Unpaid internships. Gentrification. “Butt stuff.” Rape culture. Embedded within each half-hour episode of Broad City Season 2, there has been a nugget or two of relevance. Fortunately for us, though, it’s remixed to the point of near or total absurdity.
This gives us yet another reason to be thankful for the broads. They are holding up a funhouse mirror to our culture of overanalysis — and even when the topics they touch on are ultra-serious, it’s still a distortion we need, for both relief and perspective. I love close textual analysis just as much as the next English major, but as everyone’s favorite Austen character, Elizabeth Bennet once said, “I dearly love a laugh” even more.
Last night’s sexual adventure with neighbor Jeremy (Abbi’s perennial crush object) and his Shinjo strap-on is a perfect example of how this is accomplished on Broad City. To begin with, last year the Internet blessed us with a series of posts about, well, let’s just quote Maureen O’Connor: “That kind of ‘butt stuff’ does seem to have reached a tipping point in straight culture, at least to judge from magazines devoted to conventional gender roles.” Her piece on ass-play went on, quite graphically and wittily, from there — and soon spawned many an imitator thinkpiece which built on the original. The year of the butt was upon us. And when Girls went there with an infamous ass-motorboating this season, oh how the Internet thought, and thought, and thought about it.
But all the self-important ruminating on why certain people prefer certain sexual acts, and why others talk about them but don’t do them, and even the GIF-able moment of Marnie being pleasured from behind on Girls shrinks mightily beside the spectacle of Abbi Abrams, in bra and panties and strap-on, arguing with Jeremy about the authenticity of the dildo she is currently wearing. And all the coy pseudo-bragging that can be found in the articles about the “return of the ass” (did it ever leave?) seems rather pallid beside the delirious spectacle of Ilana doing ecstatic gymnastics when she finds out exactly what her best friend might be up to, or down for, in Jeremy’s apartment.
The previous online discussion about butt stuff mostly focused on what men did to women, and whether the role reversal made men feel gay (yawn). Yet Broad City took the topic and turned it upside down, framing it as a question of courage: specifically, whether Abbi has the moxie to penetrate Jeremy. I’m not going to get into what I think it all symbolizes, because I think that’s the beauty of the way Broad City takes on “hot topics.” With its episode-length exploration of pegging, the show created a “What more can we say?” backstop to the discussion. And as a friend observed this morning, it goes further than any of these more sober-toned discussion in normalizing everyone’s sexuality because its characters are so happy and nonchalant about theirs.
Similarly, I argued that the show’s premiere-episode take on Abbi as an accidental rapist — after Ilana’s confused rant on the topic of rape culture — used a similar mechanism. People were befuddled about “the message” of that episode’s sequence of events. But the riff was neither belittling discussions about rape culture nor perpetuating the insidious reality. It was accomplishing something else entirely, something that humor alone does: catharsis.
The meaning of anarchic, absurdist comedy isn’t necessarily to make a cogent point, but to simply exist — as a counterpoint to all the linear, self-serious discussions out there. To get us to belly-laugh. To shake off, (or in Ilana’s case twerk, or in Abbi’s case dance) the crust of self-importance.
Other topics that Broad City has treated this way this season include Ilana’s dictatorial dominance of her multicultural, pansexual group of unpaid interns, and Abbi’s stoned-beyond-belief trip through the organic-laden aisles of that mighty outpost of gentrification and corporate co-opting of liberal values, the Gowanus Whole Foods. Instead of characters hand-wringing about gentrification or saying it’s a good thing because progress, we simply get a sequence that shows both the horror and the fantasy of a place like Whole Foods. I’d even argue that last night’s small run-in with the NYPD handled “white people and cops” better than Girls did, simply by letting Ilana and her mother be so irritatingly loud and privileged in their obnoxiousness that the cops dumped them on the side of the road for their own comfort.
Abbi and Ilana always find a way to short-circuit conversations that have devolved into hand-wringing or simply outlived their utility. Exactly. As someone who avidly takes part in many of these long-winded Internet debates, I think it’s healthy to have them upended by well-crafted silliness. Ilana and Abbi know exactly what they’re doing.