Episode 205: The Priams of the Patriarchy

The Overthinkers tackle Lena Dunham’s HBO Series Girls.

Peter Fenzel, John Perich, and Matthew Wrather—collectively, the Priams of the Patriarchty— overthink Lena Dunham’s HBO Series Girls.


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36 Comments on “Episode 205: The Priams of the Patriarchy”

  1. Amanda #

    If only you guys had actually seen all of the eps so far… last week’s completely changed how the audience sees Adam. I usually don’t mind your tendency to comment on things you know nothing about/films you haven’t seen, because a) the conversation’s always interesting and b) a lot of those times I haven’t seen whatever you’re discussing either (Ghost Rider, really? Although Stringer Bell’s in it…)

    But this time, a LOT of the conversation would have been avoided or taken a completely different turn because of how Lena portrays Adam (and Hannah’s relationship with him) through a whole new perspective.

    More commentary to come later, but so far, Perich gets many kudos, Fenzel gets a somewhat hurt “WHAT?! Did you really just say that?!” and Wrather get kudos for (albeit jokingly) calling him out on it.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I have actually seen them all—though of course I played it like I haven’t because that’s the way we roll on OTI (and I couldn’t have seen last night’s before we recorded)—but…

      I don’t think Adam’s dickishness is mitigated all that much by realizing that Hannah can be pretty selfish and immature (gasp!) in the way she treats him, as well as the way she saddles him with expectations that she never really tells him about.

      Both things are true: She’s immature and he’s a jerk. And I wouldn’t be surprised if both things continue to be true in the first season’s home stretch.


      • Amanda #

        I mostly agree with you, but I also think that while he is a jerk, some of the behavior labeled as “jerkiness” was his attempt to distance himself from her. The last two episodes made it clear that while she wanted more from him, she never expressed that to him. His behavior at the party, with the goofy dancing and the fact that all of his friends seemed to have heard of her makes it seem as though he would be willing to be in a more “involved” relationship with her, and it was her treatment of him as a fuck buddy (by never talking about other aspects of their lives, etc) that discouraged him from opening up to her. Anyway, she’s immature, he’s a jerk, and it was their lack of decent communication that prevented them from realizing they both wanted to be in a more intimate relationship.


  2. Amanda #

    Well, ok, Pete’s just been (very) slightly rehabilitated by the serif comment. I like serifs, I like Times New Roman, hate that everyone wants to use Arial instead. Perich’s rule is great too in my opinion. Perich 3, Fenzel 1 Wrather 3456889879 (he is a TFTer after all)


  3. Christian #

    Between “Girls” and “Gossip Girl,” I am getting a very disjointed view of life in NYC. I need to go read some Spider-Man comics to straighten it out.


  4. Sylvia #

    There are women who are comfortable using the toilet in front of their friends, and there are women who are comfortable with their friends using the toilet in front of them.

    To risk generalizations, they’ve never been the type of women I’ve been comforable being friends with because that lack of physical boundry tends to reflect their lack of emotional boundries.


  5. Rich #

    Sorry guys, this is the episode that made me pull you out of my podcast subscription list. Sometimes it’s just a little too obvious that you haven’t thought about the subject beforehand and developed something interesting to say about it; instead, we get firm pronouncements that are invented on the fly. It was pretty exasperating this episode. If Fenzel had done more than quickly slam down two episodes, for instance, I don’t think he would have argued most of the things that he did. (The title is ho-ho ironic because the characters are women and not girls? That’s a misread that I can’t attribute to anything other than laziness.)

    I don’t mean to be unconstructively negative. I’ll still download an episode from time to time. But you’ve got to stop being the students who skim the text half an hour before seminar and then dominate the discussion.


    • fenzel #

      Sorry to have frustrated you. What’s a good example of an episode you liked? And is there a particular podcast other than ours that you enjoy?

      If we’re going to lose you, we’d much rather know why, so that if you do decide to come back, we can win you back again.

      Do you watch _Girls_? Do you enjoy it? Have you read the discussion of it on other sites?

