If I wasn’t completely convinced of Lena Dunham’s prowess as a writer, a scene in the second season-two episode of Girls that premiered on January 20 — an argument between Hannah and her new boyfriend Sandy, a black Republican — sold me on it 100 percent.
I still have no idea if Hannah can even write, though. Unlike Sex and the City, which was grounded by Carrie Bradshaw’s literary musings, Girls has kept its heroine scribe’s written word mostly a mystery. But I’m still marveling at how much ground Dunham the writer covered in the space of about four and a half minutes.
My internal debate continues over Sandy’s comment about white girls who come to New York City and date black guys, treating it as something merely to be crossed off their bucket lists. I’ve met guys like that, and I’ve dated a few of them, too — in and out of New York City. Interestingly enough, just the night before I watched the episode of Girls, I saw a gay Australian stand-up named Nathan doing a routine at the Laird in Melbourne about the Monday night he and his friend wandered into a black club in New York City, and for the first time, he hooked up with a black guy — or rather, as he put it, “a black bear.”
“Oh, I see there’s one out there in the audience right now,” he said, pointing in my direction before beginning his story.
“Who me? I am not a bear.” I was annoyed. I hate stand-up as it is, and now I had to suffer through it while everyone kept glancing over at me to check my reaction. And furthermore, I was no “bear” (gay slang for a hairy guy). Didn’t he see my hairless face? I considered doffing my shirt just to show him and everyone else in the bar that the rest of my body was similarly groomed.
As I listened to Nathan tell his long, pointless story, I wondered how much different it would have been had I not been in the room. It wasn’t a particularly racist tale (though he could have skimped on his overuse of the term “black bear,” which sounded so pejorative the way he kept saying it, possibly because of his strong Aussie accent). It wasn’t particularly funny either — he received only a few polite laughs — but I wondered how many first-timers I’ve hooked up with who were secretly so acutely aware of my skin color and maybe even turned our tryst into a comedy routine. I’ve gotten pretty good at fending off chocolate queens (the ones who only date black men), but those bucket-list queens — far more prevalent in Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Bangkok than they ever seemed to be in New York City — are impossible to avoid.
In Hannah’s defense, she had the perfect comeback to Sandy’s complaint. Since he’s had so many of these experiences with white girls, maybe he should consider the possibility that he fetishizes white women. Score! Thank God nobody has ever presented that argument to me. It would certainly be an appropriate one.
Although I have no ethnic restrictions when it comes to dating and hooking up, my serious and semi-serious boyfriends all have been white and Latino. I can’t say that it’s by accident either. I completely own my double standard, and I have several reasons for it (my own insecurity, childhood issues with black bullies, not wanting to compete with my boyfriends for attention in public) that I may expound upon in a future blog post.
I also thought this part of Hannah vs. Sandy was intriguing because of how it reflected Dunham herself. She fielded a lot of criticism last season for the lack of black characters in the New York City depicted in Girls, and giving Hannah an instant new black boyfriend in this season’s first episode seemed like her way of making amends. Now both she and Hannah could cross it off their lists at the same time.
Some other interesting points were made during the argument regarding gun control, the death penalty, mixed marriages (Republicans vs. Democrats) and Missy Elliott, but it was the one that kicked it off that really struck home with me. “If he’s not reading your essays, he’s not reading you,” Jessa told Hannah (so true — I’ve always judged boyfriends by how interested they are in what I write), leading Hannah to confront Sandy about why he hadn’t read the essay she’d given to him.
Newsflash!: He’d already read it, but he just didn’t know how to break the news to her that he didn’t like it. As I watched the beginning of the fight unfold, I thought of an uncomfortable conversation I once had with my first boyfriend, a German-American artist named Derek, after he slammed a review I had written on Enya’s Shepherd Moons album. (Give me a break: It was 1992, and Enya was huge!) He criticized my overuse of adjectives and my mannered writing. I was trying too hard. He said that in writing about the album, I didn’t come across the way I did when I talked about it. The review wasn’t conversational enough.
Derek’s critique was hard to hear, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t reward him for his honesty at the time. But in hindsight, it might have been more constructive than any criticism any of my editors ever gave me afterwards. It certainly influenced my writing (in a positive way) more than any negative review I’ve gotten since. I gained a lot from my year and a half of dating Derek, but his honesty and bluntness about that Enya review, and my writing in general, might have been the best thing he ever did for me.
Hannah pretended to take Sandy’s critique better than I initially took Derek’s, but she really didn’t. By the end of the scene, they’d broken up. I hope it’s not for good. Their mixed relationship might ultimately be a lost cause, but what dramatic/comedic potential!