought at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another thing to bear in mind is that television faces a set of constraints that fiction (e.g., books) do not. They are:

1. The available time in a single episode (~55 minutes).
2. The number of episodes in a season (~12 or so).
3. The number of social interactions, which is an increasing function of the number of people.

There's an excellent article that you probably cannot find anywhere online (or i never could) by Robert Bostrom called "Patterns of Communicative Interaction in Small Groups". It was published in 1970 in the journal Speech Monographs, and I believe that this journal no longer exists.

Anyhow, the article is a mathematical contribution to communication theory, and while it makes no real predictions, it's descriptively valuable for understanding why adding one more person to a small group is extremely taxing on the resources of that group in terms of time spent in communication with one another. Bostrom first defines a concept of social interaction as a person's communication with a person or a set of persons. Because a person interacts socially with both individuals, and distinct groupings of individuals, the number of social interactions that exist in a group is increasing at a geometric rate with the number of people.

To illustrate, consider a simple scenario where we define a group as a television show (eg, Girls) consisting of three characters named Hannah (H), Adam (A), and Elijah (E). By Bostrom's definitions, there are 9 *possible* social interactions for this group. They are:

Six 1-1 interactions
1. H(A) -- Hannah's interaction with Adam
2. A(H) -- Adam's interaction with Hannah
3. A(E)
4. E(A)
5. H(E)
6. E(H)

Six 2-1 interactions
7. E(HA) -- Elijah's interaction with Hannah and Adam
8. A(HE) -- Adam's interaction with Hannah & Elijah
9. H(AE) -- Hannah's interaction with Adam & Elijah

So, to summarize, with a cast of three characters, there are 9 channels of communication that can possibly take place. What if we add a fourth character, then? The number of interactions increases from 9 to 28. Why?

First, the fourth character creates 12 1-1 interactions. This is seen as Hannah's three interactions with each of the other 3 characters, Elijah's three interactions with each of the other 3 characters, and so on up to the fourth character totaling 12. But, that's not all. There are now also 12 2-1 possible interactions when you have 4 characters (whereas before it was only 6). And finally, the addition of a fourth character means for the first time it's possible for their to be a subgroup of 3 people (e.g., Hannah, Elijah and Adam) interacting with the fourth character (e.g., Marmie), and each variation within. There's four possible interactions for the 3-1 grouping, thus totaling 28 total "possible" social interactions for a group of only 4 people.

Girls, season one, worked with a cast of around 6 main characters (Hannah, Jessa, Shoshanna, Marmie, Adam and Ray) plus another 8 recurring characters of varying importance (Charlie, Elijah, Rich, Loreen, Tad, Katherine, Jef and Thomas-John). But you could probably argue that the main characters for season two are Hannah, Jessa, Shoshanna, Marmie, Adam, Ray, Elijah, and it remains to be seen but probably also Thomas-John (Jessa's new husband) and Charlie (Marmie's ex-boyfriend). So that's 9 characters, making Glover's character the tenth.

How many possible social interactions are there for 9 characters? 2,286 using Bostrom's model. That's 72 possible 1-1 interactions, 252 possible 2-1, 504 possible 3-1, 630 possible 4-1, 504 possible 5-1, 252 possible 6-1, 72 possible 7-1 and 9 possible 8-1.

How many possible social interactions are there when you add a tenth character to the show? 5,010, which is 2,724 more possible social interactions than when we just had 9 characters.

I suspect that key to understanding why so many shows and movies suffer profoundly when they begin to have large ensembles is based on the constraints imposed on them by the medium's time constraints, as well as the limiting factors created by this "possible social interactions" equation that Bostrom derived. The tenth character to enter an ensemble television show brings with him or her the potential to completely wreck havoc on the show's tenuous socializing. Even moreso if the writers have to actually incorporate this character with some of these relationships. Friends could do this somewhat by simply deleting hundreds of possible interactions, and focusing the show around just a few interactions. That meant, though, that introducing new characters would always be temporary -- usually just a television show or two -- and most often solely on just a couple of the possible social interactions. Often it would be the entire Friends cast interacting with the character, but there were a few other possibilities too. Plus, for a comedy like Friends where very little importance is placed on the quality of the dramatic comedy and writing, they could get away with it.

Girls has a much more challenging problem to overcome. So not only does it seem to me unfair to criticize the show's race problem after only two episodes into Season two, but it also seems kind of naive about the fundamental problems created by scarce social space in a television show like this one.
posted by scunning at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why is Girls a focal point for criticism about under-representation of people of color on television?

Let's look at tonight's dramas.

Criminal Minds: Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Joe Mantegna, Jeanne Tripplehorn. 6 white people, 1 African American, 0 Hispanic, 0 Asian.

CSI: Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue, George Eads, Jorja Fox, Eric Szmanda, Robert David Hall, Wallace Langham, David Berman, Elisabeth Harnois, Jon Wellner, Paul Guilfoyle. Wow, ALL white people. 11 white, 0 anything else. To be fair, they had a bunch of black folks for a long time but they apparently left the show. Still, 11-0. Some of these folks might be recurring rather than Main Cast but I don't watch this shit.

Law&Order SUV: Mariska Hargitay, Danny Pino, Kelli Giddish, Richard Belzer, Ice T, Dann Florek. 4 white, 1 black, 1 hispanic.

Chicago Fire: Jesse Spencer, Taylor Kinney, Charlie Barnett, Monica Raymund, Laren German, Eamonn Walker, David Eigenberg. 4 white, 2 black. I'm not sure how Monica Raymund self identifies. Her father is a white jewish dude, her mother is from the Dominican Republic. So not sure.

Nashville: Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Clare Bowen, Charles Esten, Sam Palladio, Robert Wisdom, Powers Boothe. 6 white, 1 black.

So for the dramas in tonights lineup we have 31 white folks, 5 african americans (possibly 6), 1 hispanic, no asians. Minorities are vastly under-represented. But among minorities, African Americans are greatly over-represented white Hispanics are virtually invisible. As are Asians, but Hispanics make up such a large fraction of the total population that their lack is absurd.

