By Caroline Nelson ‘16Film Columnist
“One Man’s Trash,” the most recent episode of “Girls,” has sparked a lot of online conversation recently. The main reason for this is that it centers around Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, having a two-day affair with a doctor played by Patrick Wilson. This relationship has led to a great deal of talk about how implausible it is that a man as gorgeous as Wilson would want anything to do with a woman who looked like Dunham. Of course people are claiming that this is just self-indulgent wish fulfillment and have gone as far as to suggest that the whole incident is a fantasy of the main character’s.
This whole dialogue is profoundly irritating on a variety of levels. To begin with, though Dunham may not be “movie star gorgeous,” people are talking about her as if she’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This is because of the difference in the way men and women are cast in film and television. In TV land men come in all ages, shapes, and sizes (if not always colors) and range everywhere from a 2 to a 10. Women, with only a few exceptions, are gorgeous and on average much younger. This is mainly because most writers, directors, casting directors, executives and producers are men and don’t cast women that they don’t find sexually attractive. In Tina Fey’s essay for the New Yorker “Confessions of a Juggler” she describes how execs have told her things like “I don’t know, I don’t want to fuck anyone on this show.” This results in viewers being not only conditioned to see average, or merely somewhat attractive women as hideous, but to see it as perfectly reasonable that ugly men should have relationships with disproportionally attractive women. No one batted an eyelid at all of the all the beautiful women paired with unattractive men on “Entourage”, or accused Danny McBride (creator and star of “Eastbound and Down”) of using Kenny Powers’ affairs with much hotter women as a form of wish fulfillment.
Also the age difference isn’t being brought up nearly as much as it should be. Wilson’s character is supposed to be eighteen years older than Dunham’s. Once again, everyone is so used to older men and younger women that most people don’t see a big hulking age gap as an issue in a relationship. Male actors keep being romantic leads well into middle age while most actresses get relegated to character parts once they hit thirty to make way for the next crop of bright young things.
I personally could stand to see much less of Dunham naked and find her exhibitionism a little distasteful, but I support her for doing what she does because she is challenging deep-rooted conceptions of what kind of women can take their clothes off onscreen. I’m sick of seeing overweight, conventionally unattractive men wandering around in their boxers (guys in “The Sopranos”, I’m looking at you) and nobody complaining about it, while people raise a fuss over women doing the same.
Is Dunham enacting a fantasy through these onscreen flings with Donald Glover and Patrick Wilson? So what? If she is, who cares? For the past hundred years male directors have paired their alter egos with the beautiful women that often eluded them in real life and male film and television viewers have identified with them and shared their fantasies. Female fantasies have long been denied such an outlet because so few women make movies and television shows. Instead they have been channeled into much-derided romance novels and pieces of fan fiction.
So if Dunham wants to engage in some wish fulfillment with handsome men, I say more power to her.