Aaron Bady points me toward a review of Awkwardness by Subashini. It is both the most thorough and interesting review of Awkwardness that I’ve seen so far, and the most critical. The core of her critique is centered on my chapter on Judd Apatow films, which is where she believes I begin to go off the rails by essentially endorsing the Apatovian worldview and thereby excluding women from the utopia of awkwardness. One symptom of this endorsement is the fact that I don’t adequately probe the reasons why women are not as often presented as awkward characters, and her discussion of that question is very much worth reading and will definitely serve as a starting point if I pursue the awkwardness theme further in a more systematic way.
Where I find Subashini’s critique challenging stems from my initial reaction to it: of course I don’t advocate the Apatovian worldview! The view of women as the policing agents of the social order is deluded, and the inherent misogyny and homophobia of the male friendships portrayed is not redemptive. I’m just trying to isolate that moment of a freely-chosen awkward bond, on my way from the defensive strategies seen in The Office and the open embrace of awkwardness in the restaurant scene in Curb. Setting up the Curb scene was in fact my entire reason for writing the book (video NSFW):
Yet it does appear that my superficial treatment of the problem of whether women are awkward, together with my muted criticism of the Apatovian universe, obscured my intention and ultimately undermined the final point I was trying to make — so that, for Subashini, Awkwardness becomes a book that she wanted to embrace but ultimately, awkwardly cannot.
I am conscious that the normal response of a man, even (especially?) a pro-feminist man as I think of myself, to feminist criticism is defensiveness. I am trying to restrain that instinct, but I may not be doing a good job (for instance, my previous paragraph could be read as implying that Subashini failed to understand me because of the obstacle posed by my treatment of women, an obstacle that in principle she should’ve been able to overcome — which is not my intention).
What I do want to do, however, hopefully as the beginning of a continuing conversation with Subashini, is to put forth my understanding of the task and limits of being a pro-feminist man. I understand that task to be acting as an internal critic of male culture (inspired by Spivak’s attraction to Derrida over other more overtly “political” figures due to his stance as being solely an internal critic of Western thought). In my Apatow chapter, I may have been more internal than critic — that is something I need to think over more and I’m grateful to Subashini for raising the question. And I do think that ending the Apatow chapter with the counterpoint of Spaced (as opposed to my last-minute addition on the shitty film Funny People that I felt obligated to include out of thoroughness) would’ve been an awesome idea that I wish I had thought of.
At the same time, I think that attempting to deal with women’s experience more directly as a man might’ve opened me to many more, and more severe, criticisms. Does she really want to hear a man’s meditations on the experience of menstruation, for instance? The danger is of course getting into a “protest too much” dynamic that I’m not, in the typical male fashion, grossed out by it, as in this Kids in the Hall sketch:
This worry itself may betoken the defensiveness that I’m trying not to indulge. After all, I wrote this book in intense dialogue with The Girlfriend, and she could’ve held me accountable in any discussions of women’s experience.
In any case, there’s a lot to think about here. An answer I’d definitely like to get from Subashini, though, is how much of a difference it would’ve made if I’d ended the Apatow chapter with the awkward cross-sex relationship portrayed on Spaced rather than with the “bromance” between Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler, because on my first reading of her post, it seems like something like that would’ve gone a long way, even in the absence of a more satisfying account of the relative lack of awkward women in entertainment.