December 2, 2014

"I called Lena Dunham... She said, 'Oh my gosh, it’s the coolest thing. It’s so subversive. You’re going to be in drag.'"

Said Allison Williams, who plays a character on Dunham's "Girls" and who got cast in the role of Peter Pan. Quoted in "The Cast of ‘Peter Pan Live!’ Knows You Hatewatched ‘The Sound of Music’/Allison Williams, Christopher Walken, and the cast of ‘Peter Pan Live!’ talk about bracing themselves for hate-tweets and our collective PTSD from last year’s ‘Sound of Music.’"
“I have full faith that this will happen.... People will hear the opening strings of music that they know deep, deep down in their heart, and it will make them nostalgic again. And they’ll crumble. And they might get one hate-tweet out really quickly, and then we won’t hear from them for a while—because they’ll have been sucked into the sense memory that hopefully will be Peter Pan.”
Is it "cool" to watch "Peter Pan Live!" on the theory that you are "hate-watching"? Or is the message that it's "cool" — that you're only hate-watching to snark and follow tweets — a device put out there by the network to overcome the defenses of those who really actually want to watch it because deep down somewhere they love the musical "Peter Pan" and they feel like rooting for the earnest efforts of actors performing it live on television but they're afraid it might be uncool? Well, you know, it's not cool to try to be cool or to think about being cool and there's always the old theory that the coolest thing is the straightforward, sincere embrace of something requires disdain from people who are insecure in their sense of personal coolness.

Oh my gosh, it’s the coolest thing. It’s so subversive....

What does "it" refer to?

ADDED: The relevant meaning of "subversive" in the OED is "hat challenges and undermines a conventional idea, form, genre, etc., esp. by using or presenting it in a new or unorthodox way." Example:
2007   Guardian 16 June (Guide Suppl.) 23/3   Enjoying commercial success with herky-jerky pop based on the ideas of Noam Chomsky and Thomas Pynchon,.. Devo were the most subversive band to ever crack the mainstream. 

46 comments:

Michael P said...

I can only come up with two possible "it"s: wide broadcast of a live performance, or a woman playing Peter Pan. The latter seems especially non-subversive, given how many times it has been done before, but perhaps it's news to Lena Dunham?

David Hampton said...

It detracts from her child molestation efforts when she went on record bragging about how she sexually abused her sister. Only Dunham would find sexually exploiting Peter Pan to further her gender cause. She needs help.

Jake said...

Was this subversive when Mary Martin did it in 1960?

Brando said...

I fail to understand what is "subversive" here. Women have played Peter Pan forever. And even if that weren't the case, it's not exactly the sort of thing that would shock the masses.

Now, a reimagining of Peter Pan to advance a racist narrative or defend child molestation--okay, that's subversive! A version of Peter Pan with nothing but rape scenes or pro-Hitler propaganda--that's subversive!

But what's described above is about as subversive as putting whipped cream on a waffle.

Ann Althouse said...

"I can only come up with two possible "it"s: wide broadcast of a live performance, or a woman playing Peter Pan."

It can't be the latter. It's the tradition for a woman to play Peter Pan. It would be more transgressive to have a man play Peter Pan. It would have to be a small, boyish man.

toby said...

lena dunham is the daughter althouse never had. that's why she is so obsessed w/ her.

Ann Althouse said...

And what's "subversive" about a live performance on TV.

It might be bold and old-school, but what's subversive? It's something wholesome, square people think is nice and great fun. How is that subversive?

Ann Althouse said...

We could read "subversive" as sarcastic. That is, it's not at all subversive. Or... Dunham is embodying a naive girl personal and enthusing about what's cool and subversive, but the real Lena is looking on from a distance, thinking that girl she's being is kind of cute and adorable and she and Allison are such sweet girls together. She's not really that girl, but she gets off playing that part. That's what the show "Girls" is too... in that theory.

Unknown said...

Or... Dunham is embodying stupid, for effect.

Or... Dunham is playing to her base, who will say "Yeah, cool!" while simultaneously thumbing her nose at traditional values, "See you idiots, you were supporting transgender & didn't even know it!"

Clyde said...

If a male character is always played by a female actress, why is that transgressive? Having a male play Peter Pan would really be transgressive!

Clyde said...

Note that I wrote that before reading the other comments, so I ended up just agreeing with Althouse.

chillblaine said...

I'm reading this as Lena Dunham likes to throw out certain words because she likes how they sound when she says them. She may have wanted to say "transgressive," but didn't want to offend the trans community.

CWJ said...

Or "subversive" just tripped out of her mouth and Dunham didn't put any thought into her choice of word.

EDH said...

Had he lived, James Gandolfini would have been a "subversive" Peter Pan.

Bob Boyd said...

Maybe subversive is the new gnarly.

rehajm said...

Sarc tag. It's funny when you can apply your warped view of the world to something innocent.

Laslo Spatula said...

Lena Dunham as Tinkerbelle joke FPO.

Henry said...

It can't be the latter. It's the tradition for a woman to play Peter Pan. It would be more transgressive to have a man play Peter Pan. It would have to be a small, boyish man.

