Monday, April 30, 2012

Nepotism and 'Girls'

A few weeks ago, accompanying the debut of the new HBO series "Girls" was this Photoshopped parody poster critical of the show's casting:

(Click for a larger version.)

There's a lot -- a LOT -- to be said about "Girls," as the internet has been proving for months now.  Opinions run passionate about this show and, as we all know, people who have opinions are assholes.  Or something like that.

The thing about this parody poster is that it's wrong.  Just plain incorrect.  Someone put what I have to assume is a significant amount of time into making this poster, and he or she did so without knowing the definition of "nepotism."

It's true that the four lead actresses in "Girls" are all somebody's daughters.  But I did some research, and it turns out that every girl is somebody's daughter!

Here's what nepotism means, as defined by the very-difficult-to-find-and-use website

nep·o·tism   [nep-uh-tiz-uhm]
patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics: She was accused of nepotism when she made her nephew an officer of the firm. 

Now, this poster does accurately track the family relationships of the girls in "Girls." What it does not do is explain how being the daughter of the drummer of a band that nobody's cared about since 1982 caused HBO executives to pull Jennifer Euston, the casting director, into a quiet, dimly lit room where they proceeded to make vaguely threatening comments about her loved ones, and then casually "recommend" that she take a serious look at the acting chops of Bad Company's dummer's daughter.

(I like how the maker of the poster didn't even bother to look up the name of Bad Company's drummer.  I also like how I'm not doing it either.)

Folks, this is not nepotism.  Judd Apatow is a producer on "Girls."  If Apatow's daughters, who have been known to make appearances in his films, were cast in lead roles on "Girls," THAT would be nepotism.  Adorable, precocious nepotism.

(By the way, Judd Apatow putting his daughters in his movies is also not nepotism.  It's more of an extended cameo, or like an expensive family photo album.)

See, the way nepotism works is, a family relation in a position of power gets someone a job.  In order for Brian Williams to get his daughter cast on "Girls," he would have to have some sort of sway over at HBO, or with the production itself.  He doesn't.  (Or does he?  If you know something I don't about Brian Williams, please tell me.  Come to think of it, I have no idea what he does with himself outside of 6:30-7 PM eastern time.)

And folks, please walk me through the logic on this: how does Lena Dunham being the daughter of artist Laurie Simmons get her a show on HBO?  Connect those dots for me.  What scenario are you imagining where Laurie Simmons' "fame" leads to her daughter landing a deal with HBO?  Now if Laurie Simmons had arranged her daughter a show at an art gallery owned by a friend or partner, that would be nepotism.  But until my DVR is bursting with shows created by the children of prominent New York artists, I'm not seeing how being an artist's daughter gets you a leg up in the television business.

And speaking of Laurie Simmons' fame... who the fuck is Laurie Simmons?!  Really?  Truly?  Honestly?  What you're trying to tell me is that you've known who Laurie Simmons is, you've been following her work for decades?  No you haven't!  You know who Laurie Simmons is now, after her daughter made a movie and a TV show, not the other way around.  Moving forward, if Laurie Simmons gets a TV show because of her daughter's success... that is nepotism.  Hey, you know what?  Lena Dunham casting Laurie Simmons in her movie Tiny Furniture, which is something that actually happened... that was nepotism!

The word you're looking for is "privilege."  This cast makes you mad because it goes against the American Dream narrative that we all want so desperately to believe in - that a person can come from nothing and, based on hard work and talent, achieve ultimate success.  The cast of "Girls" forces us to face a cold reality: while the American Dream can happen from time to time, it is, in fact, easier to operate in America if you already have money or fame to begin with.  That's privilege, not nepotism.

Or maybe the word you're looking for is "favoritism."  But it's a lot more difficult to be critical of favoritism, isn't it?  Every single one of us practices favoritism.  This time last year, I was working a job that was easy for me to get because I already knew half the people at the company.  I was a known quantity to them, so they hired me.  Likewise, when I'm in a position to hire, the first thing I do is check in with friends to see if they need a job or know somebody who does.  Furthermore, the most recent TV I bought was a Samsung, because I have a history of loving that company's products.  And no matter where I go, I know I can always rely on Starbucks coffee to taste the way I want it to.  Favoritism!

But the word you probably should have landed on is "jealousy."  Lena Dunham gets to make a show, and you don't.  Lena Dunham's show airs on one of the most prestigious networks in existence, and you can't even get on TruTV.  Critics do backflips for her.  Come Emmy time, she's likely to win every single category.  ("Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program goes to... Lena Dunham for 'Girls!'")  And all you've managed to accomplish is getting people to recognize your mad Photoshop skills.

Now here's the kicker: I don't like "Girls."  I've watched all three episodes so far, and I'm just not into it at all.  And the fact that EVERY single critic and cultural commentator loves the show -- 100% across the board, without fail, not one dissenting opinion -- is as obnoxious to me as it is to everyone else who doesn't get the show.  So I understand the backlash.  I do.  But when you make a bad argument -- when the crux of your argument is a word you can't even define correctly -- you're ruining things for those of us who have legitimate negative criticisms about the show.

So, stop it!  Learn what "nepotism" means, and then go away.  And while you're at it, search your soul and ask yourself: if I were making a TV show, wouldn't I try to hire all my friends to work on it too?