While visiting a friend a few weeks ago, I happened to come over when she was right in the middle of a back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-backÂ “Girls” marathon. Assuming I wouldn’t be interested in it, she offered to put something else on. But, since I was genuinely curious to see if the big fuss about this show was warranted (and since it’s probably a good idea to actually watch something if you’ve written articles aboutÂ it), I sat on the couch and watched it with her, an act that made three separate thoughts form in my head
1. I used to attempt to justify my interest in shows like “Basketball Wives” by using theÂ “I just watch it with my girl”Â excuse.
I don’t think anyone actually bought it, but it’s just one of those bullshit phrases likeÂ “You know, I don’t usually swallow on the first date” that people just feel the need to say to make themselves feel better.
Since I’m no longer in a relationship, I have to change myÂ perfunctoryÂ excuse. Not set on one yet, but “I write about this stuff for a living, so watching it is just me doing homework” seems like it could be a winner.
2. “Girls” is…good
Without giving any spoilers, it took maybe 20 minutes of watching for me to understand what the fuss was about. I don’t think I’ve seen another show capture that Kafkaesque feeling of “what the f*ck is going with my life”-ness that hits many of us in our early 20s. And, I definitely know that I’ve never seen a show be as frank (and funny) about the weirdness of some of our sexual relationships and theÂ ambivalentÂ motivations leading us to make some of the decisions we make.
It’s not a great show — I won’t be comparing “Girls” to season four of “The Wire” or even season two of “Louie” any time soon — but it is very good.
3. There is no way in hell that a Black version of “Girls” could or would get made today
During the “Girls” marathon, Â I saw each of the following happen in a 50Â minute span (I’ll try not to spoil the show too much)
—A naked male character masturbated while one of the female characters watched. During this masturbation session, the dialogue between the two got progressively weirder and more vulgar.
—The middle-aged parents of one of the characters had one of the most realistically intense sex scenes I’ve ever seen on cable tv.
—While sleeping with a guy she’d just gone on a first (and only) date with, one of the characters repeatedly tried to up the ante by engaging in completely (and hilariously) awkward dirty talk and followed that by offering to put her finger in the man’s anus (he declined)
These are just three of the dozens of times sex is shown, discussed, alluded to, made light of, seen, and overheard on “Girls.” Don’t get me wrong. The show isn’t just about sex, but it would be near impossible to have a (somewhat) realistic depiction of contemporary young people — even the ones not having sex — without sex just, well, being there.
None of this could happen with a Black show. Sure, young Black people find themselves in the same type of situations, but if Black people were shown having the same type of sex (and having the same type of sex-related discussions) the characters on “Girls” regularly do, it goes from being thought of as “real” and “gritty” and “truly naked” to “nasty” and “pornographic.”
We — and “we” in this case is “Americans” — have a strange relationship with Black sex and sexuality, too strange for me to even begin to expound on today. Interestingly enough, this is true for both White and Black America. As much as we complain about the lack of realÂ Black showsÂ on TV, we’d be just as weirded out by real Black sex. Can you imagine how many petitions would be made if a popular Black show had a Black female character asking to put her finger in a Black male character’s butt during sex?
And, even if a Black “Girls” made it past
the FCC whichever organization governs cable censorshipÂ — it wouldn’t, but let’s just say it would — it wouldn’t survive theÂ gauntletÂ of Black outrage that would soon follow. Seriously, if Debra Lee created this show, the Black community would hire Keyser Soze to firebomb her house, bankrupt her family’s businesses, poison her pets, and break the heels off of each of her Louboutins.
But, you know what? Let’s say that a hypothetical Black “Girls” — complete with the same type of humor and explicitlyÂ adult themes — made it past the FCC, and survived theÂ gauntletÂ of Black outrage. It still wouldn’t stay on the air.
Why? Well, if this Black “Girls” is a mirror of the White “Girls,” the main character would be an average looking woman. Not “Hollywood average,” but average average. Aggressively average. “Looks exactly like the woman handing out chicken sausage at Trader Joe’s” average.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being average looking. Average has a low standard deviation as most people —myself included — fall somewhere within the mean. But, while there are a ton of average-looking working White actresses, I challenge you to name ONE relevant Black actress under 40 who’d be considered average. Not Hollywood average, but “she looks like this chick who works at the DMV” average.
My point? As talented as (“Girls” creator and star) Lena Dunham is, there’s no way in hell her BlackÂ equivalentÂ would be able to be the lead character on a show. Not just an HBO show, either. Any show and any movie. A Black actress basically has to be (at least) a “7” — a real life “7,” not a Hollywood “7” — to even get 30 seconds on screen,Â¹ and even the 7’s get relentlessly picked apartÂ by us.
Unless your teeth are perfectly straight and white, your ends are perfectly trimmed, your lacefront is perfectly sown, and your body is perfectly tight, you better not be a Black actress and have the audacity to think you belong in front of the camera.
Perhaps there will be a day when we’re allowed (and allow ourselves) the same type of creative freedom Dunham has to create a show like “Girls” and cast her average-looking self as the main character. Until then, I’ll continue to sneak viewings of the current “Girls” while at the houses of female friends. A man gotta do his homework, yanno?
Â¹I guess you could say that GabbyÂ Sidibe eschews this rule, but “Precious” wasn’t exactly an, um, “normal” movie.Â
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)