Lena Dunham and Democratic Nudity

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I finished watching and live tweeting Girls last night. I thought the first season was very good. I didn't much like the dark turn in the last two episodes--we somehow got more of Adam, and not enough of Adam--but overall I really enjoyed the show and look forward to watching Season Two a year from now.

It's worth comparing the first season of Girls with the first seasons of other HBO comedies like Entourage and Sex and the City. I would go so far as to say Girls was better than both of those first seasons, better than anything I ever saw on Entourage in any season, and perhaps better than anything I saw on SATC at any point too. Girls has no real need to sugar-coat Hannah's self-esteem issues or make us think that she actually, deep down, loves Adam. Hannah is a predator--as we all are predators--and she isn't asking us to admire her. I always felt SATC (and certainly Entourage, which was a much worse show) was trying to convince me of their awesomeness or the awesomeness of New York or L.A. Girls just wanted to tell me a story. I love the modesty of the task.

I didn't really understand how often Lena Dunham was nude on screen, or how often she did sex-scenes. If you take that in with the sex scene between her parents, what you have is one of the most democratic--and everyhuman--depictions of sex to ever exist in pop culture. The more I thought about this, the more important it became to me.

We should not deceive ourselves: We enjoy sex scenes because we enjoy seeing people whom some critical mass would like to fuck, fucking each other. And this is not an egalitarian phenomenon--Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry are much more common than the opposite. (Talking gender here, not race, which is another convo.) Occasionally a sex scene advances narrative, but mostly it's there for us--and mainly us dudes.

What Girls says is "Fuck the gaze." Lena Dunham ain't really performing for you. She's saying people like me--which is most of you--like to fuck. And in a real narrative of real life, the people who do most of the fucking don't actually look like Victoria Secret models. Your expectations for what fucking should look like are irrelevant. Here is how it looks like to the narrator. I kind of love that. In this (perhaps limited) sense, I can understand the "For Us, By Us" acclaim. The show's disregard for male notions of sex is pretty profound. And it achieves this while still giving us a fairly interesting cast of male characters.

The show ain't perfect. I found the occasional elements of black culture more jarring and unfortunate ("Hey, we're white. Look how lame we are. And look how lame we are when we act black.") than any lack thereof. But in general I came away genuinely impressed with the artistry.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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