Pop Culture
12:03 pm
Wed February 20, 2013

Should Lena Dunham Be Playing Ping Pong Naked?

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 5:57 am

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, Aristotle and Dante are the names of two important philosophers from history, but they're also the names of the principle characters in an award-winning new young adult novel about two Mexican-American boys and their journey of self-discovery. We'll hear from the author of "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe." That is just ahead.

But first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's topics with our panel of women writers, journalists and commentators. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And also with us, Danielle Belton. She's editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online.

Welcome back, ladies. Thanks for joining us once again.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, it used to be that female entertainers and athletes had their images controlled by somebody else, usually a man. You know, let's face it. But today we're talking about women who are smashing glass ceilings in popular culture, and the question I think a lot of people have is, are they really?

I want to start with Lena Dunham. She's the creator and star of the HBO series "Girls," and she's gotten a lot of attention, some of it positive, some not, because she seems to find a lot of reasons to take her clothes off on that show, a lot. But the feedback got pretty ugly recently when her character, Hannah, had a fling with a handsome doctor played by Patrick Wilson. Here's a clip from that episode.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SERIES, "GIRLS")

LENA DUNHAM: (as Hannah) You know, I was reaching for all this stuff, but all I really needed was to look at someone and be like, oh, that person wants to be there after I'm dead, you know? You think I'm a crazy girl?

PATRICK WILSON: (as character) No. I don't think you're crazy at all. I wasn't thinking that.

DUNHAM: (as Hannah) If anything, I think I'm just too smart and too sensitive and too, like, not crazy.

MARTIN: Now, here is what's interesting, and apologies to folks who don't have HBO. Some of the critics and viewers panned the episode because they said that Wilson was too good looking and completely out of Dunham's league because she is not a conventional TV beauty. Let's say she's not a size two.

So, Bridget, I'll start with you. What do you think of this whole, you know, kerfuffle?

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Well, first of all (unintelligible) completely realistic that a 42-year-old separated man would go for a 20-something for a fling, no matter what she looked like, and then when she started talking personal and started getting emotional, he's like, oh, what's the time? I need to get to work. You know, and so that was completely realistic because it then got real for the man and then the man is like, oh - and that goes both ways. You know, both men and women do that.

You know, I think it's - I don't regularly watch the show, but I went and I watched that one episode on demand to be prepared to talk about it and I just actually couldn't find it relatable, you know, and maybe it's because I'm from the - you know, from watching "Sex and the City" all those years, and then, you know, you had a Carrie in your life.

MARTIN: Wait, wait. "Sex and the City" is relatable?

JOHNSON: Well, it's...

MARTIN: Have you - those - buying those shoes on a freelance writer's salary?

JOHNSON: You've see my handbags.

MARTIN: Excuse me?

JOHNSON: It was...

MARTIN: I'm just asking.

JOHNSON: It was unrealistic that Carrie worked at some fourth tier paper as a sex columnist and could afford the Manhattan apartment and the Manolos and the Dior newspaper dress, which I loved.

But, you know, even when I was in my early 20s and you know, myself, all my friends were poor, we were at the seven dollar store like scrounging for whatever cute little fashionable looks that we could find, and so, you know, I was watching that show and watching these characters and it's just - I didn't really know what there was to relate to. You know, they didn't really seem to care about a lot of the things that we cared about when I was in my 20s.

MARTIN: Danielle, what about you?

DANIELLE BELTON: Well, you know, I'm not necessarily like the biggest fan of the show. I'm a fan of the concept and some of the things behind it, but I can understand the point about relatability because the show is basically about hipster slackers. I've known lots of people like this, you know, who kind of float through life. They're in their 20s. They're trying to figure out how to make things happen, but they don't know quite how to do it.

If you're like Bridget or myself or Viviana, or even you, Michel, like we're all very driven people. We're all very driven, so we're not going to relate to people who aren't driven. We're not going to relate to slackers. You're going to be like go to grad school. What's wrong with you? Get a job. Like, why are you working in a coffee shop when you have a degree?

HURTADO: Yeah. Sorry if you're not a vice president at 25.

BELTON: So it's one of those things where it's like if you're really, really driven and, you know, you want to see a show about people who are driven, this is not the show. It's about - this is the show for everybody else who's not driven, who's still trying to figure things out about life.

I thought the reaction to Lena taking her clothes off all the time, though, is really, really hilarious. To me it's schadenfreude, because I've had to endure so many Judd Apatow films, so many sitcoms where some horrendous looking dude and his wife is all super hot and I'm just like - I know this is fantasy that people want to feed to like schlubby men that all these hot women will, like, love them for their personalities, but it's just - no - people don't work that way. I mean, pretty women can be just as shallow as handsome men, so I'm like, yay. Get naked more. Good for you. You go, girl, so...

