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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Skip 'Helix,' Watch 'Sherlock,' 'Girls' Nudity Debate & More 'True Detective'

Television
by David Chute
January 14, 2014 5:44 PM
1 Comment
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Lena Dunham in Playboy

"That’s a provocation!" is a protest flung at Jemima Kirke’s Jessa during a group session at a re-hab clinic in the third season opener of "Girls" (HBO). As I was watching the scene, I realized that "provocation" was the word that was missing from the loaded discussion of nudity inequality among the show’s cast members. A critic who had the temerity to raise questions about this during a Television Critics Association panel discussion last week was shut down hard by producer Judd Apatow and creator Lena Dunham with accusations of sexism and misogyny, scare words that in that context are not intended to explain anything but only to shame the questioner and shut down the discussion. (In the wake of this incident we are being told that Dunham "is forcing us to reconsider what bodies we value and why" and that "Dunham’s body is an inherently political statement.")

I will leave the verdict on those utterances to you and your personal bullshit detector. I would only add that it is also possible to raise aesthetic questions about the way the show handles nudity. The most sensible statement I ever read about writing sex scenes in fiction declared that the only rule that matters is consistency: Write about sex the way you write about everything else, as realistically or surrealistically or humorously. Authors known for rigorous authenticity who figuratively pan up to the drapes as soon as their characters go to bed are committing the primal sin of inconsistency of tone.

Both Dunham and Apatow have implied that the nudity on "Girls" is a gesture of realism, as she says,"a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive." Apatow hit on a more likely practical explanation when he was ostensibly making the same point, saying that as a filmmaker he always favors nudity in the staging of scenes in which it would naturally occur in life, as long as the performers are comfortable with it. And if they’re not, you get scenes, like some of those not involving Dunham in past seasons of "Girls," that could have been clipped from a much more coy sort of program in which the actresses carefully position their arms over their chests.

Those are the scenes that should make Dunham uncomfortable, as a produce, writer and director on the show, if not as an actor. I would argue for a sort of favored nation status for nudity. Either everyone strips of noone does. Either you shoot that material with the complete casual ease of a film from France or Denmark, or you avoid it, lest it stand out like a sore…whatever. You find a way to shoot it that honors the prime directive of consistency. If you knowingly violate consistency in order to make a political statement with your body, you are, to that extent, making propaganda and not art. Discuss.

1 Comment

  • MJ | January 14, 2014 7:29 PMReply

    "Either everyone strips of no one does." --- People tend to think in twos or triplicates. Higher than that lends itself to complexities that can either deconstruct one's perception or potentionally cloud an issue. Most people do not want their perception deconstructed because its hard work but also leaves the door open to have long held beliefs proven incorrect. Which leads to "If you knowingly violate consistency in order to make a political statement with your body, you are, to that extent, making propaganda and not art."

    Well, it is strange to think of propaganda and art as always mutually exclusive. Some of the most fantastic art also served as propaganda, and sometimes one needs to position things in a propaganda-ish manner (one sided argument) to contrast the deluge of "the other side"
    (whatever it is you are arguing against). Then it becomes a stark contrast, you know?

    Dunham, as a writer, producer, director must also respect her co-creators (...technically, her employees). This includes whether or not they are comfortable with nudity. So, from a creative & business standpoint, you have to figure out how to best convey your message within the constraints of your project (if the actor is perfect for the role, but won't do nudity, can you still get your point across in another way?)

    Their knee-jerk response of "sexism and misogyny" is bullshit, I feel. But the reporter's question is tied to the political statement Dunham is trying to make, ergo, it should be engaged to further stress the point she is trying to make. Find ways to make your (universal your) point of dealing with sexism and misogyny w/o using those words and you'll be surprised at how clear and direct you can be.

    Anyways, meanwhile in Gotham........

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