It would be even more transgressive to have Christopher Walken play Peter Pan.

Maybe Allison Williams could play Captain Hook as drag queen. Except that Johnny Depp owns the gig. Nothing subversive about that either.

Scott M said...

It can't be the latter. It's the tradition for a woman to play Peter Pan.

You're missing the possibility that Dunham's simply not very bright and this is exactly what she thinks is subversive.

Clayton Hennesey said...

Somewhere on the cold, windswept plains of Nebraska there's a prairie dog who would find this enthralling if only his brain were large enough.

Todd said...

Just more entertainment people with their inflated opinions of their value and affect on the world. Really, who actually gives a rat's a$$?

Ralph Hyatt said...

My guess is that Lena Dunham is a provincial who thinks herself a sophisticate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wujVMIYzYXg

Ralph Hyatt said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

Ralph Hyatt said...

"It would be even more transgressive to have Christopher Walken play Peter Pan."

I would pay to see that.

President-Mom-Jeans said...

First Michael Jackson, now Lena Dunham.

For some reason, the story of Peter Pan just brings the child molesters out of the woodwork.

chillblaine said...

Wikipedia notes that the term, "drag," is a combination of the terms 'dressing as a girl.' I realize that now the term is interchangeable between genders, but the original meaning still adheres.

Darrell said...

"hat challenges. . ."

I never saw a hat do that.

mccullough said...

Dunham doesn't know what subversive means. Or she doesn't know that women have regularly played Peter Pan. Take your pick.

Darrell said...

They should rig Allison Williams up to water tubing so that it looks like Peter Pan is continuously urinating--like that possum or badger on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, back in the day.

Bob R said...

chillblaine @7:45 has it nailed.

FleetUSA said...

Was Mary Martin subversive?

Anonymous said...

Casting females in male roles and vice versa is a tradition of English Christmas pantomime that dates at least to the nineteenth century and is probably older than that. J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" began its life on the stage, as Christmas panto (hence the wonderfully stagey "do you believe in fairies" that brings Tinker Bell back to life). Only later did it become a book. Peter was always played by a female, and the casting of Mary Martin in the 1950s television version continued this tradition. A grown-up actress is almost always going to be more versatile and compelling onstage than a boy actor. It's hard to find really, really good child actors to play starring roles.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I thought that originally (in Barrie's notes for the stage play), Wendy's mother was supposed to play Hook as well?

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/14/books/the-last-word-the-lost-boy.html

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent said...

"It can't be the latter. It's the tradition for a woman to play Peter Pan. It would be more transgressive to have a man play Peter Pan. It would have to be a small, boyish man."

Or, they could be real novel and use a boy to play a boy. I have never gotten past the woman playing a small boy thing. It just looks too silly to see a woman acting that way, and it constantly pulls me back to reality.

" A grown-up actress is almost always going to be more versatile and compelling onstage than a boy actor."

Ok, but I have yet to see a woman who is versatile enough to come across as a boy in Peter Pan. Tradition or not, it is never believable, in my humble opinion.

Russell said...

There is a lot to say about Lena Dunham, that I'll just put aside here, but this one headline strikes me as Exhibit A as to just how utterly juvenile she is (that fits just perfectly with her desire to be a feminist icon focused primarily on carnal concerns). As noted by many here, there is nothing 'subversive' or 'coolest' about a woman playing Peter Pan in 2014.Its pretty much cliché at this point, right?

Laslo Spatula said...

Lena Dunham simply needs to be more well-rounded.

I am Laslo.

Darrell said...

Lena Dunham simply needs to be less well-rounded.

Joe said...

As a side note, I happened to see a clip from Lena Dunham's show Girls the other day. I'd never seen any of this show before. It was awful. The acting was horrible, the dialog dreadful and the camera work atrocious. I was surprised at how bad this was considering the attention it gets, but shouldn't have been; shitty shows is par for the course with HBO.

fizzymagic said...

Am I the only one who is surprised that Dunham et al. are not offended by having the part of a boy who refuses to grow up played by a woman? I'd think that the message here -- "Women are like immature men" -- would infuriate feminists.

Kentucky Packrat said...

The only "subversive" thing I've seen about this Peter Pan is just how poor Christopher Walken's performances as Captain Hook have been in the commercials. I know a bunch of people have "overplayed" Hook to where being subtle is a valid choice, but I haven't seen Mr. Walken even bother to change his facial expressions.

If he can't act like he's acting, I'm skipping the entire show.

William said...

Instead of pixie dust, Peter gives the children magic pebbles to help them fly.. It's like Bunbury in The Importance of Being Earnest. It's very subversive if you catch the the reference.

Biff said...

"Hate watching." Why are these people so consumed by hate?

Anthony said...

Women playing Peter Pan is just plain weird.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

There are major parts in which it would be dire to substitute a woman for a boy. Britten's operas come to mind -- I can't imagine a woman, however petite, as Miles in The Turn of the Screw, for instance. But then Britten and boys is a whole 'nother can of worms, anyway.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

FWIW, I think Lena Dunham has no earthly clue that this is not the first female Peter Pan.