In an episode from the first season of HBO’s series Girls , Hannah Horvath”played by the show’s creator and chief writer, Lena Dunham”is having sex with her occasional lover Adam when Adam does something odd. The description I am about to give will strike some as exceedingly graphic, but in fact I will exclude the more disturbing details. In a kind of reverie, Adam stops mid-intercourse and begins masturbating while fantasizing about an eleven-year-old heroin addict. In the grip of this fantasy, Adam seems to forget that Hannah is present, though she attempts half-heartedly to join the verbal part of the fun, as though it were some kind of role-playing game. Afterward he seems not to remember any of it.

Adam’s inexplicable behavior doesn’t deter Hannah from seeking to strengthen her relationship with him. Nor do his merely intermittent interest in her, his apparently self-approving memories of his teenage desire to rape a girl who rejected him, or his tendency to speak disparagingly, even contemptuously, of her looks. (In a complimentary mood he says, “You’re not that fat anymore.”) Adam’s behavior does not seem to bother fans of the show either, most of whom, to judge from what one can find on the internet, wish their relationship would become more serious. Among a group of professional journalists (all of them women) discussing the show on Slate , only one is willing to go so far as to say that Adam’s rape fantasy is a “distasteful phenomenon.” Another acknowledges that Hannah’s evident delight in Adam’s enthusiastic pantomiming of sexual violence is “patently ridiculous and degrading,” but immediately goes on to ask, portentously, “Who among us hasn’t had our artistic judgment eroded by love?” (Who indeed?) . . . Continue Reading »

Articles by Alan Jacobs

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