      I definitely know this wasn’t our best podcast, but I’m not sure it was _that_ bad — but then you probably noticed something about it I didn’t. Which is why I’m asking :-)


      • Rich #

        OK, I tried to succinctly state my reasons, but I’ll answer honestly and in more depth, if this is something you want to know. The real brunt of my criticism was in the sentence “you’ve got to stop being the students who skim the text half an hour before seminar and then dominate the discussion.” Does this ring true at all? This episode had what I thought was an exceptional number of misreads and off-the-cuff errors (e.g. Wittgenstein’s private language argument establishes the exact opposite of what Perech thought it did), and it didn’t go into some of the most interesting features of the show, such as its representations of types of sexual activity. These kinds of lapses aren’t always annoying—people can hold different opinions and be interested in different features of a work—but they are annoying when you can tell that the speakers haven’t really thought about the topic beforehand and are making things up as they go.

        These problems are compounded by the fact that you guys don’t have back-and-forth discussions aimed at working through a problem so much as you speechify and then ask “what do you think?”, whereupon someone gives a speech on something only somewhat related. (You might listen to see how often this happens.) You guys talk at rather than with each other more often than most podcasts I hear. Wrather only came in late in the podcast to challenge your speech about Girls making you uncomfortable, and this is fairly representative of the low-level of back-and-forth; his challenge could have very easily been lost and forgotten, and there wouldn’t have been any back-and-forth at all. Now, this style of discourse isn’t bad in itself: when the speeches are well-developed, they can be interesting in themselves, and you don’t need conversation in order to work through problems that emerge. Some of the best parts of past episodes occur when one of you goes off on something you love and know about. But those speeches would demand prior thought and research, and it’s this that’s been lacking. The form of the discourse is that of experts; the content of the discourse is that of interested neophytes. One of these needs to go. This episode was just a glaring instance of this phenomenon, but the phenomenon is not unique to it.

        So, final verdict: either less speechiness, or more prior thought in order to have something to be speachy about.

        (Here’s the demographic data you ask for. As far as episodes I like: the Battleship one was good, and I remember the Thor one hooking me in. I like comedy podcasts on Maximum Fun and Earwolf, EconTalk, podcasts in the New Books in X series, and a bunch of NPR podcasts. I’ve seen most of Girls and like it but with some ambivalence. I’ve read articles on it including some on Slate and that New York Review of Books one that made a splash, but I haven’t been seeking them out.)


        • cat #

          I find your comparison to a classroom/seminar setting interesting. In my experience, very few people bother to read the text and simply sit there for the hour or so in complete silence. I disagree with the assertion that you need to read all of a text to talk about it intelligently. Go back to the basic premise of a classroom. In the majority of classes I’ve taken, you discuss a book a few chapters at a time and develop a unified theory as you examine more of the text. You can analyze Book 1 of Paradise Lost without reading all of Paradise Lost. Besides, with the show Girls, I find your insistence on a holistic view somewhat flawed as all the episodes haven’t been released yet. It isn’t say Harry Potter where the books had been released for some time and all the movies were available for viewing. I could understand when people complained about that episode.


          • Rich #

            “I disagree with the assertion that you need to read all of a text to talk about it.”

            I agree with you, but I never made that assertion.

        • CrazyLikeAFox OTI Staff #

          FWIW, I enjoyed the episode, even though I have only seen about one-half of one episode of “Girls.”

          One thing I that I thought you actually did pretty well, and that I always appreciate in the Podcasts when you do, is to clearly set off who has seen how much of whatever it is you’re talking about – that way, if I do have a moment where I’m thinking to myself “WELL ACTUALLY, they address that point in Episode 7, so that’s just silly”, I know why.

          Particularly for a TV show that’s indefinite in nature, I don’t think it’s a prerequisite that you’ve seen every single up-to-the-minute episode of a given show, provided you make that clear ahead of time. There are lots of sites that devote themselves to day-after recaps of shows, but I like that OTI tries to take a little broader view.

          For some reason, I’m reminded of a Jim Gaffigan bit where he talks about seeing a movie way after it comes out: “Hey, did you guys see ‘Heat?'”

          “Didn’t that come out ten years ago?”

          “Yeah, well I want to talk about it now.”


          • cat #

            “you’ve got to stop being the students who skim the text half an hour before seminar and then dominate the discussion.”

          • Rich #

            (responding to cat)

            Right, but in that quote I am not saying that it’s wrong to analyze a portion of a text without knowing the whole. Of course it’s fine to analyze Book 1 of Paradise Lost without reading the whole thing. It’s less fine to monologue on it after skimming it half an hour beforehand.

