My first reaction to the news that Hillary Clinton would be guest starring on Broad City, as it is to so many other things, was to make a dumb joke about it on Twitter. That joke is now lost to the sands of time and social media, but the gist of it was simple enough: the characters of Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler are coop-shopping, outer borough-dwelling, vaguely pro-social justice Jews. If they bought into the two-party system at all and didn’t simply go for Jill Stein, wouldn’t they be the female equivalent of Bernie Bros? In real life, demographics alone dictate they almost certainly would be.
It should be noted that prior to last night’s episode (during which Ilana Glazer tweeted, “let’s go get that primary, we’re close”), the closest thing Abbi and Ilana have to real-life counterparts were actually carefully vague about who they’re supporting in this year’s election. Broad City creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer recently spoke about the episode, on a panel at South by Southwest, where they fielded a question almost exactly like mine: given that young, progressive people — people just like them — are overwhelmingly in favor of Bernie Sanders, why did they choose to work with Hillary Clinton?
“I think we are not trying to make a statement to the audience,” Jacobson replied. “Our writing process for the show is, we wrote Season 3 a year ago, at this point. We were not like, Let’s take a political stance here, that’s not our show. It was really more, this is something that Ilana’s character would do.” In a separate interview with Time Out New York, Glazer also framed the appearance, in which a newly unemployed Ilana stumbles into Clinton’s Brooklyn campaign headquarters, as a matter of character consistency: “Like, [I play a] misinformed white girl” — which read like a sideswipe at Clinton’s audience to counter her earlier praise of the candidate as an “icon.”
Glazer’s and Jacobson’s actual political beliefs, which I’m sure are well-informed and which they have every right not to justify to their already grumbling fanbase, aside, the dissonance between their engagement with Clinton and the actual voting behavior of their peers deserves some scrutiny, chiefly because they’re far from our only cultural figures to exemplify it. In a primary season where The Atlantic‘s Ronald Brownstein could credibly argue that “age has emerged as the single most important dividing line in the struggle between Sanders and Clinton” after Sanders earned six times the voters under 30 as his opponent in the Iowa caucus, what does it mean that so many cultural figures with predominantly young audiences identify with Hillary?
There’s no more obvious example of this trend than Lena Dunham, whose show was initially saddled with the same kind of “The Youngs are finally starting to speak for themselves, let’s scrutinize accordingly” anthropology that Broad City still faces. That’s faded as Girls has aged, but Dunham herself has become a (partially self-appointed) spokesperson for the Woke Contingent, publicly speaking out in favor of Planned Parenthood, about her own experience with endometriosis, and of course, on behalf of Hillary Clinton, famously hitting the campaign trail in Iowa clad in a remixed version of a pro-Nixon dress.
It was Dunham’s rhetoric that first got me thinking about the relationship between female entertainers — and virtually all of Clinton’s most prominent celebrity supporters are women — and the candidate who seems to be disproportionately popular among them . “The way she has been treated is just more evidence of the fact that our country has so much hatred toward successful women,” Dunham said of Clinton at a rally in New Hampshire. At Sundance: “The way that Hillary Clinton’s been talked about in the media is so gendered and rabidly sexist in every single portrayal.” In Iowa: “I can’t talk about Hillary Clinton without also acknowledging that she has survived horrific, gendered attacks on nearly every single aspect of her character with tremendous grace and aplomb… It reminds me that we can all fight to rise above.”
The recurring theme here, of course, is Hillary’s treatment by the media, and the public that’s increasingly indistinguishable from it in terms of access to a mass audience. What emerges isn’t just a valid criticism of Clinton’s place in our culture, but a point of identification between two women, one of whom has had the details of her private life and appearance dissected by pundits for years, while the other… has had the details of her private life and appearance dissected by pundits for years. Dunham’s reasons for supporting Clinton seem by no means limited to her empathy for the candidate’s status as an extremely public figure, but it’s clearly a shared experience she considers important enough to make a central point of her pro-Hillary message.
