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I Guess Now We Know Why Jezebel Went After Lena Dunham

By Joanna Robinson | TV Reviews | January 27, 2014 | Comments ()


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As you most likely know, a few weeks ago Jezebel offered up a reward for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham’s Vogue shoot. No doubt they were hoping to capitalize on that same outrage surrounding the recent photoshopped photos of Jennifer Lawrence from the cover of Flare.

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You and I both know (even if Jezebel doesn’t) that there’s a huge difference between pointing out the tweaks made on a Jennifer Lawrence, a woman almost universally praised for her looks and banging bod, and pointing out the tweaks made to Lena Dunham, a woman who has been persecuted (yup) for her looks and the shape of her body. The former smacks of “oh, alas, the unrealistic beauty standards we as a society hold our women to!” The latter just feels like bullying. Additionally when we get right down to it, the adjustments made to Dunham’s photos (ones she quite liked, for the record) were not all that bad. I, for one, would welcome the occasional digital assist in yoinking up my neckine. Especially if it’s going to make my cleavage look that much sassier. I dunno. Maybe I have the wrong end of the stick here. Maybe Jezebel’s intentions were pure and feminist-leaning.

But did you catch that Jezebel slam in last night’s episode of Girls? Dunham’s character, Hannah, gets (rightly) called out by her boyfriend for getting news about her editor’s death from Gawker. Adam (already appalled by Hannah’s detachment) asks her:

“When you die, how would you feel if a bunch of judgmental creeps, celibate against their will, snarkily reported on every detail of your body decomposing? …That’s fucked, Hannah, those are a bunch of jealous people who make a living appealing to our basest desire of seeing each other kicked when we’re down.”

In response Hannah defends not only Gawker but its sister site, Jezebel, saying, “it’s a place feminists can go to support one another which we need in this modern world full of slut shaming.” In case the satirical tone is lost in translation here, Dunham is definitely skewering both Gawker and Jezebel. Given that advance screeners of this episode were available for review long before Jezebel sent out their “sisterhood solidarity” call for unretrouched photos, I’d be awfully surprised if the two instances were unrelated.

This is not the first time Dunham has used the platform of her show to dig into her detractors. In the same episode, Marnie tells Ray and Hermie (Colin Quinn) “let’s make fun of the girl who took a risk and put herself out there creatively which, by the way, is not something neither of you have to worry about because no one want to see you and you can’t do anything.” We are, of course, not supposed to sympathize with Marnie here who is way off the rails with this rant, but it’s impossible to ignore the kernel of Dunham truth in Marnie’s delusions.

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All in all last night’s episode was a rough one for me. I far prefer the version of Girls we saw last week with a sympathetic and relatable Hannah at the center of the madness. I don’t mind an exploration of what it means to not feel what you’re supposed to when someone dies. I think that’s a fascination subject worth exploring. But I think it’s possible to do that and not make your protagonist look like a self-absorbed sociopath. I don’t like it when Hannah is unrelatable or when she gets put in her place or called out by Adam and Ray. But in this instance, they’re right and she’s wrong, right?

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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Robert Sanchez III

    How many of you guys who are in the 21-30 age range watch Girls? I'm 26 and watching it is always just sort of depressing. Its funny at times but I find that i don't really want to watch a show about people my age and how shitty they can be.

  • mediamaven32

    "I don’t mind an exploration of what it means to not feel what you’re supposed to when someone dies. I think that’s a fascination subject worth exploring. But I think it’s possible to do that and not make your protagonist look like a self-absorbed sociopath."

    I found this quote interesting. While I do agree that making up a sad story about a cousin that doesn't exist is extreme, every character on this show is built around extreme delusional behavior. I would say similarly to the kernels of truth underneath Hannah's Jezebel dialogue , and Marnie's rant, Hannah's ending monologue is much more about the truth that at a young age we often don't have a sense of who we are and why we behave in certain ways. Her interaction with Adam this episode reflects what it's like to be 25 and feel in over your head romantically because you lack an inner level of security. I think a lot of young people pretend to be exactly what their significant other needs at any given moment just to keep them around then truly examine and celebrate their relational differences. Hannah does say earlier in the episode that she is terrified for when Adam finds out who she really is because then he will probably leave her. I believe this is such a cornerstone of immature partners and what this storyline was really all about --- the idea of death was actually a backdrop for deeper psychological exploration for both her and Jessa. Jessa's friend would rather fake her own death then have an honest confrontation about her wants, needs and differences in her relationship with Jessa. I don't know why owning up to who we are and what we want is so difficult in our 20s, but it is.

  • Dunham has used the platform of her show to dig into her detractors

    Sooo, are we still pretending that Hannah's detachment, narcissism, cluelessness, entitlement, and lack of POC in her life is a fiction that has nothing to do with Dunham?

