This week at a Television Critics Association panel, The Wrap’s Tim Molloy asked Lena Dunham why she was naked so much on Girls, and then couldn’t figure out why Judd Apatow got so mad at him for asking the question. This was the question, as transcribed by Molloy:
“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.”
Reacting angrily, Apatow told Molloy that he was going to be in trouble with his girlfriend that night for asking the question. Molloy couldn’t seem to understand why.
“Girls” has more nudity by its lead character than any show, well, ever. But my girlfriend and I don’t understand the reason for it. We’re cool with nudity, and if Dunham wants to be naked, great. I’m not offended by it. I don’t like it or not like it. I just don’t get the artistic reason for it, and want to understand it, because I’m a TV critic. [...]
“You should read it and discuss it with other people,” [Apatow] told me. “It is very offensive.”
“Is it sexist?” I asked. “Because I would ask the same question –”
“It’s sexist and offensive, it’s misogynistic,” [Apatow] said.
Leaving aside the sexist or misogynist accusation for a second, I can understand why Apatow would be angry about it. The question makes people who work on the show angry because it illustrates that the asker has missed virtually the entire point of the show. To make matters worse, the answer was right there in front of his face. To make matters triple and quadruple worse, the answer was right there in front of his face, and he still didn’t get it, even though he’s a TV critic, and he says he was actively trying to understand. It’s like your oncologist not noticing the pulsating tumor protruding from your forehead.
Here, I’ll break it down for you.
“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.”
Yes, exactly. Nudity is a natural fact of life, and Girls is trying to depict it as such. Dunham, I believe, is trying to normalize it, to carve out a place where nudity doesn’t always have to be salacious and titillating. The fact that any female nudity that isn’t salacious and titillating to him† IS AUTOMATICALLY CONFUSING is evidence for how much female nudity needs normalizing.
“Then why aren’t all of the characters naked?” I asked.
Because not all of us are brave enough to constantly run around naked. I’m all for normalizing nudity, but I don’t do it myself for fear that people will make fun of my dangly balls and small wiener, so instead I just cheer when Lena Dunham does it. Sometimes it’s funny when people are naked, male or female. Isn’t that obvious?
“There’s male nudity in ‘Walk Hard,’” [Apatow] said. “I have people naked when they’re willing to do it. Lena is confident enough to do it so we have the opportunity to talk about other issues because she is braver than other people. If Paul Rudd said to me, I’m willing to be completely naked in the movie, I would use it. If Seth [Rogen] said he was willing to be completely naked — he showed his butt in a post-sex scene in ‘Knocked Up’ — I would use it because it’s more honest.”
Moreover, going all the way back to Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham has shown a propensity for using the female body and female nudity (usually her own) for comedic purposes in a way that has been done a lot and for a long time with guys (Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall being just one obvious and recent example), but was and is still rare to see with women. I always assumed that’s what drew Apatow to Dunham in the first place, other than the whole “being funny” thing. To put it in simpler terms, I want to live in a world where I can laugh at and jack off to titties.
Doesn’t all that make sense? If you don’t agree that the question was sexist, can you at least understand why a paid TV critic not understanding something that’s plainly obvious to a lot of people would make a person angry? I can. Hell, I’m so angry that I just wrote 800 words about a press conference for a TV show.
†And by the way, describing it as “not titillating” is a backhanded insult to Lena Dunham, that easily could be construed as sexist, because you are in effect saying that her naked body isn’t titillating to you, to her face. At the very least, it’s rude.