Why is it that these conversations always seem to center on the lack of black people on television when the numbers look to me like black folks are over while it is other minorities, particularly Hispanics, who are so badly underrepresented? I mean, something like a third of the population is Hispanic but I only see one clearly hispanic person in tonight's lineup of dramas.
posted by Justinian at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Lena Dunham would never claim that she doesn't see race. Her character, Hannah, is the one who said that.

ha, you're so naive. And I bet you think Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't really a cyborg, huh?
posted by phunniemee at 1:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I forgot about the CW. As does the rest of America judging by the ratings. But looking at the cast for, say, Arrow you have a bunch of white people and two black people. So the pattern holds; both white and black people are over-represented while Asian and particularly Hispanics are grossly under-represented.
posted by Justinian at 1:02 PM on January 23, 2013


And I bet you think Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't really a cyborg, huh?

I NEVER SAID THAT
posted by shakespeherian at 1:02 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the ratings question, here's a good piece from avclub on HBO's approach to ratings.
posted by yoink at 1:03 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Law&Order SUV

Ford Excursion, Chevy Suburban, Yukon Denali, Cadillac Escalade, Toyota Sequoia. 3 white, 1...black?, 1 Asian
posted by phunniemee at 1:04 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


It goes with Law&Order Criminals in Tents.
posted by Justinian at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait Ted Danson is on CSI?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


And can we get a shoutout for ABC Family?

Switched at Birth: A LOT OF EVERYBODY. And it's a decently good show!
posted by phunniemee at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2013




jb: "The Brits handle this by just casting non-white actors in roles where race isn't specific. For all that Britain has a much lower non-white population (both absolute and proportional terms), British television seems much more multi-racial than American television."

Funny, I just had this exact conversation with an anglophile Indian friend.
posted by Mister_A at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2013


I NEVER SAID THAT

whatevs, you cyborg apologist.
posted by elizardbits at 1:06 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The controversy surrounding Tarantino's Django Unchained, meanwhile, has rivaled the Girls debate in intensity

I don't think this line from the article is true. But if it is, talk about a huge example about how women in general, and Girls in particular, have to put up with more shit from more directions than their male counterparts.

I'd love to have Lena Dunham's talent and success, but I'm not sure all the Golden Globes and money in the world would prepare me for the bullshit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:06 PM on January 23, 2013


Wait Ted Danson is on CSI?

You coulda knocked me over with a feather as well. But he is apparently the new Main Guy. Like I said, I don't watch this shit I'm just going based on the Main Cast lists on Wikipedia. Ok, I watch Nashville. I'm sorry.
posted by Justinian at 1:07 PM on January 23, 2013


HBO is probably more motivated by column inches the shows garner than sheer number of viewers, they are trying to sell subscriptions.

By comparison, How to Make it in America and Bored to Death had even less viewers than Girls. I don't think anyone cared that those shows even existed though.

How to Make it in America was also incredibly annoying, like lastnightsparty.com brought to life and filled with unemployed guys wearing $600 raw denim jeans.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2013


But I like Ted Danson.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2013


What? The Wire was repeatedly threatened with cancellation. But you also have to factor in production costs, which for Girls can't be that much probably? I can't find figures on that though.

Yeah, that's totally fair. I was operating from memory that production costs were the driver of cancellation threats rather than ratings, but I think I was just wrong on that. Anyway, I don't want to divert the thread from the issue of race too much, just emphasizing the point (that others made) that Girls isn't by any stretch of the imagination a smash hit.
posted by dsfan at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2013


So for the dramas in tonights lineup we have 31 white folks, 5 african americans (possibly 6), 1 hispanic, no asians.

That's interesting, because in percentage terms 5-6 out of 37 does, in fact, accurately reflect the percentage of African Americans in the US population--and yet it doesn't seem like it intuitively, does it?

And you're right, it's whackily askew with regard to hispanics.
posted by yoink at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, I watch Nashville. I'm sorry.

I will watch Connie Britton in pretty much anything--no need to apologize.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on January 23, 2013


Ya wanna feel underrepresented on the teevee in another way, or at least on mainstream and especially SitcomWorldish shows? Try being over 40. Or, as referenced above, try being below Very Comfortable Middle Class in income

Looked at from just an age POV the main characters on so many shows seem so wildly interchangeable. And it's like they're all in some sci-fi world where all the Over-40s and Poors are Disappeared.

TV has really only advanced in one way since the 60s – its inclusion of gay characters. But it’s appallingly backward in representation of any other diversity - ethnic, age, income.

The real problem, the real question is - why are networks only giving a chance to showrunners with such a limited view of the world?
posted by NorthernLite at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


yoink: And the crazy thing is, if you ran the numbers for Thursdays I bet it would be even more clear. Because Grey's Anatomy and Scandal are both on Thursdays and they each have multiple black people in the main casts including the lead on Scandal. But I believe there is only 1 hispanic in the main cast on either show!

I guess you made my point. I don't believe African Americans are under-represented on network TV dramas but Hispanics are grossly under-represented, and that doesn't get anything like the same attention and I am just wondering why.
posted by Justinian at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


And can we get a shoutout for ABC Family

I was going to make a joke about how pearly white Pretty Little Liars is, but I realized that by TV standards, it's actually just kind of average. The main cast has one person of color and there's one in the immediate supporting cast with another recurring African American character who's not on the show anymore. The fact that a show that set in the Philadelphia Main Line has typical demographics might be a problem.

I also think that comparing the total percentage of African Americans in the US to the TV totals is the wrong approach. Shows are largely set in the more diverse large cities where the numbers are more off than they look if you're also considering North Dakota.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shows are largely set in the more diverse large cities where the numbers are more off than they look if you're also considering North Dakota.

But doesn't that just raise the question of why that particular slice of the American Reality isn't getting its fair share of representation on TV?
posted by yoink at 1:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bulgaroktonos: I don't think looking at it like that is productive because you really start getting down into the weeds. Like there are a lot of lawyer and doctor shows on television but the fraction of lawyers and doctors in the USA who are black is considerably lower than the national average, even in cities. And so on. So it's easiest to look at raw numbers.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2013


I don't think this line from the article is true. But if it is, talk about a huge example about how women in general, and Girls in particular, have to put up with more shit from more directions than their male counterparts.

