KLAVAN: Lena Dunham Exposes the Truth About OnScreen Nudity

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lena Dunham’s naked body.  It’s a difficult job, but someone’s got to do it.  Last week, TheWrap’s TV Editor Tim Molloy got yelled at because he dared to ask why Dunham was always taking her clothes off on her TV show Girls.  Girls is an HBO series in which the 20-something actress daughters of famous people — including the daughters of newsman Brian Williams and playwright David Mamet — portray obnoxious, self-obsessed 20-something females trying to make it in New York.  About 870,000 people watch the show every week.  That’s not a lot, but I suspect most of them work in the media.  Anyway, that would explain why the show gets such ecstatic reviews.

At a Television Critics’ Association Panel, Molloy asked Dunham why she does so many nude scenes:  “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.”

It seemed a reasonable question.  Game of Thrones is a mostly great HBO show about a war over a fantasy kingdom, but whenever Queen Daenerys Blithering has to explain to Lord Varygon of Balloon why she’s cutting off the wing-wang of Prince Scoobius Doobius, the writers generally place a naked woman in the background to keep the scene interesting.  It’s such an overdone gambit, I sometimes find myself watching the show and thinking, “Put your shirt on, sister, I can’t hear the exposition.”

So Molloy was wondering if Dunham’s nudity had a more high-minded purpose.  Or any purpose.

But his question was greeted with absurd levels of outrage.  Dunham implied Molloy had some sort of psychological glitch: “If you’re not into me, that’s your problem and you’re going to have to work that out with professionals.”  Executive Producer Judd Apatow called the question sexist, offensive and misogynistic.  He asked Molloy whether he had a girlfriend and implied his girlfriend wouldn’t like him anymore when she heard what he’d asked.  Executive Producer Jenni Konner said Molloy’s question sent her into a “rage spiral,” adding, “his idea that you would talk to a woman like that and accuse a woman of showing her body too much. The idea, it just makes me sort of sick.”

Why the nonsensical over-reaction? Well, obviously, it’s because Dunham is not very pretty and she’s also kind of fat.  Most guys, I’m guessing — most people, in fact — would not find her nude scenes a big draw.  Dunham and the producers heard the question as an implied insult:  they did not think the subject would have come up, if Dunham looked like the babes on Thrones.

And you know what?  They’re right.  I don’t think Molloy would have asked a beautiful woman why she took her clothes off onscreen.  The answer would’ve been too obvious.

But that’s the whole point — the point that the Girls people hypocritically chose to obfuscate with their ginned up outrage.  Whether it’s Praxiteles sculpting Aphrodite or Dunham dropping her shorts, nudity in art is inherently both objectifying and capitalistic.  It employs the human form as an object to be observed in order to attract the customers.  

I don’t necessarily object to this.  In some cases, it’s done with good reason: beauty, excitement, pity, realism.  But it’s perfectly valid to ask what that reason is.  And I won’t be told by a group of filmmakers who are using an actress’s flesh for commercial purposes that it’s somehow offensive for me to pass judgment on the product they’re putting up for sale.


Andrew Klavan is the author of such internationally bestselling crime novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, Don’t Say A Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas and Empire of Lies.  He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice.  He is also the author of the bestselling Homelander series of thriller novels for young adults.  His latest young adult thriller is Nightmare City.