Friday, February 1, 2013

When Lena Dunham Broke Up With Childish Gambino

Sorry to interrupt the flow of serious material, but I wanted to discuss something contemporary that has taken over pop culture lately. As I mentioned on the first day of class, I am a big fan of the show “Girls” on HBO. There was a scene from a couple weeks ago that directly addresses topics that I think are relevant to our our generation. I'll let you watch the scene first and then continue on with my thoughts.

Also, some context: The girl is Hannah (Lena Dunham) and she has been dating Sandy (Donald Glover) for several weeks. The scene directly follows him stating that he was not a fan of an essay that Hannah wrote, so she starts to argue with him over the fact that he is a Republican.

And there's a little bit of language, just to warn you! And sorry about the quality.

There are moments in this clip that I find very interesting and funny and there are other instances that I find somewhat troubling. Though it may be painful, I think that this is a scene that wouldn't be out of place among members of our generation (the millennials, twenty-somethings, whatever you prefer). I think there are many issues that still plague the dialogue on race in our age bracket, and in the scene Hannah is displaying a poorly conceptualized liberal value by saying that she is color-blind. As we've discussed in class, the attempt to be blind to skin color is one that leads to ignorance of issues that are still at hand.

I would love to know what you guys think specifically about our generation and the dialogue we have on race. Do we need a new language with which we discuss race and ethnicity?

And how does this clip stand up given the fact that the show “Girls” received extensive criticism in its first season for having a lack of diversity in the show's cast?


  1. Kolton --- I also love the show Girls! That was an excellent clip to demonstrate some of the complexities of navigating conversation about race and some contemporary issues. I think that Hannah and Sandy both demonstrate some negative ideas.

    First of all, it's completely ridiculous that Hannah says randomly, "I want to know what you think about the fact that 2/3 men on death row are black" and then claiming that she never even noticed that he was black. Of course, we've already talked about this one.

    In addition, I think that it brings up an interesting point about "fetishism". I personally am not sure how to approach the idea that some people date others simply based on a fetish for a certain race. I am certain it happens, but I also think that it is problematic to accuse someone of doing that --- who are you to know how shallow someone's intentions are? Additionally, as Hannah noted, by accusing her of being a part of the "white girl" group that likes to date black men, he is projecting his own stereotypes and lack of individualism on her as well. I would also like to hear what other people think about this!

  2. While I am not a big fan of Girls, I happened to have watched the first three episodes this weekend out of boredom. This scene REALLY bothered me! After the criticism the show received it seemed as if they thought having Hannah date a black guy for like .2 seconds would erase the issue. Hannah's personality in general has always kind of bothered me, and especially in this scene she says some pretty ridiculous comments to Sandy. Besides making it completely obvious that the show wanted to make race a discussion immediately into the new season, I agree with Amanda that the idea of fetishism was way out of line. It was like they were trying to combat the criticism they received for lack of diversity by making fun of it. Kolton, I like that you connected this whole dilemma with our class discussion about color blindness leading to ignorance- it was fine to talk about Sandy's race, but the way the scene unfolded was just a bit too far.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Kolton. I have only just started watching Girls and have been really enjoying it. However, like Molly, I found this storyline troubling.
    Firstly, it seems very contrived. Obviously Dunham and the producers were trying to combat the criticism their show was facing over its lack of diversity. If anything this scene is cringeworthy. Sandy's character is underdeveloped and adds nothing to the show. He is merely a prop designed to spark conversation about race between the characters.

    I also found his political stance particularly irritating. I feel like they made his character Republican just to be controversial.

    They could have found a more intelligent means to comment on the fact that there was no racial diversity in the first season. I think they are trying to do this to an extend, with Hannah's blatant ignorance as she discusses her "colourblindedness". Yet with Dunham's talents as a writer/director one would think she could do this in a less jarring manner.

    Did they need to comment on his race so thoroughly?

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  5. I am actually a huge fan of Girls, Kolton, though I understand why people aren't particularly fond of it. I watched the first season religiously, but I just haven't had the time to catch up with the latest episodes, so I'm coming at this knowing a little about the narrative style of Girls, Dunham's talents (and quirks) as a writer, and the early criticisms of the show's lack of diversity. But, I have little context for Hannah's relationship with Glover's Sandy.

    From the clip, I think it's clear that Hannah is meant to be behaving horrendously. While I do not have a problem with this in itself (as a writer, Dunham does not have a responsibility to create a likable character — rather, she has a responsibility to create someone who is real — with real problems, prejudices, and flaws), I, like Scarlet, am a little troubled by the blatant function Sandy's character serves in addressing the show's lack minority representation. Given the fact that Hannah is from East Lansing, Michigan and educated at Oberlin College in Ohio (small, mostly white communities in the upper Midwest), I think we're meant to understand that she has never really participated in an honest conversation about race. Her views about colorblindness reflect the misguided teachings of white, middle class America. As Sandy points out, this goal of stepping outside of race is not only impossible, but its aim is incredibly skewed; an attempt to see "beyond" color is to say that there is something limiting or shameful about any condition that is not of the majority. Hannah is self-righteous. She feels that she is being fair — liberal, egalitarian. But really, I don't think Dunham means for us to side with her.

    Because of this, I actually think that Sandy's right-wing political beliefs are helpful in terms of confronting Hannah with her own preconceptions (and perhaps the preconceived notions of the show's viewership as well). When he says he runs into problems dating the average transplant to New York because these women always "have a problem with who [he is]," there is something poignant here. Sandy is Black. He is also a republican. And even if these characteristics of identity were inherently in conflict with each other (which of course, they are not), he has the license to contradict himself, because as a person — as with any person — he, in a Yeatsian turn of phrase "contains multitudes."

    Further, I do not think this relationship ending quickly is a bad thing as far as the show is concerned. Clearly, Hannah has issues she needs to muscle through on her own. Hopefully, she will learn.

    ALSO: of interest to you all might be Ross Gay's poem "Some Instructions on Black Masculinity Offered to My Black Friend by the White Woman He Briefly Dated: A Monologue." It's from his 2011 book Bringing the Shovel Down, which I highly recommend and would have no problem loaning any of you. The poem deals with a lot of the same issues brought up in this clip, in perhaps a more biting way.


    I don't watch the show, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a pretty interesting take on this plot line of the shows, one that is pretty opposed to what you folks have been saying here. It's a perspective we may want to think about in our discussions.

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  8. Kolton,
    Your post is the most commented on post on the blog so far, which I find fascinating in its own right! This show has struck such a chord. There is so much conversation happening around “Girls” and Lena Dunham that there is even meta-conversation as seen in the response to Karem Abdul-Jabbar’s critique of the show that Chelsey has linked to.
    As Maggie’s comment makes clear, viewers are not really supposed to like Hannah. Rather the show is extremely critical of her and of her friends. However, I agree with Molly and Scarlet that the treatment of race in the first episode was at times off-base and even upsetting while purposely provocative. What does the show want to elicit from its audience in this moment? Is it just discomfort or something else? Who is the show's primary audience? Who is it speaking to?
    Maggie, thanks for the reading recommendation! I’d love to take a look at Gay’s book.


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