It all began about 10 years ago, first with Buffy, then The Sopranos & The Wire, when a small number of TV shows started - for the very first time - to be as well-written & played out as just about any movie, free from the obviously commercial motives & accompanying censorship that had always cheapened that activity before. There were the first signs that television as a medium had the possibility of genuine artistic expression. Recently those early hopes have been flowering with the likes of Breaking Bad, Louie, Enlightened & Lena Dunham's Girls, which I am at this moment in time thoroughly hooked on.
Girls is, for the most part, a comedy, & a very funny one at that, but its greater value is in its refusing to flinch from showing the results of young 21st century women's choices, as well as all the raw realities of modern relationships in a post-feminist world. It's also perhaps the only TV show made for women that genuinely likes men, depicting their lives as something greater than accessories & utilities for women, their experiences & emotions as important as those of their female counterparts. Like a Miranda July movie told in 25 minutes, Girls is brave & thoughtful & original & always has something new to tell me. Tonight I saw the latest episode & one scene in particular is really haunting me right now.
For the uninitiated, the back-story is that Adam, a very strange, very intense, antisocial loner, fresh out of being dumped by the show's main protagonist Hannah, has met & started having sex with this amazing, perfect - perhaps too perfect - new girl & all is going swimmingly for the first week. Then at a party Adam bumps into Hannah again & old feelings of longing, hurt & betrayal are stirred up. He takes his new girlfriend back to his place for the first time & this happens:
Now, I don't know how much of this can be understood without the context, without a familiarity with the many different facets of this particular character but in any other show - even one written by a man - this would be the point where you are meant to realize that this fellow is The Bad Guy, the villain unmasked, perhaps even a murderer or a serial rapist. Some kind of perverted creep, anyway. But that isn't what's being shown here.
Adam had a relationship in which his unvarnished animal nature was accepted & appreciated & his compulsive sexuality gave pleasure to the woman he was with. He is testing Natalia, the new girl, to see if she will turn away from him when she sees him in all his grimy imperfection, if she will leave him too the moment her rose-tinted spectacles slip from her eyes.
There is a scene earlier on, when they first fuck, where she tells him in an oddly precise way what she 'wants', what her 'rules' are (him on top, no soft touching, & come outside of her body). So here, later on, he fucks her in a very cold, selfish way, pushing at her boundaries, yet still managing to not break her rules. Do you see? Something in him needs to rebel, to be free, to fuck her the way he is being driven to in that moment, trying to fuck the pain away, but he is still trying to be a good dog, to work within her wishes even while straining at the leash. He is pushing her away & pulling her to him all at the same time. He doesn't even know himself why he's doing what he's doing, he just knows something is compelling him to do it, & as soon as it's over, his confusion & despair is overwhelming. At the end he is both challenging her to leave him & terrified she will.
I recognize a part of my fundamental male self in Adam, & I found this scene very, very moving, in ways I cannot really explain. There is something being said there about a particular emotional need that is fulfilled when a men 'takes' a woman that we still really have no language for, & in our society is kept entirely shrouded in shame.
I've always found the language of relationships largely female anyway (I have a theory interpersonal language was mostly developed by women 'round the firepit while the men were all out at the hunt) & men end up being forced to use Oprah-friendly terms that (apparently) make sense to women to try describe biological drives & experiences that really lie outside of anything most women can understand or even want to acknowledge exist. In our present society, if that essential part of men is acknowledged to exist at all, it is only to triumphantly hold it up as proof that 'all men are rapists'. No human being wants to be told that their deepest, most private, central core is at heart a sick, dirty criminal beast, so almost all men work their hardest to hide their natural desire, & the acceptance of it they so badly crave, in hopes of proving they are 'good' after all.
Halfway through writing this I looked online to try find the name of the Natalia character & found - to, I'm sorry to say, very little astonishment - that the net is aglow with rabid discussion as to whether the scene is 'really rape' or only 'grey rape' - you know, that kind of Rape they can't lock you up for, yet. That's really sad. I don't think that was Dunham's intent at all, but then you know the world is crammed full of crazy as much as I do. Some days the bullshit is so thick the best you can do is put your foot down as hard as you can & turn the windscreen wipers on.
Like I say, I've come up against that wall of expression & I don't really have the words for any of this, but the show & this scene in particular somehow managed to make some of what needed to be said take visible form outside of language altogether. So I want to thank Lena Dunham for making it. It sucks being a man in this day & age but the future seems a lot less scary with voices like hers in it.