Is the Mindy Project having to deal with the level of criticism that Girls has? Because though its creator, star and main writer is a female person of color, it's a mostly white cast.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody picks on shows whose biggest sins are wasting talent and not getting viewers.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess you made my point. I don't believe African Americans are under-represented on network TV dramas but Hispanics are grossly under-represented, but that doesn't get anything like the same attention and I am just wondering why.

Because there two entire television networks where the main characters of almost all the dramas are Latino? Univision has been beating all three English-language channels in the ratings quite a lot recently. I confess I don't speak Spanish myself, so this is based on dicking around with Wiki, but on Univision at least all the prime time dramas seem to be telenovelas with a nearly 100 percent Latino cast.
posted by Diablevert at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


(not that I think criticism of successful shows should really be defined as 'picked on' -- sloppy word choice on my part)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2013


Bulgaroktonos: I don't think looking at it like that is productive because you really start getting down into the weeds. Like there are a lot of lawyer and doctor shows on television but the fraction of lawyers and doctors in the USA who are black is considerably lower than the national average, even in cities. And so on. So it's easiest to look at raw numbers

I don't know, I think a lot of the criticism of Girls and Friends before it is not that it's whiter than average for the country, but that it's whiter than average for New York. I think there's something to that because the experience of living in a big city is one that involves a lot of contact with non-whites, even if your inner circle is all white.

I also think a world where the shows set in New York are decently diverse and there are shows set in North Dakota seems like one worth trying to get to. I know as a person who has spent maybe four days of my entire life in New York City the numbers of shows set there drives me crazy and has nurtured a life long hatred of the city. I'd love to see some shows set in North Dakota.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because there two entire television networks where the main characters of almost all the dramas are Latino?

I don't think this really works, though, does it? I mean, isn't the implicit claim behind these criticisms that the landscape of pop-culture in general should broadly reflect back to us the nation as it is ("hold a mirror up to nature," to coin a phrase)? I don't think we can say that hispanic reality can just be outsourced to Univision et al, anymore than we would think it o.k. for there to be a bunch of "white-folks" networks and a "black-folks" network.
posted by yoink at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suspect that key to understanding why so many shows and movies suffer profoundly when they begin to have large ensembles is based on the constraints imposed on them by the medium's time constraints, as well as the limiting factors created by this "possible social interactions" equation that Bostrom derived.

That is ridiculous. There are plenty of movies that run around 90 minutes and do just fine in fully developing many different characters and resolving fully developed stories. The lack of development in her characters and narrative is problematic simply because that is Dunham, and the shows, weakness. As great of a show as it is, she is still very young and those failings are because of the artist, not the media.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sassy black women are the new sassy gay male friend.

Crap! So now I have to trade in my roommate for a sassy black woman?!? Fashion was difficult enough when it was just shirts going in and out of style.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I personally do expect less fucked-up-ness from marginalized people than from straight white men

I have spent far too much time in bars around obnoxious gay white men who have completely failed in any way to grow positively from their own experiences of otherness. I was behind an interracial couple in line on New Year's, and this stupid flaming creature turned around and actually asked her out loud, "So, how much did your father pay for him?"

Unfortunately, your hypothesis fails in real life.
posted by mykescipark at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hey, does anyone believe that Donald Glover wouldn't have played a part in writing the character of Sandy?
posted by Navelgazer at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2013


Friends was also touted as must-see TV, but that didn't make it good.

That's true. It was the writing that made it good.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:58 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of movies that run around 90 minutes and do just fine in fully developing many different characters and resolving fully developed stories.

"Plenty"?

I mean, yes, there are great ensemble films--but it is undoubtedly a notable feat when a writer brings off a film with more than six major characters and leaves you feeling that all of their story-arcs were sufficiently well-handled and that none of them were simply bit-players in one of the other characters' stories. I'm not sure I can think of a 90-minute example off the top of my head.
posted by yoink at 2:11 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this really works, though, does it? I mean, isn't the implicit claim behind these criticisms that the landscape of pop-culture in general should broadly reflect back to us the nation as it is ("hold a mirror up to nature," to coin a phrase)? I don't think we can say that hispanic reality can just be outsourced to Univision et al, anymore than we would think it o.k. for there to be a bunch of "white-folks" networks and a "black-folks" network

The landscape of pop culture doesn't include the third most watched television network? I'm afraid I'm going to sound like a nudge putting it this way, but I mean, it's out there, millions of people are watching it. Or does representation only count if it's representation on the networks white people are mostly likely to watch, the big three bequeathed to us by Edward R Murrow et al? Or does it only count if it's part of the cultural conversation mostly white people are having, on pop culture websites and blogs like this one? Is the point of diversity "for there to exist a show which reflects my life and which I enjoy watching" or "for there to exist a show which reminds the dominant culture that I exist"?

I don't have an answer to any of that, by the way. But I think until Frowner succeeds in strapping us all in her Clockwork Orange chair for therapuetic reeducation, people are going to watch shows they like. I don't think art is medicine; it is not under an obligation to do no harm. I think all a creator can do is try and represent the world as they see it truly ---- if the character wouldn't have a friend who is like this, then don't give them one, even if on the whole you think it'd be neat if there were more people like that on TV. Art only succeeds by an act of transmorgrification, when the incredibly particular by being itself becomes somehow universal. That's what's holy about it. Let The Wire be the Wire and let Girls be Girls, I guess is my feeling.
posted by Diablevert at 2:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


It isn't screentime that gives depth to a character but rather choices they make and the stakes of those choices. Movies and TV can't compare on this because the stakes and rhythms of TV are built for longer-form storytelling.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2013


The landscape of pop culture doesn't include the third most watched television network?

It's only accessible, however, to those who speak Spanish. So, quite obviously, it is not conveying the Latino experience to the vast majority of the non-Latino audience (and not even to the non-Spanish speaking Latino audience--which does exist). The point is that the "hold a mirror up to nature" argument is not that there should be shows about black folks for black folks to watch and shows about white folks for white folks to watch and shows about Latino folks for Latino folks to watch but that the broad range of available shows ought, overall, to reflect back to the whole audience the broad range of the US experience (white, black, latino, male, female, gay straight etc.). Thus the argument would be that Spanish-language media should reflect that broad diversity back to spanish-speaking audiences just as English-language media should reflect that broad diversity back to English-speaking audiences.

