A Rebuttal to ‘The Empress, Quite Literally, Has No Clothes’


Let me just start by saying that I agree with everything Cody says about Lena Dunham.  But only because it’s true.  Except mostly it isn’t.  What I mean is, it’s true of everything of that ilk.  The ‘ilk’ I’m referring to is any hip ‘indie’ thing made after 1995.  Clerks is the only good movie like this and I suspect it’s because it was made by a fat white nerd with a chip on his shoulder at a time before that was a cool thing to be.  Kevin Smith made it cool, so of course everything after it sucks.  And if it weren’t for the ‘big word’ chapter cards interspersed throughout it (included just to appeal to the bohemian, intellectual, college crowds) it’d probably be a perfect movie.


Lena Dunham’s work, like many others, suffers from being in the wake of Clerks.  But she’s really not so bad.  Hating her is easy because her stuff sucks—but it only sucks because it’s not as good as a real movie like Signs.  She doesn’t have a single transcendent idea, but she does have the ability to depict a sect of our culture, and do so with ‘voice’ and ‘intention’.  And that’s really all you need.


Sex scenes are boring.  I’ve come to this conclusion by looking at the definitive list of the best movies ever made (by which I mean the list of my favorite movies) and seeing that none of them have sex scenes.  It’s because they don’t need them.  It’s very rare for a story to actually need nudity or explicit sex to achieve something.  All art deals with sex and violence, love and death, in some way, because if it didn’t it would be boring, since those are the only things the human brain cares about.  (Which is why Andy Warhol’s Empire is boring.  It’s about a building.  Although, I guess that’s phallic enough.  Maybe it’s good and I just don’t get it.  Who knows.) Anyway, the point is, the movie Big could have had a sex scene, but it didn’t, because it didn’t need to.  The avoiding of the unnecessary is a large part of what makes a movie good.  Movies like Big and Back to the Future flow at a perfect pace because of this.

When it comes to the sex scenes in Girls, I actually don’t mind them.  They serve a purpose.  Case in point: during the first scene of episode two of Girls, Hanna’s fuck-buddy is kneeling over her, masturbating ferociously.  He’s telling her she’s a little girl and he’s gonna send her home to Daddy covered in come.  He even pushes her face down into the pillow.  However, the staging, performances, and direction let us know that these are just a couple of twenty-somethings being kinda normal.  It’s not shocking—it’s relatable.  (Even if you haven’t done it yourself and have absolutely no desire to.)  It makes a statement that ‘outrageous’ sex acts are normal—which is true.

Later in the season, Hanna finds herself at home in Lansing (how she picked Lansing out of a hat is beyond me but Go Green, I guess) and having a one-night stand with a handsome but clueless local boy from her high school.  He’s able to bed her, but he’s vanilla compared to her more wild, New York exploits.  This scene also seems ‘real’, for lack of a better word.  It’s real as a circumstance and real as a narrative device.  His vanilla-ness is correct and relatable, and it helps the main character have necessary reactions about her life.  You know, drama (that thing Miranda July movies avoid at all costs.)


Girls is not the best thing ever.  And compared to actual things (like Ghostbusters) it can be swept away with the rest of the garbage.  But really, when compared to shit like Blue Valentine (which is sex without purpose for the sake of shock) and Miranda July (which is prefabricated hipster plastic) and Diablo Cody (which is the same, but written by a ‘super cool’ former stripper) it’s actually doing something and is worthy of praise.

Although the entire concept of awards is completely bunk so who cares, Penny Marshall hasn’t made anything good in years, Amy Heckerling’s reunion with Alicia Silverstone (Vamps) is unwatchable, and Penelope Spheeris is god-knows-where, so I don’t mind Dunham being thrown a bone, because there literally isn’t anybody else.  (And they’re not about to start giving awards to things that are actually better than other things.  If they did, every year, Signs would win Best Picture, and they guy opening the envelope would say ”It’s been 11 years and nobody has made a movie as good yet.  Keep trying.”)


The characters in Lena Dunham’s shit don’t really act like people.  But that’s okay, because you get a sense that they are an amalgam of a type of person.  So whereas Diablo Cody’s characters are just the voices in her head, the characters in Lena Dunham stuff just kinda act like people who’ve watched Juno and probably secretly like it because they aren’t smart.  You will never meet a Juno, but you might currently know someone like Hanna.