MARTIN: Well, I've got to ask - Viviana, I'll ask you about this because one of the things that struck me, though, is that Lena Dunham's character has a lot of nude scenes on this - on the show. And one of the things that always struck me about the concept of "Sex and the City," which Bridget Johnson brought up, is that Sarah Jessica Parker was the - was one of the producers of that show and she was the only one who was never completely nude, and it was reported - I don't know if this is true, but it was reported that she had a no-nudity clause in her contract, so that was always fascinating to me. It's like, once again, the powerful people are the ones who get to keep their clothes on. Right?

HURTADO: And she could afford - right, Michel - to get naked because she is so powerful and she is the star and she has millions of dollars in endorsements for Garnier and for so many other brands.

MARTIN: Or she could choose not to get naked because that's what she was using her power for, but in this instance, Lena Dunham is the force behind this show. She's the driving force behind the show and she's the one who tends to take her clothes off the most, and of the four women actresses on the program, she's the one who's the least conforming to the kind of the Hollywood sort of template.

So I'd have to ask you, kind of what's your reaction to that, or do you even care? Viviana's like I really so don't care, but...

HURTADO: Right. I'm still on the you're not 25 years old and you're not a vice president and you quit your job? But going back to the show, I think what's really interesting is someone like Sarah Jessica Parker, someone like Meryl Streep - when was the last time, you know, she got naked just because?

And I think about, for example, Latina actresses in Hollywood and African-American actresses too. For example, think of the fantastic character that is Kerry Washington in ABC's "Scandal," and she has a very racy storyline, having an affair with the president of the United States of America, but I - and, you know, some hot scenes, but I haven't seen her get naked. Granted, it's prime time on a network television.

Going back to what I'm thinking about, actresses of color, there just aren't enough roles for them, and so, for example, a Latina actress is constantly going to be typecast if she's even considered in a mainstream blockbuster movie as a hot tamale - arriba, arriba - or as a maid.

So I guess the day that I see so many roles and the reflection of that as it translates into power in Hollywood at an executive level among Latino actors and actresses, then yeah, take it all off. I mean, Javier Bardem. Anybody? Anybody? I want to see him naked.

JOHNSON: I vote for that. Yeah.

MARTIN: We're sorry that we laughed, sort of. If you're just joining us, we're taking a visit to the Beauty Shop. We're talking about women and their image in pop culture with some stories of the moment. Our guests are Viviana Hurtado - that's who was speaking just now - Danielle Belton and Bridget Johnson.

So let's talk about somebody who always seems - I'm sorry - isn't she like everybody's frenemy? Like don't you just have this love-hate thing with Beyonce? Because she is so fabulous and cute and sweet and seems very sweet and smart and yet she's incredibly successful, and this latest sort of takeover of our culture occurred this weekend when her documentary about herself, "Life is But a Dream," premiered also on HBO. She was interviewed by Oprah on the OWN Network and I just want to play a short clip of - you know, there's a lot to be said about the documentary, or not very much, depending on who you believe. But some people say it's just a long commercial. It's really just a long music video.

But this is a piece of the interview where she talks about her marriage to rapper Jay-Z. I just want to play that for you.

BEYONCE: I would not be the woman I am if I did not go home to that man.

MARTIN: Now, some people criticize Beyonce, saying that the comment made her sound weak. So Viviana, I'll ask you to go first on this. What do you think about that?

HURTADO: I wouldn't be the same woman that I am if I didn't go home to my golden retriever. I mean, look, I actually am a big fan of Beyonce. I really like her a lot until this documentary, and until the OWN interview with Oprah.

A couple of things. Firstly, let's just be clear. Beyonce is a brilliant businesswoman. She has a whole apparatus and a machine around her and this is, this was a ratings boon for OWN and also for HBO, ratings through the roof. And you know, this is a woman who sells out concerts in 60 seconds flat. So this feeds into that.

But I think the issue that I really had with this is that, at least in the Oprah hour, in addition to Oprah saying, like, when was that moment where, you know, music and God connected? And I'm like, really? (Foreign language spoken) the lights went out, and that has more to do with structural problems that New Orleans has than this moment where God and music connected, but...

MARTIN: So - I'm sorry - I'm confused. So what are you saying? Are you saying that it just made no sense or you think the whole thing made no sense?

HURTADO: I think it was over the top. But I want to hyper-focus on Beyonce. The whole point of this documentary, the whole point of Oprah's infomercial leading up to her own infomercial on HBO was how authentic she is and how she's letting people in and how she's peeling back the onion and she's - the layer of the onion. She's so insanely private and she's letting us in and yet all I could do was fixate on her bleached blonde hair. If you want to be authentic, then go back to being a beautiful, successful brunette and that goes for Shakira, as well.

MARTIN: OK. Danielle, what do you think?

BELTON: You know, I always have this mixed feeling towards Beyonce, as well, but that's because I recognize that she's a huge try-hard and I'm also a try-hard, so I tend to hate people who remind me of myself and I have a lot of sympathy for her, though, because I feel like, if my parents had been much more Joe Jackson-like and instead of, like, giving me books and saying, you're going to college and they're saying, like, wait. You can sing and write and dance. All right, you know, I'm slapping some tap shoes on you and you're going to make us some money. And I'd be in a similar situation.