          • cat #

            Eh. Still holding onto the initial comparison, I don’t think this is unusual for a classroom/seminar. I’m not sure if anyone goes as far as monologuing but I’ve been a part of plenty of classroom discussions where people clearly hadn’t read the text fully or in depth and still tried to dominate the conversation. I don’t think the skimming is bad if the type of analysis you’re going for is about the societal role of the show in general as opposed to conclusions about specific characters and their plotlines. Though I do personally prefer the plotline discussions more.

  6. Tulse #

    You guys usually rock, but I have to agree with some of the others’ comments here — this was not the finest hour of the podcast by a long shot.


    • Dr_Demento #

      Something definitely felt off about this podcast. I enjoyed it, but they spent the entire episode on a topic I didn’t even know existed, which was weird (normally the topics that take up an entire show are pretty much everywhere). It also think that without at least one podcaster who had seen nothing of the show, the podcast didn’t bother explaining itself as well. I’m not exactly sure what was off about it though.


      • Leigh #

        It seemed like they were specifically trying to dance around something, without ever acknowledging what that thing was.


        • fenzel #

          The thing I felt we were dancing around, at least from my perspective, was that we’d seen enough of the show to want to talk about it, but not enough of the show to really talk about it with confidence. Which, in retrospect, doesn’t really make anyone happy, especially with this show.

          This is a show watched by very few people – for reference, the Eastbound and Down season finale that it followed one week had more than 30% more viewers, and Game of Thrones generally had at least more than 4 times as many.

          It is also a show with big dropoffs — there is a core group of about a million people who have stuck with this show, but about a third of the people who watched the pilot never came back. While it has a big presence in the blogosphere, it is less popular in viewership than “VEEP,” which probably would have been a better show to talk about.

          So, if we were going to talk about it, we should have talked about it earlier, and we either all should have watched the whole thing and then explained it to everybody or not bothered.

          It’s hard to explain on the podcast what is going on in the show when you know there have been a whole bunch of episodes of it you haven’t seen and you could be totally wrong.

          But at the same time, it’s tempting to address topics that are popular with commentators and seem interesting to talk about.

          I should have just watched two or three more episodes, I think. Would have given me more confidence.

          Although to a degree I expected a negative reaction to discussion of this show. Discussing the show online tends to provoke negative reaction. It’s contentious, but not in ways people are generally comfortable talking about. Which is what I was trying to get across, I suppose.


          • Tulse #

            Fenzel, I think the argument about audience size isn’t terribly convincing, especially as it isn’t clear why you’re making it — is that the show isn’t worth thinking about deeply, since it isn’t popular?

            In any case, I do think there were a lot of missed opportunities here to do some overthinking, given the controversies around the show. (Again, let me preface these comments by saying that I almost always enjoy your discussions, and it is only the fact that this podcast felt unusual that I am prompted to comment.)

            There could, for example, have been a much more nuanced discussion of male gaze, female standards of attractiveness, and television. I know this is a simplistic summary, but the discussion we did get seemed to be “male gaze sucks, but folks dig lookin’ at hot chicks, so TV’s gotta do it, bro”. There were a lot of unexamined assumptions in that discussion, and I personally felt it was very facile (especially since all the female leads apart from Dunham are presented as quite attractive).

            The gang could also have discussed the issue of art being produced by those of privilege, since most of the cast come from a well-off background in the arts (one of the women is David Mamet’s daughter, and Dunham has successful artist parents). Do such advantages undercut the work, and question the artist?

            Another issue addressed by the show is the awkwardness and downright weirdness of some people’s sexual relationships. The only woman on the show who seems to have a satisfying sex life is the one who seems to care least about the emotions or concerns of her various partners. Hannah’s relationship seems especially dysfunctional and destructive, and yet also seems very real. I think there’s a lot to be explored about mass media portrayals of sexual relationships, and how they are usually romanticized in a way that this show studiously avoids.

            So despite the tiny audience, I think the show (and the reactions to it) are far more worthy of careful thought and discussion than, say, NCIS. I’m looking forward to a return to the more nuanced and careful analysis of the OTI gang in the future podcasts.

          • Dr_Demento #

            I think the show viewership discussion was specifically targeted at my post. I don’t think it was an explanation for anything.

          • fenzel #

            The point about audience size isn’t about the show, it’s about talking about the show.

            When a show has a small number of fans, and almost no casual watchers, it can be hard to talk both to the fans and to the total neophytes in the audience at the same time.

