Girls, Nudity and Critical Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Last Updated on: 17th August 2021, 03:53 pm

I’ve only barely watched Girls, but it’s clear from what I’ve seen of it that realistic, awkward sexuality is an important part of the show’s DNA.

Accordingly, when Tim Malloy from The Wrap discussed Lena Dunham’s nudity at a recent Television Critics Association panel for the show, he set off a miniature firestorm when he said he didn’t “get the purpose” of all that clothes-free acting.

Although I definitely don’t want to add to the dog-pile that inevitably occurs when someone makes a faux pas that goes viral, I would like to discuss some aspects of Malloy’s “question” that may help explain why this incident rubbed so many people the wrong way.

To provide context, here is Malloy’s quote, transcribed as part of the post above:

I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.

This immediately inspired rage-filled reactions from the combined panel of Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, and I think it’s easy to see why.

There are at least three things about this “question” that make it frustrating: In a forum designed for questions and answers, Malloy stood up and spoke his opinion instead of asking an actual question, leaving the panelists to respond to the first interpretation that came to mind. He talked about Dunham’s nudity – a well-worn topic for as long as the show has been airing – in a way that implied he didn’t find it titillating because she in particular was naked instead of someone else. Finally, he wrapped up by saying that sexual content was included in the show at “random times for no reason,” which implies the writers are careless and arbitrary about including nudity in the show.

When Malloy discussed this further with Apatow, he was told that “there’s a way to word a question about the reason for nudity on the show and it was not done elegantly,” which got me thinking. How could Malloy approach this topic to both clearly communicate his intent and avoid offense? For the sake of this post, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and operate under the assumption that he didn’t actually mean to personally insult Lena Dunham by implying that she shouldn’t be naked so much.

It’s clear that Malloy feels that Girls has crossed the line into including nudity just for the sake of it. I think it’s a fair criticism that HBO oftentimes seems to include nudity in all their shows just because they can, and it’s definitely possible that the freedom of paid cable would inspire show creators to include more nudity than is strictly necessary. If Dunham’s nudity was surprising or funny the first few times it appeared in the show, does it still serve the same purpose after the newness has worn off?

However, even if excessive nudity might be a fair criticism when leveled at HBO in general, in context it reads like Malloy’s personal reaction to Girls and Lena Dunham in particular. Accordingly, rather than flatly stating what he thought, he should have phrased his question in a way that it might cause the panelists to consider that possibility and address it.

Here’s how I might have phrased this question more effectively:

Nudity and sex have been a big part of Girls from the beginning, oftentimes presented in an unglamorous, realistic way. Do you think that those moments will always be a big part of the show, and if so, how do you avoid including them just for the sake of it?

Two important things here: this is actually a question, and my opinion never comes into it. I’m not telling the panelists what I think, but I am leading them to a possible conclusion. I’d bet you anything that if Malloy had done those two things, his question would have sailed right on through without further comment.