I agree with you that this leads us into difficulties, and that much of the criticism of specific shows becomes pretty obtuse pretty quickly. But surely you'd also agree that it's pretty weird that the collective portrait of the American experience one gleans from English-language US network and cable TV pretty mostly erases the US latino community. And surely you'd also agree that pointing to Univision and saying "oh, they're over there" doesn't really address what is problematic about that?
posted by yoink at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2013


When I lived in New York, I was in the most amazing group of friends. Several of them have become world famous. They were genius and fun and the whole feeling was glorious, we were always welcome at the pickiest restaurants, bars and clubs, even though we were broke. But among our group, there were two white Americans, one of them a New Yorker, the other from Chicago. Lots of people of color, USAian and not.
Specifically, I remember one evening when friends from my home country visited. They had very, very high-up NY friends. I'd easily gotten a reservation at a fancy place (normal waiting times a week+). But I was late. I'd invited two artist friends of mine, not brown, but also not American or from my home country. When I arrived they were furious - the fancy New Yorkers had snubbed them - in a restaurant famous for seating people from diverse trades at communal tables (because doh, you are not even here if you are not cool).
So we left. We told my friends where we went, and later on they all came there with tons of apologies. It seems the waiters had told them what they just missed out on. But by then we had lost all respect for upper-class New Yorkers.

(this is not a general affirmation that New Yorkers are rude and crude. Normal New Yorkers are amazing people, always helpful and always polite. It's a small subset - but maybe they are the ones who generate all the bad press?)
posted by mumimor at 2:40 PM on January 23, 2013


I happen to know both Berman (the author of the article) and Dunham (its subject). I much prefer Berman.

Also, I was never run off the road on my bike by Judy Berman's enormous face pasted on the front of a bus.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:45 PM on January 23, 2013


Well that has nothing to do with anything.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


That is ridiculous. There are plenty of movies that run around 90 minutes and do just fine in fully developing many different characters and resolving fully developed stories. The lack of development in her characters and narrative is problematic simply because that is Dunham, and the shows, weakness. As great of a show as it is, she is still very young and those failings are because of the artist, not the media.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:35 PM on 1/23


"Ridiculous" seems kind of harsh. If you're saying that adding a tenth character to a tv show like this is just as easy as adding a fourth character, or whatever, and your only evidence is that you have personally seen plenty of movies (note - I said television shows, which is again a different medium with different constraints) where it's done isn't an argument against. I think it's hard to run a sub-three hour marathon, but obviously it can be done and thousands have done so and will continue to do so. It's still nonetheless the case that shaving ten minutes off a marathon time to go from 3:00 to 2:50 is much harder than shaving ten minutes off a four hour time from 4:00 to 3:50.

It's the same here. I'm not saying it is impossible, though I do think its easier to come up with examples where it's done badly than ones where it isn't. Sometimes "jumping the shark" precisely coincides with increasing the ensemble by one -- adding Oliver, the cousin, to the Brady bunch for instance. You also see this problem in sequels in movies, particularly in super hero movies. The mathematical constraints that define the social world make writing the realistic story very hard -- particularly if the writers have committed to a group experience. For instance, in season one when Hannah's parents visit, there is really only one social interaction that is considered which is Hannah (mom and dad). And to do that, Dunham limited the social interactions physically -- they visit only her at the restaurant, she visits only them at home. A few other times we see a hint of some other social interactions -- Elijah tells hannah her dad is gay, which alludes to a "Elijah (hannah and Hannah's dad)" interaction in the past, or Hannah's mom and dad in the shower -- but note how the authors just barely touch these. To actually move into these interactions in substantive ways but not fully develop them can leave viewers feeling like a thread isn't getting picked up and completed.

It's not that these stories aren't possible, but my point is that in the real world it's entirely possible for these thousands upon thousands of interactions to take place and their doing so informs the richness of the groups relationships. But what is different in the real world is that these interactions take place simultaneously. The 55 minute constraint isn't there, nor is the seasonal arc.

When I have personally seen large ensembles pull it off, they give the appearance of a group that is larger than the one we actually recognize. Lost for instance -- there is 40+ survivors on the island and we see them constantly. But there is in the end only around 6-8 main characters, and of that, only 4 who writers have invested in deeply.

Adding Glover isn't just about race. Durham is telling a difficult story in the sheer logisitics and its far easier to screw up a story with ten characters than it is five. You could easily do sex in the city but she has chosen not to do so. To keep the quality level high, she is going at it a particular way and Ill be curious how she does when it is done. No one can judge the quality of her successful execution of it, though, before she's even gotten started. That is deeply naive to even expect its possible yet.
posted by scunning at 3:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ahahahaha
posted by furiousthought at 3:35 PM on January 23, 2013


Movies and TV can't compare on this because the stakes and rhythms of TV are built for longer-form storytelling.

Sure, but that doesn't mean it should take half a season for half of the cast to be more than one sentence props.

"Ridiculous" seems kind of harsh.

Not when you're layering on levels of complexity that amounts to "X x Y = character development is tough." Building a character is a hell of lot more than person A talks to person B.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2013


I don't know, I think a lot of the criticism of Girls and Friends before it is not that it's whiter than average for the country, but that it's whiter than average for New York. I think there's something to that because the experience of living in a big city is one that involves a lot of contact with non-whites, even if your inner circle is all white.


I find it somewhat hilarious and awesome that Parks and Rec, a show set in a fictional small town in Indiana is more diverse than Girls, set in Brooklyn. And the beauty of Parks and Rec? The race of the characters is rarely if ever the focal point of the characters. And it's a better show for it.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:39 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Overall, I suspect a lot of the Girls hate is due to Dunham getting the show via her connections.

J.J. Abrams is "the son of television producer Gerald W. Abrams and executive producer Carol Ann Abrams." Joss Whedon is "the world's first third-generation TV writer." Nope, something else going on.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:40 PM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oddly enough, one of the most respectful portrayals of an African-American character I've seen (and I speak as an outsider, so I could be wrong) is in the mostly forgotten kids cartoon Secret Saturdays. The main characters parents are a mixed raced couple - the man is African-American and the woman is white. They're both portrayed as scientists, and though they're handy in a fight they don't decend into Samuel L Jackson stereotypes.

