Welcome back to Boys Who Talk About Girls, where we interview men who don't write for the Internet but do watch genre-defining television written by Oberlin grads, have sex, and are brave enough to speak about the cross-section of both activities on this site. Even pseudonymously. The mission: To get these gentlemen — all of whom are presumably in the show's target audience — to speak without reserve or remorse about sex and relationships in a manner most men won't, which is to say, in a way that will end in rolling blackouts, mass chaos, and the end of television writing and racial tension as we know it.
This week's interviewee is a man who we'll call Anthony. He's 34, lives in Brooklyn, and owns a pet care service.
So you're black, making this column officially more diverse than ‘Girls'!
(Laughs) Thank you. Yeah. I noticed that.
Before we get to that whole Girls Is A Show Full of White People part, I've got to ask: You're a 34-year-old black guy. Are you a regular reader of Jezebel? How'd you come across the site?
Actually, yeah, I am. It's weird. I was dating this girl a few years ago, and she told me about the site and this writer Tracie Egan's column. I thought it was really funny.
Funny, indeed! Are you dating anyone? Are you single?
Yep, I'm single. Doing some dating. Recently met this girl, been dating her five months or so. It's going okay.
And now we're going to begin talking about the race issue, something we've strenuously avoided discussing in this column until now. What do you make of ‘Girls' being lamented for a lack of diversity?
It's so funny, the whole thing ‘Girls' not being diverse. I've read a lot about it, and that interview Lena Dunham did with NPR. And I understand where she's coming from, in that she's got to write where she's coming from. As diverse as Brooklyn is, there are pockets. I have friends who are all friends with people of one race, and considering she wrote so much of the first season by herself, I'm not surprised the show looked the way it did.
Does it bother you at all?
Why not? Haven't you read The Internet, sir? Why aren't you pissed?
I read some of the stuff that's been written by black women who like the show, and I can empathize with that. But I was born and raised in Brooklyn. People have this idealized idea of what New York is and what Brooklyn is, and just like any city, there are plenty of places that are pretty socially segregated. There are places you can go out and not seeing any white people. There are places you can go out and not see any black people.
People made a very big deal about ‘Girls' not looking like a model U.N. You don't seem sufficiently scandalized. Explain yourself!
Why's it a controversy if a young white girl with rich parents went to a liberal arts school and writes a show about it? In terms of their social circle, it's not unrealistic at all that that'd be the case. It wasn't shocking or unrealistic or disturbing to me. She wrote this thing by herself, that's her experience. You don't really see any black people on the show, and okay, that's an oversight in regards to the reality of the universe, but as far as the main players go, it's not unsurprising.
And here is the question I've been more excited to ask among all the others: It seems the majority of the racial diversity critique outrage is coming from White People Who Blog On The Internet. Why do you think that is?
Well, there are a few things that go on. One is that it's the internet, and one of the things that happens with Internet Writing is that you do what gets pageviews. People are looking to drive pageviews to their blogs. At Gawker, I see this thing all the time, where people come up with controversial ideas to drive people to read what they write. They'll write these posts that aren't the most well-thought out, but it's a controversial subject, and they're sure to get pageviews.
White guilt seems to be an appropriate response to race in America, though, no?
But it's really, grindingly irritating when it's so outwardly projected in the same way any guilt is, in that it's not going to do anything. It's not going to bridge equality gaps. Like cheating on a spouse and confessing: The truth that will set you free is so often an indulgence. You're getting it off your chest.
Right, great. Good for you. Exactly. It's all PC-ism run amok! I caught on to the whole line about the show's, like, racial issues when everything jumped off. I didn't catch on to it until later.
So: What do you think of the show?
I think it's excellent. This girl's doing something kind of cool, and showing an experience we don't see on screen that much, the awkward in-between of not being in school but not being an adult. And the honesty in the way she feels and portrays it. When I was in my 20s, and even now, things can just be so awkward. And she really puts that across in a really interesting way. I thought she was the real deal, instead of something artificial. She just has a way about her. It's funny as hell. It's awesome that the main character is so unlikeable and bratty. My favorite show is ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,' and I think a lot of what Hannah Horvath has is a lot of what Larry David's character has.
Self-loathing and self-consciousness.
Always saying the wrong things. Kind of selfish. Usually doing and saying the wrong thing that gets them in trouble, but they're so likeable, we let them get away with it.
That's a great comparison to draw.
The first two episodes, Hannah's kind of a monster! Even in the last episode, the cold open where she's having her journal read out loud, and it's destroying Charlie and Marnie's relationship, and she asks: But did you like it as a piece of writing? (Laughs) It's so ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm'!
But I think it's honest. And I think people are taken aback by the show's honesty.
She's breaking a lot of the rules. People don't respond well when people do things in a way that's non-traditional and maybe upsetting what's expected.
They so often don't.
You know, showing her body, which isn't TV-perfect, and showing it every week, and putting it in people's faces, her saying: Most women kind of look like this, and it's not a big deal. The whole thing with the hype and the backlash: I think there's an undercurrent-that's not even hard to see — of jealousy!
I was dancing around it, but you said it for me: A lot of the ‘Girls' backlash is jealousy manifest. There are a lot of writers, writing on the internet, and they see...
They see someone young, in their early 20s, with this great success. And she's putting herself out there in a big way, and there's a lot of discomfort with that.
An enormous amount. I don't think people are easily receptive to something that speaks to who they are so well, with such specificity, on such a wide scale. Have you related to anything on the show?
Can you give me a specific example?
The interactions that she has with Adam, when they're having sex, and he's trying all the freaky shit. My female friends have told me about guys who try things with them that they clearly just saw on a video online. There is no way they could've thought to themselves, ‘Oh, this girl's going to really enjoy this.' Or that it's something they just thought up, because of how hyper-prevalent porn is, and how easy it is to get.