  • lilianna28

    So maybe I missed the big Jez controversy- when I read the Dunham retouching post I was more annoyed that the magazine thought it was important to futz with her pictures by changing the shape of her back and chin. I'm a Dunham-sized lady and quite frankly, the non-retouched pics were pretty and real. I expect JLaw to be retouched to model impossibleness- I'd like my Dunham to not be.

  • This was the funniest episode since the "Shoshanna does cocaine" ep back in season 1. Everyone had really funny lines, the whole thing was just a pitch black comedy. "Fancy people want to work with me!" Come on, this show is a comedy. These people aren't meant to be role models, they are way to fucked up. But they also aren't villains. All of us would like to think we would be like Adam when someone dies but you know damn well in reality its a bit more like Hannah wondering how the tragedy is going to affect her.

    Season 3 is just killing the lackluster and overly somber season 2 for me.

  • Marko

    I don't think there is that much of a difference between pointing out the re-touching on JL and LD. It just goes to show that even those writers/performers who purport to be giving us their wart-and-all, HONEST take of life for young women today are retouched and presented to us blemish-free. They're all part of the same icky machine.

  • Yocean

    Wait, there are episodes where Hannah doess not come off as a self-absorbed sociopath? I guess I should have seen more than pilot but if that's the impression they chose for the goddamn pilot, why should I care beyond that?

    Ok, rant over. Carry on.

  • AngelenoEwok

    Are there lead characters on any HBO shows that don't come off as selfish or self absorbed, or at the very least don't have an alarming flexibility with their concern for the well being of others?

  • psykins

    Jon Snow!

    But he's boring (and dumb) as a box of rocks...

    Ned Stark!

    But he's *spoiler*

  • Yossarian

    Re: Jezebel's intent and bullying

    Even if we were to be extremely charitable (far more charitable than Jezebel/Gawker deserve) this type of scrutiny and attention is not going to be helpful or positive for Dunham in particular or women in general.

    It reminds me of an observation on bullying relayed by our friend Dan Harmon. That it was one thing to get picked on at school by bullies for being awkward, dorky, smelly, and badly dressed. But at least there were certain rules and expectations that made those interactions endurable. But the thing that would make young Dan Harmon cry and make the bullying and negative attention too much to simply suffer through was someone coming to his defense saying "Hey, leave him alone! So what if he smells bad and his hair is dirty and his clothes are lame. You don't need to pick on him just leave him alone." That whether it was motivated by compassion or ego or a clumsy attempt at helping the awkwardness of being under extra scrutiny in the form of being publicly defended by someone was worse and more shameful than the bullying.

    It kind of applies, right? Because there's no way that "defending" Dunham against the indignity of photo retouching is in any way a nice thing to do, to her or for us collectively. It just makes things more awful.

  • That is a good point. Jezebel, even if their intentions were noble, still messed up royal here. They just HAD to make such a grand statement about that damn cover that they spent five figures trying to justify it. While also insulting the woman by automatically assuming that they retouched her to such a point that it was worth $10,000 to uncover (it wasn't).

    Dunham looked good in both sets, and honestly, I wouldn't have noticed the changes if they weren't pointed out. And I think a lot of people were under the same impression. Did they really think that Dunham, a woman who has never failed to defend herself and her body before, couldn't or wouldn't call bullshit on Vogue if she had a problem with them?

    Goddamn concern-trolling and white-knighting is getting ridiculous!

  • "This is not the first time Dunham has used the platform of her show to dig into her detractors. "

    Glad you included this, considering the entire second season was basically Dunham trolling her critics. Not saying it's unjustified or ridiculous, just that it's one of the reasons I threw in the towel after season two. Dunham wasted far too much time and effort on snarky shots than actually crafting intelligent characters or compelling plots.

  • Quatermain

    I think 'persecuted' is maybe a tetch melodramatic but other than that, this was a decent post and worth reading.

  • Yossarian

    I didn't have a problem identifying with Hannah's detachment. Death is weird and it has all this cultural and social significance but I imagine there are a lot of people out there who just don't know how to relate or process it in the "right" way (and, being aware that there is a "right" way and you're falling somehow short just adds to the anxiety and the feeling that you're missing something but you don't know what.) It is a fascinating subject for exploring and I think Girls and maybe Louie are two of the only shows that could be this dark and honest and funny and relateable about it.

    It would have been one thing if in the show Hannah had been clueless and insensitive in interactions with people directly affected by this death. If it was a dumb exaggeration of callus sociopathy (like Sherlock). But Hannah wasn't being insensitive to others. She was only sharing her feelings with her friends. That should be safe, even when the feelings are "Why don't I feel anything?" and "I don't know what this means or even who to talk to about my e-book now." Those seem like completely reasonable responses.