And this is a show about a kid who's best friends with Bigfoot.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad this article also called out Michael Chabon for his tin-eared characterizations in Telegraph Avenue. The book is terrible for so many more reasons than just his off key portrayals of east bay blacks, but i found those to be far more irritating than a single minor character in Girls.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:47 PM on January 23, 2013


How to Make it in America had much more diverse casting.

Honestly, I don't think there's any way to do a sympathetic portrayal of young Broolynites without it coming off as terribly insufferable. Move on to a new city already!
posted by Apocryphon at 4:11 PM on January 23, 2013


How many people can look around their friend group and honestly say that it's diverse?

Every urban Canadian. Every one.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:33 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The landscape of pop culture doesn't include the third most watched television network? I'm afraid I'm going to sound like a nudge putting it this way, but I mean, it's out there, millions of people are watching it. Or does representation only count if it's representation on the networks white people are mostly likely to watch, the big three bequeathed to us by Edward R Murrow et al? Or does it only count if it's part of the cultural conversation mostly white people are having, on pop culture websites and blogs like this one? Is the point of diversity "for there to exist a show which reflects my life and which I enjoy watching" or "for there to exist a show which reminds the dominant culture that I exist"?

Okay, I mean we can be precise and say "Hispanics are woefully underrepresented in English-language American television." Arguing it's not weird that there are so few Hispanics on English-language programs because Univision (et al.) exist is like arguing African-American characters need only appear on BET. I'm probably going to watch Chicago Fire this evening. If there were no Hispanic characters (there is one fairly prominent Hispanic character, but he doesn't make NBC's list of main characters, interestingly), that makes the show rather less than plausible. Why? It'd be weird if there were no Hispanic people in a city of 2.7 million. Funnily enough, loads of Hispanic people speak English (and are either monolingual or bilingual), so it's not like they have to be banished to plots that exist to remind us the Spanish-speaking characters speak Spanish or that hinge on a translation problem.
posted by hoyland at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2013


Toni Morrison on why white characters are few and far between in her novels

Wow, this is a remarkable clip. I felt like Morrison did a great job of explaining a complicated and nuanced topic in a comprehensible, generous way...and then the interviewer just whitesplained all the fuck over her. Wtf.
posted by threeants at 4:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And it dovetails quite nicely with the Shukla blogpost linked earlier.)
posted by threeants at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2013


...so really they should make the show the want to make and ignore the Internet, really.

Shhhyeah, right. What use is the internet then?
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:57 PM on January 23, 2013


Although this is a not an American website (whatever that may mean to people), I know, and I'm sure many people in this thread are not American, I never cease to be amazed at the degree of handwringing Americans indulge in over issues of 'race'. It's a little bit much, sometimes.

The thing that strikes me -- and probably has been said already, better -- is that when people say some variation of 'there should be more writers/shows/characters of [Ethnicity X]' they are reducing Ethnicity X to a monolithic group, which to me, feeds exactly the same sort of regrettably race-focussed, reductionist mode of thinking that they're ostensibly opposing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:37 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although this is a not an American website (whatever that may mean to people), I know, and I'm sure many people in this thread are not American, I never cease to be amazed at the degree of handwringing Americans indulge in over issues of 'race'. It's a little bit much, sometimes.

The Australian approach of 'constant racial jokes so that everybody is offended' is much better, I'm sure you'd agree.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:39 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never cease to be amazed at the degree of handwringing Americans indulge in over issues of 'race'. It's a little bit much, sometimes.

It can be a bit much, yes. Are there other societies you have in mind that are dealing with an equivalent length and depth of racial inequality that are doing it better?
posted by benito.strauss at 5:44 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some hunting around on Google suggests Monica Raymund identifies as Latina (last sentence), or at the very least, someone at NBC is willing to attribute such a statement to her. Not sure about her character (who has some backstory, but I don't remember what it is--I'm not devoting much brain to this stupid show).
posted by hoyland at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2013


The Australian approach of 'constant racial jokes so that everybody is offended' is much better, I'm sure you'd agree.

I lived for a total of about 4 years in Australia, and, sarcasm aside, yeah, it was pretty horrifying. I'm not suggesting that sweeping meaningful discussion under the JOCULARITY CARPET is in any way a better way of dealing with it.

It can be a bit much, yes. Are there other societies you have in mind that are dealing with an equivalent length and depth of racial inequality that are doing it better?

Well, there are few places on earth that don't have at least an equivalent length and depth of racial inequality. It's one of the nightmares of history from which we're all trying to awaken. Canada or Australia or New Zealand might have a shorter histories of it, but only because they are newer nations.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2013


Seeing Donald Glover in Girls was painful. It's like she wrote him in just so she could molest him. Come to think of it, she seems determined to make Chris O'Dowd unfunny and unlikeable, which doesn't even seem possible when you watch him in the IT Crowd.

Why is Girls even categorized as a comedy? There is not one laugh in a whole season of it.
posted by w0mbat at 6:09 PM on January 23, 2013


Probably because it is hilarious
posted by shakespeherian at 6:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why is Girls even categorized as a comedy? There is not one laugh in a whole season of it.

Not to judge anyone's life choices, but if you can't see any humour in it and are distressed by characters being unlikable then it's not for toy and you probably shouldn't watch a whole season of it.
posted by Artw at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2013


Why is Girls even categorized as a comedy? There is not one laugh in a whole season of it.

