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Like ‘Girls’, the nudity and sex in the HBO show ‘Looking’ ( a series that follows the lives of 3 gay male friends in San Francisco)  is the thing I find the least shocking about both shows. It’s the satirical tone that fucks with me. Hannah, to me, is as unsettling as a protagonist as Tony Soprano, an entitled monster who remained an entitled monster till the last, defying not only several seasons of onscreen therapy, but also duping an audience accustomed to the soothing arc of redemption. While it’s debatable as to whether Hannah is any kind of villain besides being everything that’s wrong with first world privilege, her genuine moments of empathy or moral propriety may seem as though they light up a path, but I suspect they are just that – ephemeral firefly moments rather than milestones.

Whereas the terminally nice boys of ‘Looking’ are most definitely on ‘paths’ and ‘journeys’ ( guided through the trees by benevolent Midsummer Night drag queens and glow-sticks ) . The insidious agenda of this show is to tell us that gay men are flawed but essentially good people making their way through lives that are just as boring as heterosexuals’ are.  I did watch several episodes wanting to believe that this show was an excruciatingly restrained satire, lampooning the same sorts of white liberal privilege daddy issues as Girls, but unfortunately, apart from all of the gluttonous sex, I’m 95% sure that this is a slow-cooked homage to first world problems. The lo-fi naturalism of the glacial plot and the thoroughly watchable chemistry between the actors obscures what is essentially one of the most low stakes soap-operas to walk the earth. What with the kind of quippy dialogue that makes the characters indistinguishable from one another, apart from the odd backstory appropriate popular culture reference , without the talk of anal fisting or the simulated fellatio with strangers, this could be the Gilmore Girls, recast by HBO for the 21st century.

The nudity in Girls might be the nicest thing that the show might have ever done for women, the sex, not so much. While it was wild at first, the honeymoon period was soon over and now when I think about women having sex on Girls I see a rutting, faceless Adam Driver and the mournful eyes of Lena Dunham fixed on an invisible dust mote floating a few degrees off the fourth wall. I do know that the whole point of Girls is that this universe is the ‘anti-Friends’ and any whiff of  the aspirational is promptly neutralised by failure, however the sex in ‘Looking’ reminds me that, even in a show like Girls which has third wave agenda, I rarely see het couples on TV who are having having genuinely mutual, good sex with any frequency whatsoever. Lena Dunham’s nudity might be revolutionary because it’s about a woman who has no clothes on, rather than sustaining the interest or the erections of the male demographic between 18 and 49, but the prosaic nature of so many of the sex scenes is nothing new at all. On TV and in films, if heterosexual sex is genuinely enjoyable for both partners, it either foreshadows imminent loss, or is just a device to let us know that the protagonist is haunted by existential dread.

OZMG I’m gonna die alonez!

Sex is just nasty biology guys, lets get back to the bromance.

Come to think of it maybe that’s why the domestic short-hairs of Looking are having such a great time in bed – bromance plus sex!

Speaking for my people, I’m not pessimistic about the representation of women or where we are at with heterosexual sex on screen. In fact, there have been several implied oral sex scenes over the past few years that tell me that the female gaze is on the vision board in the writers room of most of the major networks. In fact The TV show Outlander included an entire episode ( The Wedding ) devoted to indulging the kind of romantic and erotic female fantasy that might be commonplace in the most pedestrian romantic fiction, but utterly unprecedented on screen. Even if 50 Shades of Grey is an alarmingly neutered sex movie, which seems to be mostly about doing admin and dating a 12yo girl’s idea of whatever it is that successful men are like ( or even what it is that men are like… ), even as a crude prototype, it’s still a win, because it’s a mainstream film about a woman’s sexual adventure.

And in it’s way, 50 Shades of Grey is probably a far more cruel satire about female masochism than any Girls bit about getting choked out during sex might be. Not every woman who watches the Girls might find Adam’s feral sexuality “a female wank fantasy’ as one astute male friend put it, but they’re probably susceptible to the thinly disguised romantic tropes that make Adam the hero of almost every scene he’s in. Whereas Christian Grey is so entirely composed of romantic tropes, it’s as if he doesn’t exist at all. Which, I suppose, technically makes him the perfect wank fantasy, if you want to get all Lacanian or whatnot about it.

As well as thinking most things could be improved by zombies – House of Cards ( you know it makes sense )  – I like to watch movies as if it was 20 years ago and I’m watching science fiction, which doesn’t turn 50 Shades into anything sexier, but it makes it easier for me to understand Christian Grey as a cyborg in an Ancestor Simulation, because in the future men and women will be so segregated from one another that … oh, never mind.

I’m just glad I got this far without using the word problematic…

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