  7. Leigh #

    I’ve been keeping up with the show, and I’ve also been keeping up with some of the critical discourse that surrounds the show (by participating at AVClub). I think it was around episode 4 or 5 that I really realized that this show isn’t really asking the audience to like its characters. I think that seeing and judging the immaturity of the characters is part of the show’s appeal. Lena Dunham might want us to mock and/or tsk Hannah and her friends. Maybe she doesn’t want that, but she doesn’t go to any sort of lengths to prevent that – she keeps it real, and the reality is that these females have a long way to go before they become emotionally mature.

    It actually makes me think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was partly about the divide that exists in high school girls between sexual maturity and emotional maturity. Linda (Phoebe Cates) and Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) do stupid, cringeworthy things, and all we can do is hope they manage to figure things out before they get in serious trouble. Of course, by the end, most everybody has grown up and moved on, which is telegraphed by the where-are-they-now? tags at the end of the movie. The weird thing about Hannah and her friends is that they haven’t grown up – they’ve sorta entered into this perpetual immaturity that doesn’t seem to show any signs of ending. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

    I think one of the most interesting things Pete said in the podcast was that our economic development has created this culture in which it’s possible for these ladies to basically become emotionally stunted in a way that has never been possible before (which is where the podcast should have focused its discussion). Dunham is showing us the strange effect this has had on these girls, but instead of asking us whether this situation is good or bad, she’s kinda coming down pretty firmly on the “this is bad” side. These girls may have interesting lives, but they’re not heroes or rolemodels in any way.

    I’m a guy, close to 40, and I find the show entertaining. I think the funny parts are funny, I think the sad parts are sad, and the occasional creepiness is more fun than revolting. And I think it’s clever and unique enough to be worth half an hour of my weekly time.


  8. Newman #

    I’m surprised by the negative feedback you guys are getting about this podcast. I thought it was more focused than some others in the recent past and that the discussion got to some interesting places, especially the bit about the relationship of people in dominant cultures or or roles to those of the subaltern. I was initially uncomfortable with Fenzel’s take on all that, but I think the three of you were able to develop a totally responsible discourse (drink. do you drink for comments too?). So although some people were put off by this episode, I, and probably other listeners were not.

    That being said, I’ll weigh in briefly on my initial reaction to this embattled HBO program by saying that my discomfort with the show was not due to the potential foreignness of the show’s female-centric focus and perspective, although I am my self a man. Rather, the first maybe four episodes of the show made me squirm because it felt so accurately realistic in the ways that the the show portrays what being a white middle (or upper. how did marnie get that sweet art gallery gig anyway?)class twenty-something is like. The majority of my friends and I are in a similar post-college extended-adolescent stage, with the attendant problems of crappy jobs and crappy romantic relationships and frustrated aspirations. The climate of existential squalor the show has was often painful to watch.


  9. cat #

    My assumption would be that people are uncomfortable with the cast and creators of Girls because that level of privilege makes them feel like unfit representatives of the subaltern. Although they are women, they seem very much tied to the dominant culture and profiting from the dominant culture (as their positions/status probably helped secure them many successes including the show). The cast seems primarily Jewish/Caucasian. The sense of discomfort may in part also be racial. Is this feminist ideology really representative of all women and if not, should they be allowed to elect themselves as the representatives of all women? Third world feminism, anyone? And are all the women also heterosexual?

    I think the issue is that Girls is a very niche property that’s being critiqued by the media as though it isn’t a very niche property.


    • fenzel #

      “I think the issue is that Girls is a very niche property that’s being critiqued by the media as though it isn’t a very niche property.”

      Bingo! Very well said.


    • Newman #

      I think a recent episode may get into something about same-sex attraction, but I haven’t seen it. Episode 8? You might check out Slate’s two columns of Guys on Girls and Girls on Girls if you wanted to see about that, though I think both columns are interested in other things in that episode.


  10. Wizardy #

    I’ve listened to around 20 of the last podcasts, and I’ve enjoyed all of them tremendously.

    Even though I haven’t seen most of the discussed material and my understanding of English language is far from being perfect, listening to your podcast is my favorite activity when traveling anywhere.

    Thank you and please keep on keepin’ on! ;-)


  11. Dan From Canada #

    For “right thinking people” you seemed pretty quick to do things like assume that this show was -made- “To poke fun at us” as men. You argued that as a show, they made a deliberate decision to not indulge in male gaze pandering in its portrayal, and then go ahead and suggest that the whole thing was created with the reaction of men in mind?