Are we watching the same show? I'm not sure if it's a factor of you being a dude, or living in California, or being a wombat, or what, but I watched the entire first season in the span of a weekend--a weekend which I spent mostly in a blithering snotty mess because I was laughing so hard.
posted by phunniemee at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oooo, I get to be in the middle. I thought it was mildly amusing but not enough so to get me to watch the second season.
posted by Justinian at 6:27 PM on January 23, 2013


This is a show with a fundamentally narrow, specific point of view. It's pretty upfront about that via the show's title. It's a show driven by characters who are either deeply unlikeable due to selfishness, insecurity, or both. It's a bit like Mad Men (Zozia shoutout!) in that respect, but with characters set in different times and circumstances, and less smoking, and less story.
I think two episodes is way too early to make the call, but I felt Glover's character was starting to work as a representative of us, the audience, because we needed someone normal to pop in and say what we're all thinking, which is WTF HANNAH, perhaps like our Greek chorus of sorts.
I would have been happier if he could've popped in during the scene at the park to ask Hannah why she was shoving a Chihuahua into her bra while we were probably supposed to learn something important about either Jessa or Hanna, but it's only a 30 minute show, and YAY gratuitous adorable puppies!
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:52 PM on January 23, 2013


The Australian approach of 'constant racial jokes so that everybody is offended' is much better, I'm sure you'd agree.

Dude I still can't figure where it is in Sydney you hang out and who is is you hang out with.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 7:28 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: "Although this is a not an American website (whatever that may mean to people), I know, and I'm sure many people in this thread are not American, I never cease to be amazed at the degree of handwringing Americans indulge in over issues of 'race'. It's a little bit much, sometimes."

I think it's one of the good things about America, myself. The handwringing means we're at least trying to wrestle with the complexities of it, which is a far better situation than just passively accepting whatever ideas about race the dominant group wants to foist on the rest of the people. We've gone with that approach for a few centuries, and I think this critical self-examination is a much better way to do it.
posted by barnacles at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Arrested Development didn't have any significant non-white characters* but it was never called out like Girls.

I sort of agree with you on the larger point, but that's the worst possible example of a comedy with no racial diversity, given that 8 of the 9 core characters were blood relatives**, it was set in an insular lily-white wealthy suburb in the OC*** rather than arguably the most ethnically diverse city in human history, and part of the point of the show was that the core characters were out of touch from reality and living in their own affluent bubble. Their lack of involvement with, unfamiliarity with and interest in people of other races (particularly Hispanics) was a major comedy device.

* Marta, Annyong, Lupe
** as of the start of the show; by the end, the various adoption and cousin lovin' hijinks made things somewhat more complicated.
** don't call it that.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Every urban Canadian. Every one.

No, we can't. there is very strong racial segregation in urban Canada that starts in high school. I don't know why it happens, but friend networks in Canada are very racially divided.
posted by jb at 7:39 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's one of the good things about America, myself.

You may be right, but I do think there's a tipping point after which healthy self-examination of one's faults begins to reflexively reinforce those faults. Whether that applies at nation-scale is an open question, though, I guess.

No, we can't. there is very strong racial segregation in urban Canada that starts in high school. I don't know why it happens, but friend networks in Canada are very racially divided.

Can't really speak for urban Canada, because I grew up (many decades ago) in rural Canada, but that certainly didn't apply to my youth, at least. I wonder if things have changed.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:48 PM on January 23, 2013


"Not when you're layering on levels of complexity that amounts to "X x Y = character development is tough." Building a character is a hell of lot more than person A talks to person B.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:36 PM on 1/23
"

Straw man much? Where did I say anywhere that writing dialogue or characterization is merely social lines? You're jumping to conclusions. I'm citing a math paper about communication -- I figured it was obvious that in doing so I wouldn't have to go through all the disclaimers and caveats about what I am not saying. It's a narrowing of one and only particular element of social interaction, and it intentionally assumes away important elements for one reason only -- so that it can be talked about. I was never reducing it and saying that that is all there is, but for whatever reason you saw fit to jump to that conclusion.
posted by scunning at 8:07 PM on January 23, 2013


How many people can look around their friend group and honestly say that it's diverse?

I'm in the midst of moving back to Brooklyn after five and a half years in DC. I have a very large and extensive group of remarkably close friends in both cities. Here's my data point:

DC group: Very racially diverse. Black, white, asian, hispanic, middle eastern, you name it.

Brooklyn group: Almost entirely white, though there are some Asians and other assorted ethnicities and a couple of black friends who show up at parties maybe once or twice a year.

But heres the other factor:

DC group: Almost entirely lawyers, and friends via either one single theatre group or else a single gaming group or both.

NYC group: Super varied in profession and interest.

Both of these groups would get along very well together, but my point is that the ethnic variance of one's group of friends doesn't necessarily have anything to do with anything other than the circumstances under which people meet people and make friends.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:51 PM on January 23, 2013


Straw man much

Really, though? Maybe I should expand on what I mean.
Your comment said the show has constraints – time (55x12) and # of social interactions. You very specifically said it was unfair to criticize a show, specifically Girls, new inclusion of a character because of those constraints.
Those are not constraints but are features of the medium. Plenty of shows (and movies and books and etc. which all share those features in some form anyway) are successful because people use the form smart ways despite what you see as constraints. And you know, no one made Dunham pick the format or made her choose Sex in the City with 20 somethings. She very obviously structured her show in a manner that was akin to her earlier work. Dunham has an opportunity and she is doing good work, and there are failings with the show that obviously stem from Dunham. But if you want to say that we can’t criticize Dunham for her choices but rather the constraints of the medium are at fault here then again I would have to say that is ridiculous. To me, that looks like a really hand-wavey argument that gives a free ticket to any artist because constraints.

Hey, maybe all that’s a misread, but I think we’re at least free to criticize Dunham on the work she produces.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:35 PM on January 23, 2013


This is a show with a fundamentally narrow, specific point of view. It's pretty upfront about that via the show's title.

No, it's not and this kind of casual racism that drives me nuts.

There are black girls, Hispanic girls, poor white girls, rural girls, gay girls, geek girls and plenty of other types of female characters who do not appear on the show.

If the title accurately described the show, it would be Self Absorbed Upper Class White Girls in Brooklyn.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:07 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the title accurately described the show, it would be Self Absorbed Upper Class White Girls in Brooklyn.

Yes, but that looks crappy on DVD covers. How are you going to fit all that and still see Lena Dunham's gigantic face?
posted by phunniemee at 7:42 AM on January 24, 2013


Use ITC Franklin Gothic Std Demi Extra Compressed as the font.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:51 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get gripes about the show's title. Did people complain that there were lots of lives in Dallas that were nothing like those depicted in Dallas?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Friends was also touted as must-see TV, but that didn't make it good.