It’s a motif that’s less central but certainly present in other supporters’ discussion of Clinton — and one that stands out all the more in contrast with the economy-centric spiels of Bernie Sanders’ equally impressive group of famous spokespeople, including Killer Mike, Sarah Silverman, and Ezra Koenig. Another extremely vocal Hillary supporter is stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito, who recently appeared on an episode of Moshe Kasher’s Hound Tall podcast to discuss “Women in Politics” with the host, political science professor Meredith Conroy, and fellow comic Jen Kirkman. During the podcast, Esposito and Kirkman directly analogize the sexism faced by female comedians to that faced by female politicians.
“When women do things, they either have to be the saint of it all or the bad girl of it all,” Kirkman said, positing that far-left voters are less willing to accept Hillary’s failings than, say, Obama’s. “There can never be nuance. In terms of men, just look at, in entertainment — you’ve got your drunk messes that fall down and die and then go to rehab, you’ve got your good boys, you’ve got your middle ground. For women, it’s like every woman has to represent every fucking woman.” Esposito agreed: “I think that as female comics, you and I have a particular vantage point on this.”
Jacobson and Glazer, too, have touched on the electorate’s gendered perception of Clinton and her qualifications. “People will just tear her down for what she isn’t,” Glazer said in a February interview with the critic Andy Greenwald. “She is the most perfect candidate there has ever been, and people find ways to take that away. I guess it makes perfect sense in the context of [the Broad City] world” — something Greenwald suggested might have something to do with the fact that, thanks in part to the experiences of women like Clinton, Glazer and Jacobson’s characters are free to be three-dimensional, flawed people in a way Clinton historically has not.
But, of course, women in the public eye, whether they’re comedians or actresses or politicians, still aren’t as free as men to be three-dimensional and flawed, a fact that this primary season has illustrated remarkably well. (Give me a penny for every time an “Imagine if Hillary talked like Bernie did!” hypothetical came up in a Facebook comment war and I’d be reclining on a beach in Tulum instead of writing this.) And it’s created a fascinating common ground not between Hillary and all women, as the poll numbers have borne out, but between Hillary and a specific subset of women who are uniquely positioned to understand what it’s like to be held accountable for both what you say and how politely you say it. And what you’re wearing while you say it. And how it reflects on everyone else who shares a certain characteristic that may or may not have anything to do with what you’re saying.
In my own limited experience, exposure has a way of building empathy with the similarly exposed. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a celebrity. I do, however, write for a reasonably well-read online publication almost every day, and put my name to my opinions both here and on a handful of other platforms where basically anyone can offer unsolicited feedback with a few strokes of a keyboard. I’ve had people call me awful names. I’ve had people condescendingly explain things to me that I already knew. I’ve had friends, family, and loved ones in more private-facing lines of work express horror at things that, for me, are just a minor drawback of my job. And I’ve known that a good chunk of all this wouldn’t be happening if my name were Alexander and not Alison.
And while — full disclosure — I consider myself a Hillary supporter more for reasons of electability than anything else, it’s impossible not to let this experience affect my understanding of her campaign. I see something similar in the gestures of support from the likes of Dunham, Glazer, Esposito, or even Shonda Rhimes, whose well-intentioned oddity of a campaign spot argues that our willingness to accept complicated women as protagonists of our Thursday-night television shows is correlated with our willingness to accept one in the Oval Office.
Everyone discussed here is a free-thinking person whose decision to support Hillary Clinton surely transcends a single factor. I’d no more suggest people vote for Clinton “just” because they’re famous than I’d suggest people vote for Clinton “just” because they’re women — another delightful entry on the election-argument bingo board. It’s nonetheless a correlation, a version of the more economically radical candidate’s popularity among our country’s most economically screwed-over group of people that operates on an infinitely smaller but infinitely more visible demographic.
And it’s a correlation that sheds light on what a bizarre experience it is to have your work received on completely different terms because of your identity, whether that work is a stand-up special, a television show, or half a lifetime’s worth of nationally visible political labor. A mutual endurance of bullshit has a way of overcoming divides. Even if their audiences aren’t with Hillary, it makes perfect sense these particular women are.