[Crossposted from my other blog.]
I have been utterly baffled by the extent to which Lena Dunham's show Girls has been misread since the pilot recently aired. I thought it was an intelligent and not exactly coy satire of contemporary whiteness, which is young, urban, university-educated, and family-subsidized, and sees itself as "struggling" on fronts both personal and professional while remaining blind to starker forms of hardship and inequality in an age of economic meltdown. I'm not going to bother to link to the myriad articles and reviews that say some version of, "This show is just about spoiled white girls!" as if that is some kind of revelation. The answer to that is, Um, yes. These same reviews also tend to say something to the effect of, "The characters were almost realistic representations of me—but I'm not racist, so there should have been a person of color in there." To this I say, no, apparently the show nailed its representation of you.
I don't really have the time or the energy to write about this in detail, so I'm grateful that Malcolm Harris has posted an excellent essay on art that addresses modern racism and the failure of critics to keep pace with it. His reading of Girls in this context is spot-on, but his main topic is the amazing "sexual mutilation cake" incident involving Sweden's Minister of Culture. Again, I saw photos of this event making the rounds with comments ranging from disgusted to baffled, but until Harris's essay, I didn't see a single person note that the work of art was not the cake, but the Minister of Culture's cutting the cake to the delight and/or embarrassment of an audience of "respectable" white people.
The thing is, while both of these pieces are smart, neither is subtle. Our failure to see when we are being brutally satirized—when we deflect recognition of our own limitations by convincing ourselves that it is the representation that is limited—is part and parcel of the problem.