    • fenzel #

      Not to poke fun as in mock — to poke as in to provoke and challenge. To address male-dominated entertainment and the expectations that entertainment has for women, and to poke at it by showing the opposite of expectations.

      And keep in mind that women watch male-dominated entertainment too — way too much of it, probably. So by poking and provoking expecations for male-dominated entertainment, you’re not just going after men in the audience, you’re going after the ideas of men and women as they exist in the popular culture.

      And we’re talking about aspects of it, not the whole thing. I haven’t even seen the whole thing, and there’s a ton going on just in the two episodes I’ve seen. You’re looking at the conversation much more reductively than I was.


      • Dan From Canada #

        Women and Men watch male-dominated entertainment because the majority of entertainment is male-dominated. Statistically, if you consume entertainment, you’re consuming male-dominated entertainment, so as a response, this is a bit of a non-starter.

        I know you meant to provoke and challenge, and not mock. That wasn’t my point. My point was the dissonance between the claims “_Girls_ purposefully avoids pandering to the Male Gaze audience” and the claim “_Girls_ purposefully sets out to provoke a reaction from Male viewers”

        It’s either not about the men watching or it’s about the men watching. It’s not both.


  12. Amanda #

    You guys have frequently made dick/balls jokes and said you were alienating your female audience and it was never true. I always laughed along and thought you weren’t actually being offensive or sexist at all, and a girl can laugh at some gross guy jokes too.
    But then comes Fenzel in this podcast and for the first time in OTI history I actually am offended and hurt by what I hear. To imply that women are not inherently interesting and relatable as human beings and as characters in a comedy or drama unless plenty of skin is also on display was one of the most abhorrent things any of you has ever said. And while I believe this was not said as his personal opinion, but as a “this is how TV works and so I’m just telling you how to work with it”, the fact that he thought it would be better to stick to the rules and continue to objectify and degrade women instead of, oh, God forbid, actually trying to create new rules, as I believe Lena Dunham is doing and just wait and find an audience that way was shocking to me.
    And it happened again when you guys had the long discussion on whether Adam was being a dick for treating Lena the way he did vs. she was being stupid not to leave. While both are true, again, Perich was the only one to come up with the revolutionary idea of “Hey! Maybe he could just not be a dick!”. At that point, I have to admit that even I, a girl and a feminist, had not considered that alternative, because women are so consistently blamed for staying with guys that the thought that maybe the guy is the one in the wrong did not even come to mind.

    And here are my favorite quotes by my fellow commenter:

    “the discussion we did get seemed to be


    • fenzel #

      Amanda, I hope you know I am not _advocating_ this kind of audience behavior.

      I was saying that it is part of our culture, and thus it’s in our minds subliminally — especially as men — that even if we say we’re progressive, we need to be careful because certain sexist expectations for entertainment are ingrained in us.

      And that this is why shows like Girls feel weird, even though they shouldn’t. Because we are influenced by our sexist discourse.


      • Appleby #

        I was way more offended by the terrible English accents at the beginning of the podcast than I was by any of the later comments on Girls…

        Frankly, talking about gender politics is like tap-dancing in a minefield. A lot of good points were made, some of which it was clear made people uncomfortable, and while those parts for equally uncomfortable listening, having had the experience of listening to the show I am glad it happened… Apart from the accents of course. That was murder. It would have been nice if the show had continued with the confident enthusiasm it started with, perhaps there would have been less room for misunderstanding if people had felt less like they needed to restrain themselves.

        Anyway – I don’t know if you guys get thanked sufficiently for doing this [I’m pretty sure you don’t get paid… so I really hope you’re getting thanked]; you teach and entertain and generally improve my life in a non-trivial way. So thank you for that.


  13. Amanda #

    One last thing, I feel a little bad for having asked you guys to discuss Girls, because it makes me feel like I am partly responsible for all the negative responses to this ep. At the same time though, I hadn’t expected it to go this way because you all have such a great record of talking intelligently and interestingly about so many topics (believe me, I’ve listened to every single OTI and TFT podcasts, some twice!). Either way, I’m glad this episode happened because the discussion here on the comments actually got us to a good place, in my opinion.
    So now I will quote yet another commenter, and this quote basically expresses my feeling towards all things OTI.

    “you teach and entertain and generally improve my life in a non-trivial way. So thank you for that.”


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