That's true. It was the writing that made it good


There was a young African American woman who was a writer's assistant on Friends, and she had to endure listening to male writers go on and on about fellatio and their sexual fantasies. Adam Chase and Greg Malins sound like truly revolting people deep down. (The filing is linked on the less and it's so gross. Tina Fey would have shut that down.)
posted by discopolo at 9:42 AM on January 24, 2013


Me, too. I grew up watching Good Times, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons with my family in suburban Northern Virginia (pretty white, at least at the time). We loved those shows because they were great shows.

I watched these shows as a kid and loved them, but the rest of my family wasn't crazy about them. To be fair, All in the Family was a hard act to follow, and George Jefferson wasn't the most sympathetic bad guy. All these shows relied on racial humor and tiptoed along the line of what was considered acceptable at the time, sometimes to great effect, but sometimes not so much.

As a kid, I envied Redd Foxx's character the most, because he lived in a junkyard! Who doesn't want to live in a junkyard? Crazy people. that's who. Also, ungrateful offspring. Lamont always gave his dad a hard time about where his life ended up, but he was never in love with the junk business and would rather go out chasing women, leaving his poor old pop at home by himself, drinking Ripple in his bathrobe.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:16 PM on January 24, 2013


I havne't seen Girls, but I did see Childish Gambino play to a room full of mostly white people, and I've known Community fans. And its perfect that she cast him as her Token Black Friend, because to a certain demographic (and I include myself in this - I'm a Stuff White People Like Stereotype) Donald Glover is their Token Black Friend.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2013


I'm not sure what that means? Do you mean people say 'I'm not racist; I like Donald Glover on teevee'?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:02 PM on January 24, 2013


I'm not sure what that means? Do you mean people say 'I'm not racist; I like Donald Glover on teevee'?

Nah, I mean people who don't really listen to rap, have African-American friends, etc like watching Community (and Parks & Rec), listen to Childish Gambino (and I was going to say Aziz Ansari was a rapper too, but it turns out he isn't). That real sheltered Stuff White People Like/Girls/Metafilter/Gawker demographic that I fully admit to being part of. It's not that we're racist, it's that Donald Glover is one of the few African-American celebrites that we're fully comfortable with. So Girls might be implicating us in that tokenism.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:07 PM on January 24, 2013


That real sheltered Stuff White People Like/Girls/Metafilter/Gawker demographic

Well okay I guess I know what you're saying but I don't think this is really something that can be applied to MetaFilter culture writ large and I hope you're well aware that the Venn diagram of PEOPLE WHO LIKE DONALD GLOVER and PEOPLE WHO ONLY LIKE DONALD GLOVER AND ARE AFRAID OF BLACK PEOPLE has a lot of non-overlap.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:20 PM on January 24, 2013


That real sheltered Stuff White People Like/Girls/Metafilter/Gawker demographic

Well okay I guess I know what you're saying but I don't think this is really something that can be applied to MetaFilter culture writ large and I hope you're well aware that the Venn diagram of PEOPLE WHO LIKE DONALD GLOVER and PEOPLE WHO ONLY LIKE DONALD GLOVER AND ARE AFRAID OF BLACK PEOPLE has a lot of non-overlap.


Yeah I know but from what I understand about Girls it's about my demographic, except more upper-class and sheltered, so it seemed like a canny piece of casting or at least more canny than if it was Idris Elba or something.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:40 PM on January 24, 2013


You haven't watched it? You should watch it.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:45 PM on January 24, 2013


I'm prejudiced against strawmen.
posted by Artw at 4:47 PM on January 24, 2013


Brandon Blatcher: "If the title accurately described the show, it would be Self Absorbed Upper Class White Girls in Brooklyn."

Fair enough; I'll concede that the title of the show is woefully inadequate to convey the point of view. However, we all seem to agree on a basic understanding of what the show is about, which is Self Absorbed Upper Class White Girls in Brooklyn Behaving Like Idiots.

What I'm trying to convey here is this: Berman hands Lena Dunham kudos for the breakup scene in the second episode of only the first two episodes of the series in which she (Berman) acknowledges that the writers:

[A]ccompanied their tacit apology with a moment that challenged not only their own and their characters' privilege, but, in its deconstruction of what has come to be known as "hipster racism," that of the show's core audience. Although self-awareness pervades Dunham's work, it was surprising to see such insight from Girls on this particular topic.

Then in the very next paragraph, Berman states:
[D]espite the fact that Sandy at least occupies a similar social milieu to the characters, Dunham continues to cast non-white actors only when race defines their character—which is to say, she still doesn't get it.

So Berman agrees that the breakup scene is awesome, but still declares the writing a failure. This argument makes no sense to me after only two episodes into the season. One of the many reasons that scene is so awesome (in addition to the reasons cited by Berman) is that we've got a character of color involved in a scene which demonstrates that Hannah is yet again behaving like an selfish twit. Because Sandy's character is involved, it makes it work even more powerfully because now we have all this additional information which explains to us how she's sabotaging her own potentially healthy relationships with her selfishness and, more poignantly, how her own narrow (Midwestern, was it?) non-diverse background is actually an obstacle to experiencing healthy relationships with people outside of her own narrow background. That scene would never have worked as successfully without the addition of Sandy: It needed a character of color to work.

Furthermore, that breakup scene is an example of why this show is slowly winning me over: It delves so much into how females in their twenties (or, I suppose, at any age for that matter) sabotage their own relationships with immaturity and selfishness. As a female, that is incredible meaningful, despite the fact that the girls portrayed on this show do not share my background of experience. This is why I believe it is incredibly unfair for Berman in this article to just blow past what the show is doing well to demand that the diversity issue be solved in just two to four episodes.

Maybe she's seen more episodes in the season than we have, in which case, I might be more open to her arguments.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Corporate Masters that control the media are convinced that the majority (white folks) are simply not interested in the lives and stories of the minority. A big fear from people of color is that this notion is correct. Progress has been made, but our society is still quite segregated. People point to institutional and structural racism and segregation as if individuals of privilege have no control over where they live, what school their kids go to or where they hang out.