And hence, so many guys' first experience with sex is porn.
A guy like Adam is completely realistic in that looking at porn online was clearly one of his first experiences with sex. And he's just trying to take it to the bedroom. And I think it's realistic, the awkwardness of the sex they have. Everyone when they first start having sex has no idea what they're doing, but if you add that onto the fact that they're loading up their heads with all this crazy imagery, all these unrealistic ideas about sex, it's not going to go well.
Adam's fundamental cluelessness about sex is that he's not really paying attention to what Hannah wants (or doesn't care), which makes him inherently bad at sex.
The most telling line of the show so far is when Hannah's talking to her friends about sex with Adam, and someone asks her if she has orgasms with him, and she's like, ‘Eh, not...really? Not yet?' It clear she's not enjoying herself. That's really well written, and rings completely true.
Why does Hannah stay with Adam? Why does she still like him?
I think they addressed that a little bit tonight, where she says to her mom before going out: ‘I've been treated like dogshit by this guy. I want to date a normal person and see what that's like.' I think she's got some self-esteem issues when it comes to knowing what she should put up with. She says, at one point: ‘I've been fifteen pounds overweight my whole life and it sucks.' That tells you a lot about herself. She thinks he's the best she can do: He's funny, he's interesting, he's says wry things. She doesn't really think she can do better.
I don't want to divest her of personal responsibility, but it seems like so many of the dominant forces that preceded Hannah's development as a person are going to lead her to a lot of shitty guys before getting a decent one.
Well, there are a lot of shitty guys out there!
Are you a shitty guy?
I've been told I'm too nice, mostly. But when you begin dating women in your thirties, they've all dated several guys who are complete assholes. So the bar is very low (laughs). In terms of just basic human decency, the expectation is pretty low.
Is it Hannah's fault that she ends up with a guy like Adam?
She knows what he is! It seems like she's kind of delusional and absent for the first couple of episodes, but as we've gone along, she clearly knows this isn't a great person.
In this week's episode, Hannah lies about having called him previously when they talk. And then he asks her if everything's okay. He genuinely cares at that moment. And when she asks him what's outside his window, we all expect him to lay on the bed, and make up some shit. And instead, he goes to the window and tells her. What'd you make of that?
I think he has his own issues going on as well. He's so warped! There's got to be something in his past that prompted him to talk to her the way he did in bed a few episodes ago: He's going to come on her, and send her covered in come home to her parents? What?! I was thinking: Yeah, this guy's got some issues in his past. He's not a monster. He's definitely messed up. But not a monster.
I think we can fairly say that, in Adam's case, his actions aren't exactly that of a mensch. At the same time, there are probably a lot of guys like Adam who get a bad rap, who are deemed a complete piece of shit when really, maybe they were just as lost as the women they were with.
Not just that, but I think people do what you let them get away with. She's got to have some agency, and some sense of responsibility with regards to what's happening here.
This calls to mind that mantra: There are no good men in New York. You ever heard one of your friends say that?
Oh, god, yeah. I know several girls who moved away because of this.
But good guys aren't a regional specialty!
I think the girls who say that, in my experience at least, are the ones who have a list that has twenty things on it. One of those things, and they're done. There are no good guys with an impossible standard! It says more about the person than it does the situation. And I know guys who do the same thing.
So Hannah goes home, and hooks up with the local pharmacy guy. She tries sticking a finger in his ass and asks what he likes about fucking her before their clothing even comes off. The sex, of course, was awful.
It was like she was reflecting the PTSD of hooking up with Adam! And this poor guy just didn't know what was coming. It rang true: How else has she come to think of what sex is? Adam's freaky things have become who she is.
The fundamental problem with Adam's sexual M.O. has transferred to Hannah: The inability to pay attention to another person.
She's basically putting Adam on this guy, (laughs) poor guy.
There's a moment where we learn in this episode where we learn that she was a vegetarian until she met Adam, and then started eating meat thereafter.
It makes sense. She went to Oberlin. A lot of those schools are crunchy. One of my best friends went to Brown, and I met a lot of kids who'd never had a hamburger at twenty.
But back to Hannah's PTSD from Adam. Have you ever had something manifest in a casual hookup or date in such a pronounced way?
One time, a girl I was on a first date with didn't want me to walk her home. She had a stalker, once. I emailed with her, and it later came out that she didn't want me to know where she lived, yet, because she had a stalker. She had been so traumatized by this stalker experience she did not want me to know where she lived. My friend dated a girl for a year, and he found out after they had been dating for a year that she was carrying a small steak knife in her purse on their first date. She'd once been attacked. That's kind of a crazy thing.
It is, but can you blame her?
No! I don't blame her. I'd be very unsettled by that. Knowing this girl met my friend with a steak knife on a first date.
Oh, it's totally unsettling in the way any human being carrying a weapon and why they're doing it is unsettling.
Men definitely bring baggage to things, but I wonder if it's as much as women do, if for no other reason than...men.
It's become more clear, the more and more that I live, in every way, men have it better. Their seventy cents to our dollar. And then there's the sexual stuff.
You've clearly been a diligent reader of Jezebel. We do have it better, in too many ways.
It's true. It's too true. It's crazy.
And now we're spending time advocating for someone else. One commenter suggested I headline this column ‘Male Privilege,' because we're invading a lady blog with ‘mansplaining,' and nobody wrote a series of women talking about ‘Entourage,' so why this? [Ed: Because Entourage is fucking unwatchable and, at the end of the day, we like 'Girls.'] You know, I would've read that. I really would've enjoyed that.
(Laughing) I would have too! I would've totally read that. On Jezebel!
Foster Kamer is a senior editor at the New York Observer. Are you a boy who watches Girls? Give him a shout.