    Hannah really only lost me at the end. I like the fact that she didn't really grow or change or suddenly reconcile the true significance of death and life but her clumsy and awkward attempt to fake it (and the fact that there was no payoff of the show calling her out for it) was a little weak.

  • alannaofdoom

    My take on that final scene was that Hannah is such a writerly type, i.e. she operates in a detached observational mode most of the time, and maybe she can best process her emotions through the frame of a narrative. I don't think Hannah was necessarily acting when she started telling the story of Cousin Margaret. There was some real emotion in her voice when she was talking about David, and then she channeled that into a story that didn't hit as close to home, and was a more comfortable way of feeling that sadness.

  • Yossarian

    Maybe. That's a super charitable interpretation, and I'm usually such a Hannah apologist it's hard to be outdone. There may have been some emotion, too, but retelling that fake story just made it seem like such a performance it's hard to give any credit to Hannah for finding a way to access her emotions.

    I took it as a more cynical way to resolve the conflict and bring closure to the episode while still allowing Hannah to be relatively unchanged as a person, Because it wouldn't be very realistic to resolve the story with some big Jeff Winger moment and having Hannah learning something profound and overcoming her detachment and inability to relate to death and loss of peripheral characters in her life.

    And I liked that it was cynical, I just thought it was clumsy to have it end on a note that was so disingenuous. It reminded me of that episode of Freaks & Geeks where James Franco uses the same speech twice in one day to get out of trouble for cheating. And the first time it is played completely straight and sincere and you actually feel for him but in the context of the second delivery it's so hollow and cynical and manipulative. And that show pays it off perfectly with Lindsay just cracking up at how ridiculous it is. It felt like the scene in Girls was missing that last bit of payoff, like if Adam recognized the lie as something his sister made up because he's heard it before or something, and we got that extra layer of acknowledging that Hannah hasn't come to any profound realization, it would have been more satisfying.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I kept waiting for Adam to recognize it as a lie...there was a moment when he shifted on the stoop and it seemed like he half-smiled and I thought he was going to call her out that his sister had lied and it actually was a true story.

    I liked it as a cynical end, though. It seems exactly like the kind of mistake someone would make in a relationship, seizing a way to get back love/respect that she thinks she just lost. (or less earnestly, trying to smooth over a rough spot)

  • Danar the Barbarian

    I felt like maybe he'd heard it before too, with that shift in his body language. Maybe next week he'll call her out on it or it will come up later? Hannah really wants Adam to think highly of her and I think she'll do what it takes to keep his opinion of her as high as possible.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I kinda hope so. I'd like to see where that goes. But I love the idea of appropriating someone else's story for your own, wearing someone else's emotions. (I like it as a concept to see played out, not so much in personal practice, of course)

  • Tinkerville

    I was so angry with the way Jezebel went about that entire situation that I haven't gone near the site since and never will again. Posting pictures that literally highlighted all of her imperfections was sickening. And they had the gall to act like they were doing the world (and women) a great justice, and that there was no reason that they chose Dunham in particular, despite the fact we all knew it was because she didn't have the typical Vogue body.

  • Pippa_Laughingstock

    Do you remember when they posted pictures of that woman who who was in the middle of getting publicly raped and recorded by her rapist and it was a day and a whole lot of outcry before her features were blurred out? That was when I had my official separation from Jezebel.

  • Oh God, I remember that shit. I was surprised more people didn't tear them a new one after that.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    wtf wtf wtf. I avoid Jezebel (and Celebitchy) anyway...but that makes me sick to my stomach to hear.

  • Maddy

    I still haven't watched past the first season of Girls, I couldn't quite get into but I will give it another go eventually. But this is straight up bullying. Some retouching is fine as long as you still look like a human being. But let's all target all of Lena Dunham's supposed 'flaws' rather than the actual magazine/ company responsible. This is like the Mindy Kaling thing again - I get why there was a controversy, but she looked stunning and it was the best cover out of all of them. I don't know, this whole debate confuses me.

  • Davis

    'a woman almost universally praised for her looks and banging bod' Eww cringe and that marnie speech reeks of smugness

    Plus this site and other 'sarcastic' pop culture sites are just as bad as Jezebel and are slowly sterilizing comedy.

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Most of the praise I hear for JLaw is about how delightful she is, and how funny she appears in interviews. Mosly it's the X-Men fanboys fawning over her body.

  • chanohack

    I resent that, good sir!

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    My apologies. I didn't mean to detract from Ms. Lawrence's undeniable... mystique...

