These days you can’t consider yourself a serious essayist unless you’ve written a piece about the television series Girls and how its portrayal of twenty-something New Yorkers is eerily spot on for an entire generation of twenty-something Americans. And you can only consider yourself a double-serious essayist if you’ve written a piece about Girls’ laser-like focus on sex between two less-than-shapely human beings and how this focus is either re-shaping our shared conception of human form or is really super yucky gross.
I guess I’m double serious.
It’s hard to watch the show and not think about our modern conception of filmed nudity, though. Lena Dunham, the writer, director, star, and probably caterer too for all I know, spends a good few minutes of every episode revealing the intimate details of her structural anatomy. Some of the other characters too are keen on stripping down, but Dunham and her erstwhile tv-boyfriend seem to have all the clothing-optional sensibilities of nudist colony directors. Not that any of this brazen display is forced – it fits perfectly into the common theme of the series, which is that people like to have sex, even if it’s weird, even if it’s with someone you don’t know if you like, even if it is not very pretty at all. And that’s exactly what is making some viewers uncomfortable.
Inbred yokels and other assorted “body purists” tend to cry foul over Dunham’s nudity, as she is not a so-called “classical beauty,” unless you consider the Classic Period to be one of those eras when having a few extra pounds meant you came from great wealth. She is decidedly chunky, and not necessarily in that curvy way that rappers stereotypically adore. If we’re being true to ourselves, she’s just…kind of…normal. One of us, so to speak. And, by and large, that’s not what people expect to see on tv, much less expect to see on all fours, face contorted in an expression of tentative acceptance, as an equally normal guy plunges angrily into her backside. People expect to see rippling abs, fine jaw structure, gracious boobage, and a waist you could fit one of those Livestrong bands around. And you know what? I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
“What?! Absurd! This glimpse of a real person on television is a breathe of fresh air,” you and a thousand critical essayists might expectorate. “100 pound waifs with D cups are anatomically impossible and will give us a skewed vision of how we should be.” Okay, yes, I agree. Impressionable people watching other sex scenes, where the bodies are hard and the lips soft, they might look at themselves in the mirror afterwards and think, “What the fuck.” But some people, and perhaps this is a group of Me and Myself, see attractive people fucking and think, “I could do that.” Sure, that may still be a skewed vision of life – I may be the worst creature in the sack this side of an overripe banana – but at least it’s something of a confidence boost. If my view and understanding of people having sex is that sex is hot and steamy and exciting, then I’m going to want to go out and do it. And even if my own personal experience doesn’t live up the celluloid brand, at least I went at it with gusto. Watching normal human beings, people who are, quite honestly, much closer to my own body type, engage in coitus, all I can think is, “Is that what I look like?”
Again, maybe it’s just me, but that’s a downer. I understand that it’s a breakthrough for the media and a shining “you can be famous too!” beacon for those us with less than stellar shapes, but watching Dunham and her man-throb do awkward things in awkward places with awkward noises and awkward exclamations does not make me feel particularly sexually capable. It does not make me feel empowered to go out there and plow someone that I love. It makes me feel like I need to have a stern conversation with my dick.
So maybe I’m okay with the cultural norm of only ever seeing hot people have sex. But at least I’m also aware enough to understand that it’s not an accurate portrayal of modern Americans…and I’m just modern American enough to not care.