TV and other media are largely fictional and aspirational stories and imply that the American fantasy continues to be that of racial (and class) segregation. If we can't even imagine a integrated world, how do we make it real? I'm not the first person to point this out but it drives me crazy that fantasy worlds can have hobbits, dragons, talking animals, orcs, or elves but not a single person that looks like me (I'm black).

There are writers of color, but they don't have the power or contacts or whatever to make it to a broader audience so you have to look for it. While rummaging the interwebs, I ran across this YouTube channel that claims to be the most racially diverse network around.
Still sorting through it, but looks promising. Diversity shouldn't be a niche channel. Why can't more of my media look something like this!
posted by Misty_Knightmare at 5:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is why I believe it is incredibly unfair for Berman in this article to just blow past what the show is doing well to demand that the diversity issue be solved in just two to four episodes.

A few people in this thread have pointed out that the article kinda jumps the gun in terms of judging how the show talks about race, given that the show's an ongoing piece of art, it's not resolved yet, who knows what'll happen in the next few episodes, etc.

But honestly, I loved these first two episodes with Sandy, and if he never comes back at all, I don't think it would be a bad thing; I think these episodes were extremely adeptly-handled, and I don't think the show's point of view on race (or the character of Sandy) is at all compromised if we never see an evolution of Hannah's point of view on race (or her relationship with Sandy).

The show doesn't really use its characters as avatars for lesson-learning, and I dig that. If Hannah ends the series no more perceptive or empathetic than she was when she began, I don't even think that would be bad storytelling, so long as the finale is crafted as well as the show has been so far. Insofar as the show ever acts like an Aesop's Fable, the characters mostly seem to be akin to the fox in The Fox And The Grapes; trotting off into the sunset, blithely pronouncing that the grapes probably tasted shitty anyway.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:41 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I note in passing that the just-released second episode of Jeff Garlin's new podcast (episode one was an amusing chat with Larry David, predictably) is 90 minutes with Lena Dunham. Haven't listened to it yet, but it might be worth checking out for people interested in her work. I find Garlin just barely tolerable, but your mileage may vary, as they say.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:55 PM on January 24, 2013


This week's episode of Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin also features Lena Dunham.
posted by purpleclover at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2013


A few people in this thread have pointed out that the article kinda jumps the gun in terms of judging how the show talks about race, given that the show's an ongoing piece of art, it's not resolved yet, who knows what'll happen in the next few episodes, etc.

I shall henceforth "tut tut" anyone who speaks ill of Two and a Half Men as it is still ongoing.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


So Berman agrees that the breakup scene is awesome, but still declares the writing a failure. This argument makes no sense to me after only two episodes into the season.

There's been a season + 2 episodes of 'Girls', so there's plenty of material to talk about the shows handling of race. It's also perfectly valid to criticize any series based on a single show or a particular scene or story arc of a series.

Because Sandy's character is involved, it makes it work even more powerfully because now we have all this additional information which explains to us how she's sabotaging her own potentially healthy relationships with her selfishness and, more poignantly, how her own narrow (Midwestern, was it?) non-diverse background is actually an obstacle to experiencing healthy relationships with people outside of her own narrow background.

Yes, the scene is all about Hannah, i.e. Sandy is just stock character for her sound off against. Which is pretty normal in any story, but if Dunham's reaction to the criticism that the series lacks black characters is have a story arc that ultimately perpetuates the actions that sparked the criticism, it's not surprising there is still criticism.

Mind you, that doesn't mean Dunham has done anything wrong per se. It's her series, her characters and she's exploring themes that she wants to explore and how she wants to do it. And clearly she has an audience for that, so more power to her. But as always, not everyone is going to be thrilled with the paths taken, so wind up with these fine discussions.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:01 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]




My point is, it is extremely rare in real life that people have truly diverse friend groups. Girls is about a chick who happens to be white, and all of her friends. It makes perfect sense to me that the friends happen to be white, too. Not because Lena Dunham is failing in some way, but because that's just how these things happen.

I don't really know what my point is here, and as a White Person, I'm conditioned to feel shitty even talking about race at all, but seriously: why are we surprised that a TV show that hits so many abou"this feels so realistic!" buttons actually reflects reality, crummily undiverse though it may be?


Whenever these conversations happen about Girls, I actually feel less upset about whether or not Girls has minority cast members, and much more upset about these constant exclamations from the white people in threads like this that it is just so unrealistic that they would ever hang out with people who aren't white, it's just "not how it is."

I'm Indian American and last week I went to a concert in Bushwick that might have been straight out of Girls. I went there because I knew people in two of the bands - and the people I knew are white, and my friends! Even though I, myself, am not white. There were also black hipster kids in the headlining band and behind the bar, despite the fact that these threads are always telling me that black hipster kids do not exist and "reality" is "crummily undiverse."


Also often in these threads: Lena Dunham went to OBERLIN, y'all, where the people they are white. One of my best friends growing up went to Oberlin and was also Indian American (and we were the only two in our friend group, no every one of my friends are not Indian American, despite how extremely rare that apparently is)-- I've met her friends from college and they are pretty much the definition of a diverse group of friends. Black, White, Indian, Korean, gay, straight, transgender, etc.

If anything the most unrealistic Oberlin person in Girls is Marnie, because of her preppiness.

But it seems as though the assumption is that because Oberlin is an expensive school, only white people can go there because only white people have any money.

I know it's meant well when people have anxiety about race and class, but if you (not just the person I quoted, but anyone) think you don't have diverse friend groups because nonwhite people cannot be affluent, or aren't into "hip" things, or can't afford Oberlin, or are always the service class, you need to work on your worldview.
posted by sweetkid at 1:41 PM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


OMG she's interviewing at Gawker.
posted by Artw at 10:19 PM on January 27, 2013


And now she's doing bullshit research for a bullshit linkbait article for $200. This show really is at it's most Nathan Barley.
posted by Artw at 10:27 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artw, I thought it was more XOJane, no?
posted by purpleclover at 8:03 AM on January 29, 2013


By episode 5 she'll be chained to a desk in a horrific listicle factory.
posted by Artw at 10:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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