  • Davis

    *puts on shades*.........*The Who starts cranking*

  • Davis

    She's a real woman according to the internet unlike those disgusting Victoria secret models. It's not a contrived act to win over people it's her genuine personality.

    but seriously that 'jlaw' quote in the article really made me cringe

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Can't lie. I started using J-Law in conversation ironically... It seeped into my usual lexicon pretty Goddamn quick...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I am always so bewildered by the people who find the men to be "better" than the women on this show, as pretty much all of the guys are as dickish/self-centered as the women.

    And no, I don't think Marnie's off the rails. I think she's BSing about how artistic her video was - but that's natural when you're feeling attacked. Because they could choose to watch a video and make fun of their co-worker/employee some other time than WHEN THEIR EMPLOYEE IS THERE AND CAN HEAR THEM.

    And on a related note, someone in the choir at my church died this weekend, very suddenly. And there was grief on losing a friend, but yes, the music director was also worried about the (perhaps selfish) implications to the group as to what his loss means. It struck me as heartlessly pragmatic, but it's also a natural response. That doesn't make it admirable. But it does make it true.

  • I think sometimes people don't know how to grieve, so they have reactions like that...

  • JustOP

    I'm not really a fan of Girls or Dunham, but I applaud them for this. Gawker and Jezebel are, and nearly always have been, awful awful websites.

  • emilya

    i rewatched the skewering of gawker and jezebel 3x last night, and i enjoyed the hell out of it. thank goodness for adam's truth bombs!

  • Lindzgrl

    I mean--photo re-touching is not always the devil, or about making people fit unrealistic expectations. The camera doesn't capture "the truth"—it captures a 2-D representation that's heavily affected by lighting, shadowing and positioning.

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Lights, shadowing, and positioning are all real concepts. Which means, they are "true."

  • Lindzgrl

    Well, by that definition, so is the tool in Photoshop that nudges a double chin away.

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    That's a little silly, don't you think? Of course, the existence of Photoshop is "true" and so are the original photos taken by Annie Leibovitz. My broader point was that there are millions of photographs taken every day by talented individuals that account for such things in order to make their subject (read, NOT object (don't wanna be called a chauvinist here ;( j/k) appear in the best... "light." Heh.

  • Lindzgrl

    Annie Leibovitz did a TON of post-processing to her photos. I don't know a single professional photographer who doesn't. So who determines what constitutes acceptable Photoshopping and what doesn't, and using what scale? Was it okay when burning and dodging was done with chemicals and not when it's done with a computer program? Is it okay to pose someone in a position that makes them look thinner but not make them look thinner using the liquify tool?

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Fair point, but I wonder if we may be speaking past each other. Personally, I prefer the original versions of the Dunham pictures. They strike me as more honest, albeit not as flattering as they probably could have been, but I chalk that up to an inexperienced (or more likely, untalented) photographer, than anything else.

    I do disagree with your premise that all, or most photographers edit their work, and thus, Leibowitz doing the same should be accepted. I say this, not based on the merit of your statement (you're probably right), but more on the moral implications of edits. Is it really proper, or desirable, for any person (especially someone like Lena Dunham who has done a great deal to forward "realism" in the media) to be altered, post-production?

  • ...Did you just refer to Annie Leibovitz as inexperienced/untalented?

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Yes I did.

  • Lindzgrl

    As someone who works in the photo industry, I can tell you that post-processing is part of the job, even if it's just punching up some contrast or cropping.

    I guess my point is that photography is never presenting "reality." It's presenting an artist's view of reality. In the original photos Lena is being posed on an artfully crafted set. She's wearing makeup and has had her hair done. There was an artistic interpretation of reality in place before the shutter was ever pressed on the camera.

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Hmph. I'm confounded on how to reply to this, 'cause I don't want to come off as an argumentative jerk, lol, though I'm sure I probably will...

    You're right in a sense. Absolutely. This was Leibowitz's cover, and her shoot, and she was free to achieve her vision by any means possible. However, that logic could be applied to any and all magazine covers. Which I think undermines the debate that Jezebel was entering.

    Jezebel wasn't asking if Leibowitz created art. They were asking if she presented a realistic depiction of Lena Dunham, which she didn't.

  • Some Guy

    Wouldn't the realistic depiction of Lena be whichever one Lena approves of?

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    Not for nothing, but that falls apart real quick.

    Judge: "The court asks the defendant, how do you plea?"
    Madoff: "Not guilty."
    Judge: "Well, that's the most realistic depiction of the defendant, right?"
    DA: "Gotta be. Charges dropped!"
    Judge: "Case dismissed!"

  • Lindzgrl

    No, I get you. All I'm saying is that no photograph is a truly realistic depiction, so it's a moot argument.

  • Ryan McLaughlin

    "Truth."
    (Sorry, had to. :p)

  • Lindzgrl

    Ha! :-)

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