So far, everything I’ve typed has simply been an evaluation of Lena’s output, which is kinda my only point.  But I guess I should talk about her looks at some point here, since everybody does.  Personally, I don’t find Lena Dunham attractive.  I don’t necessarily find her unattractive though.  Basically, I’m not repulsed, and I’m not excited.  But who cares.  I don’t.  It’s not the point.  I don’t find Louis C.K. attractive either.  I think his take on his own appearance is funny.  I think Lena’s take on her appearance is also a significant part of her art (but not funny—nothing on Girls is ‘funny’).  Do I think there are people out their who champion her because she is ‘dumpy’?  Absolutely.  I’d be a fool not to.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, really.

I heard her say in an interview that she doesn’t want to be with a guy who ever goes to the gym.  Well, that’s her prerogative.  To me that’s stupid—the gym is boring but I go, and if for some odd reason she would like to be attractive to me, she should go too.  But I doubt the gym is on her radar, and I’m glad it’s not, because she has better things to do, like make decent television programs for HBO.


The show Girls does a good job of depicting the things it’s supposed to depict.  And so, anybody can like it for any number of reasons.  I like a few Jimi Hendrix songs and I’m not a pot head, I like Slayer and I’m not cutting myself in a black painted basement, and I’m not a dumpy lost chick and I like her show.  And so, to address my fellow Smugster’s assertion, I don’t think it’s on Lena’s shoulders to provide something of substance to her fellow dumpy lost chicks.  That’s like saying Spielberg has an onus to inspire skinny Jews from Cleveland.  (Although I bet he did.)


Like any decent, good, or transcendent artist, Lena Dunham takes the world around her and contextualizes it for presentation.  Andy Warhol’s version is a building.  (He’s not a very good artist.)  Louis CK’s version is talking about the time when he was fat and jacked off.  (He’s transcendent.)  Lena Dunham is somewhere in the middle.  A movie like Signs is extremely advanced because its re-contextualization is creative and very well crafted.  The ideas expressed in Signs, ultimately, are as simplistic as those in Girls or Tiny Furniture, though (which is what makes Signs so advanced—the idea is simple, but the method of presentation is epic and beautiful). Signs is about twenty five steps more creative, fun, and interesting than Tiny Furniture.  And Tiny Furniture is about fifty steps more creative than Andy Warhol’s Empire.  So you do the math.


So, what I am trying to say is, it sucks, but who cares.  And it doesn’t even suck that bad.  I like watching it.  The accusation that Lena Dunham is a frumpy super villain twiddling her thumbs and leading fat girls by a string to her bank account with a bad TV show is preposterous—albeit hilarious.  (And if it were true, I think it would make her smarter, and thus make the show much better.)

Basically, it should be left alone, because it’s a lot better than The Big Bang Theory or whatever piece of shit nonsense people like nowadays.  It has a voice.  It’s a show about twenty-something female hipsters living in New York City and having sex.  It’s like Sex and the City—except not retarded.

The title of Cody’s essay is brilliant, by the way.

4 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to ‘The Empress, Quite Literally, Has No Clothes’”

  1. I like the word re-contextualization a lot – and all the other words in this piece. But I had to go puke after reading the depiction of a certain unsavory scene – gross!

  2. Thanks. No offense to Cody, but his review of “Girls” pissed me off enormously. It’s not a great show and I’ve not made a habit of keeping up with it, but it certainly is better than most of the garbage on TV today (five bucks to whoever first writes the, “Here’s why ‘Big Bang Theory’ is the worst thing to happen to nerds since a while or something” post).

    I couldn’t really place it at the time, but I do think Girls deserves some of the praise it’s been getting because, yeah, it’s pretentious; yeah, it’s overly self-conscious; yeah, it relies on tropes and expectations; but it’s pretty decent expression of something. I don’t care for Lena Dunham, or her work, but what I do appreciate is that it doesn’t really seem to have a point. And I can really dig that. While it commits the sins I mentioned above with abandon, it doesn’t commit the sin I see most on TV these days: it doesn’t pick between being complete fluff (see “Big Bang Theory”) and SUPER SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT DRAMA. Furthermore, a good story doesn’t need a narrative arc or a “point” to be art; context and presentation are equally, if not more, important. By not having a “point”, you can make a huge point to the audience who picks up on it.

    Again, I’d be one of the last to defend Lena Dunham as a great artist of our generation—or even as a particularly good one—but I do think that “Girls” deserves better than ad hominem attacks against its creator.

    Now, here’s hoping I don’t get banned.

    (Incidentally, I also nearly wrote “Big Bad Theory” several times in this comment. More than five dollars to whoever makes that show, which would be halfway between “Breaking Bad” and the aforementioned garbage.)

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