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HBO’s Accidental Feminism, From Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath to Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe

HBO's Accidental Feminism, From Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath to Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe

With the recent finale of the second season of “Girls,” and the “Enlightened” season finale still resonating in my mind, I’ve been
thinking more and more about the characters from both shows. The upcoming new
season of “Veep” is only a few weeks away, too, and, even though it’s a more
stylized comedy half-hour, it’s another example of what I’ve come to think of
as HBO’s inadvertent nod to feminist sensibilities; these three shows have
female protagonists who are far from lovable — but we love them. What’s going
on here?

The title “The Accidental Feminist” was used by M.G. Lord
for her recent biography of Elizabeth Taylor, and I liked it a lot, and think
it’s apropos to this situation too.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and reading with
great interest the tsunami of over-excited journalism that “Girls” in
particular has generated. That’s one thing that HBO has got to be happy about — if there’s no bad publicity, then “Girls” is doing great! And lately, the
public has been talking about the characters on the show as if they were real
people, criticizing the behavior of Hannah and her “sisters” as though they
were disappointed in them, on occasion, like friends who let them down. “Girls”
has also stirred a passionate sometimes divisive debate among its critics, with
as many people hating these women as loving them, sometimes throwing stones
without even having seen the target (a lot of posts start out, “I haven’t
actually watched the show, because I don’t want to waste my time…”).

One of my favorite Hannah-watchers is the wonderful “New
Yorker” writer and TV critic Emily Nussbaum, whose defense of Lena Dunham has
so far been unflagging, and whose reminder to us of “Girls’s” literary and
cinematic forebears — Mary McCarthy and Rona Jaffe, etc — was entirely on the
money. Ms. Nussbaum came up with a new moniker for the type of character which
I am obsessing over; she has named these women characters “Hummingbirds,” and
announced them as a new television archetype. At first I thought she had simply
preempted what I wanted to say, but as I have thought about the “Hummingbird”
theory….I’m not sure we’re on the same page exactly. (Click here to read
Nussbaum’s piece
)

I feel like a Hummingbird is meant to be an agent of change.
They are characters who ARE leading ladies — or important secondary characters — who are NOT necessarily likable. For me, that is the key here. But Nussbaum
loses me in widening her theory so much that I am no longer sure what she’s
identifying. In particular when she says there can be male Hummingbirds….I’m
lost.

Read the rest of this article as originally published here.

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