Sunday, January 26, 2014

PoMo Feminism: Lena Dunham's Nudity As the Key To the Universe

Part 1: The Real Post

This, by Soraya Chemaly, at Salon, is just terrible.

It's not that it never glances off the truth--it's hard not to get at least something approximately right in an essay like this. Even a stopped clock and all that... Occasionally bumping into the truth, however, isn't enough to make an essay worth writing, nor defending. This essay is simply a big mess of crap.

The thing begins by jumping on the bandwagon with respect to a reporter's apparently innocent and reasonable question of Lena Dunham--she's the person responsible for and starring in the tv show "Girls".

Let me make it clear--I'm not very familiar with the show. I've probably seen less than an hour of it in bits and pieces. It's either not very good, or not to my taste, or both. I'm no connoisseur of television. (sigh. What a concept...) I'm not a snob about television--I'm perfectly willing to watch it when there's something good on--I'm just not, in general, a fan, and not, in general, terribly sophisticated with respect to tv and movies. So maybe I didn't give the show a fair chance, or maybe I just didn't get it, or whatever. I don't know. But the salient point here is: I'm not very familiar with the show. That's important.

At any rate, a reporter asked Dunham why the character she plays in the show is “ frequently naked at random times for no reason." That seems like a perfectly reasonable question
Cue left-liberal/feminist shitstorm! Or...tempest in a teacup! Or...shitstorm in a teacup!  !!! oneoneone!

Via the magic of...well...ideological irrationality:

(a) Your character is frequently naked for no apparent reason; why is that?

Became, roughly:

(b) Your character is frequently naked, but seems to be naked for reasons other than the sexual titillation of males; how dare you?

This is stupid. This is really, really stupid.

No wait, back up: unless I'm really missing something, this is really, really stupid.

It's completely wrong. It's not an even vaguely plausible interpretation of the question. (Sidebar: it's amazing to me how people who claim to have some expertise in "reading" or interpretation, are so terrible at, y'know, interpreting...)

No, wait: back up. It's easy to be drawn into irrationality by irrationality.

Let's start with:

Is her character frequently naked at random times for no reason?

If it/she is, then that's a perfectly reasonable question. It it/she isn't, then, of course, it's a really weird question... If the character isn't frequently, puzzlingly naked, then it would make sense to wonder about the motives of the questioner. OTOH, if the character is frequently and apparently inexplicably naked--well, then that's the explanation for the question. It's a straightforward request for information, a request for an explanation of an unusual type of occurrence.

So, if anybody knows the answer to this question, I'd kinda like to know it.

Not like, a lot...but kinda...

Unless the answer to the above question is in the negative, the whole essay is predicated on an outlandish error. Even if the answer is in the affirmative, it's a bit of a stretch to try to get from (a) to (b)...

Part 2: The Other Post That's Really A Sidebar:

So really I ought to just stop there, but, without addressing the points in the essay specifically, I'll just note, generally, that: The Chemaly piece is awful, no matter what the answer is to the question above--it's filled with the kind of "reasoning" that, to quote Searle on Derrida, gives bullshit a bad name. The original question seems to have been radically misinterpreted, and then that event is used as a springboard for a bunch of what is largely lefty/left-liberal/feminist free association.

There's a point in it all--again, it would be hard for there not to be, by the stopped clock principle. But the simple and important point: that females are subject to a lot more aesthetic scrutiny of their bodies than are males--is never actually addressed. Instead we get a bunch of gibberish masquerading as reasoning for a bunch of unrelated left-liberal shibboleths about e.g. class and race... Because, of course, we can't just talk about one element of the lefty Holy Trinity without dragging in all the others, relevant or not. Of course everything becomes relevant if your standards of relevance are sufficiently lax...

This is one reason for the decline and fall of feminism--morally and intellectual speaking. The academic vanguard of feminism accepted a certain view of inquiry--a toxic stew of postmodernism, poststructuralism, critical theory, and French literary theory. It accepted people like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler as its intellectual heroes--instead, say, of someone like Susan Haack. The intellectual picture it accepted is one according to which politically fashionable, ideologically exciting conclusions are more important than good reasoning. Interpretations are allowed to roam free with no danger of refutation, nor even of serious scrutiny. Liberal use of trendy cant and buzzwords are more important than clarity and accuracy of expression. The point is to cobble together a technical-sounding, hence rhetorically effective, case for left-of-liberal feminist conclusions, logical soundness be damned.

Essays like this should be criticized because they're crap, regardless of their practical effects. If you let nonsense slide because you like its conclusions, or because you see its author as a political ally, then you're part of the problem, regardless of how convinced you are of the correctness of your political position.
But, if such moral/intellectual considerations don't matter to you, perhaps you'll be moved by practical considerations. Many people have been driven away from feminism for good reasons. And people like me have been driven away from it largely for the kinds of reasons articulated above. This sort of feminism is irrationalist and illiberal. The more feminism moves in that direction--and it has moved very strongly in that direction--the more reasonable people will move away from it.


Blogger matthew christman said...

This is the full question: "I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason."

What other interpretation should one take from that, other than: your nudity is not titillating, why do it?

10:07 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, that make the interpretation somewhat more plausible. (I don't care how this part goes really--the awful parts of the essay in question don't have much to do with it.)

Still, though, the following seems like a plausible interpretation:

GoT obviously intends to titillate. The nudity always has that clear purpose. E.g. it's usually a part of sex. Your nudity, OTOH, doesn't seem intended to titillate--it seems random. (Interpolating/guessing: Your character is just, like, walking around the house naked and stuff, inexplicably naked.) So what's up with that?

Still seems like a perfectly reasonable question to me, if that is, indeed, what the character is doing.

11:27 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Does nudity need to involve sex to be titillating.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

No, of course not.

But nudity isn't *invariably* titillating, either, and it's sometimes clear that the point is not to titillate. (lol I've used the word 'titillate' more now in this context than probably in the rest of my life...)

Take the scene at the end of *Alien*. Sigourney Weaver is hot, but the scene--even before the alien shows up--is not sexual, not titillating. (Not to my mind,anyway, much as I like SW and think Ripley was.) And it's not *intended* to be. It's supposed to...I dunno...lull the viewer into a false sense of security or something, and/or to emphasize vulnerability. I don't know. I'm stupid about movies.

At any rate--and, again, details matter, and I'm not familiar with details of the television show--it's sometimes clear that the intention of nudity is not to titillate. Somebody slouching around the house in their crappy underwear...well, one would think there would be another reason for the scene.

Admittedly, if it were, say Jessica Biel, it's pretty much going to be titillating even if she's sitting there doing her taxes... So I think one might reasonably say that, by asking the question, one *is* saying/admitting that LD is not as attractive as JB... And I can see someone reasonably saying that it's rude to say that.

And, though I see the other interpretation now that you provide the rest of the quote (which I'd seen, but not recognized the importance of), I still think there's a bit of a leap--or at least a hop or two--involved in it.

Again, I don't care about this part all that much, but I do think it would be good to get it nailed down.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

* "Think Ripley was *hot*," not "Think Ripley was."

6:31 AM  

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