I recently finished the first season of Jill Soloway’s TV series I Love Dick, based on the semi-autobiographical novel and cult-classic by the same name.
The show disappoints. It doesn’t pull off the precarious line of turning obsession into power, of turning feminine obsession into feminism. “I won’t be muzzled,” stated by the protagonist Chris, is as close as we come. It feels more about Chris’s awkwardness and her willingness to put herself out there—maybe bravery?—rather than how the renewed ability to love, and the power of giving in to fantasy, woke her up inside.
It barely touches on her journey as an artist, which is the main thrust of the book. The book is about how her ability to love/lust and embrace the love/lust interact with her being, with herself as an artist. (And the book asks the question about the way we understand masculine desire differently. Is having a muse exploitative, or is there something between objectification and inspiration?)
But then, Vogue’s dismissal of it on the grounds that it is not transgressive enough, mostly because it features a white woman who is not poor, assumes too much. Sure, TV has given us Lena Dunham’s Hanna and New Girl’s Jess and the rise of the insecure, awkward, quirky, beautiful-but-not-sexy protagonist who is bad at getting sex, or wants too much of it, or flaunts it. But that doesn’t mean that to be a woman–white or otherwise–is solved. It doesn’t mean that we’ve resolved the ways we think and talk about sex, and that a story about attempts to portray a real woman and her desire and socially inappropriate ways of acting it out, is not worthwhile.
Here’s the thing: stories that have been told over and over and over again are still worth repeating when done right. So the problem with I Love Dick is that it isn’t great — certainly not as starkly original as the book — not that it doesn’t fit someone’s political agenda.
I am interested in female desire, and I don’t see enough of it. And for that, I’m grateful for the show. And I’m grateful for the off-angle parts: the old feminist film clips; the sidebar stories; the half-baked ritual beauty dance for men, Toby’s description of her PhD on hardcore pornography — all the parts that are fresh and original enough to stimulate thought and self-reflection.