So, in some instances, I'm really sympathetic towards her because there's just like a slight lack of self-awareness. Like, she is really, really in control of her image and she is very, very driven and she's a perfectionist, but then there's moments like these in the documentary where it's like they don't quite fit the image that she's trying to push, so you wonder why. What was the goal of this, overall?

So it's like she was being very honest when she said that she feels like she wouldn't be who she is without Jay-Z because that makes a lot of sense. She's known him since she was a teenager and, in the documentary, she basically admits they started dating when she was 20, so that means Jay-Z is both like her lover, her best friend. He's even like a quasi-father figure because there is some age difference between the two, so of course, he'd be like this big influential part of her life.

The problem is this lack of introspection causes her not to realize it doesn't 100 percent jive with her same language about female empowerment and - I had to leave my father as a manager because I wanted to be independent.

But, you know, it's like you're independent, but you're an independent woman who, you know - it's part of your - part of your team is your incredibly powerful husband and you credit him in many ways with making you the performer and the woman that you are today. So it's like...

MARTIN: OK.

BELTON: It's a story of both independence and inter-dependence at the same time.

MARTIN: OK. Bridget?

JOHNSON: I'm actually going to defend Beyonce on this comment. I don't think that she was saying that she would be nothing if it weren't for Jay-Z. You know, I kind of look at myself. I'm extremely independent. I don't want the white picket fence. I like a man who's gone every so often on deployments because, you know, I'm gone every so often, too.

But I know that every man I've loved in varying degrees has shaped who I am today, teaching me something that was within myself that I didn't know was there, etc. Even the bad relationships teach you something about yourself that makes you stronger, so I do think that, when you're in love - and, you know, I believe that those two are in love - that there is a shaping of both people that occurs.

MARTIN: Yeah. I guess the part that bothers me is that, it seems to me that when men - powerful men - and they all do this. I mean, all president - I can not remember a president in my lifetime who has not credited his wife with being an important force in his life. I mean, no - people as different as Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have both, you know, repeatedly said how they married up. And why is that OK for a man to say, but it's not OK for a woman to say, that this person is really crucial to my being who I am and where I am today? So, I mean, I don't know. That's the part about it that seemed a little unfair.

OK. Before we go, let's talk about another powerful woman who's in the driver's seat, literally. I'm sorry. I had to do it. It was so cheap, but I went there. This weekend, racecar driver Danica Patrick won the pole position for the NASCAR Daytona 500. That basically means she drove the fastest qualifying time and she'll start in first place for Sunday's Daytona 500 race. She's the first woman to achieve this, and this is what she had to say to ESPN after her victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ESPN BROADCAST)

DANICA PATRICK: When I'm done racing, I hope people remember me as a great driver and I think it starts there. You know, hopefully, other drivers remember me as a great driver, but, you know, I don't want them to be any more guarded because of me being around or any more protective. I want them to race me just like they'd race anybody else and the more equal we all are, the better off I am that that happens.

MARTIN: Quick comment from everybody about that. Viviana?

HURTADO: I just think it's fabulous. I am the auntie of three nieces and I think about another quote that's kind of gotten a lot of play from Danica, which is I, quote, "was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl," and I think that's really appropriate, given our intense conversation today about body image and options and success and choice.

MARTIN: Danielle, what do you think?

BELTON: I think it's great. I mean, when you're extremely good at something and you're driven as she is and you want to be the best, you want to be appreciated on your own merits and so I appreciate that about her and I think it's a great thing.

MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think?

JOHNSON: I'm really glad that her success is, you know, very objective. You know, there's nothing subjective about crossing the finish line first because, otherwise, I'd be concerned that those Go Daddy commercials that she does are basically catering to the same audience that puts those Women With Weapons calendars up on their walls, so...

MARTIN: We don't have anybody who's green here to say, OK. That's great, but couldn't they be more environmentally friendly? OK. Couldn't they be running on vegetable oil or something like that? I guess that's another sort of conversation.

So Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at the website, The Wise Latina Club. They were both with us in Washington, D.C. and Danielle Belton is editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online. She joined us from St. Louis.

Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.

BELTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, books for boys on the verge of adulthood are often about a perilous journey, but a new book tells the story about an equally courageous inner one.

BENJAMIN ALIRE SAENZ: I think, when you're 15, you kind of are a philosopher and you are a thinker. You're miserable and you live in your head.

MARTIN: The author of the award-winning book, "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe." That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The violence in Chicago is in the news, but for the students and staff at the city's Harper High School, there's nothing new about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's a war zone around. Our opposition is right down the street. Literally, it's on the next block.

MARTIN: What you probably never heard about Chicago's gang and youth violence. That's next time on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.