Many of my favorite powerful women friends are tending towards the hating end of the spectrum when I ask them what they think of I Love Dick, the new 8-part Amazon series directed by Jill Solloway. I direct them to this or that review, almost all overwhelmingly favorable, but Facebook comments sum up their consternation with comments about the Chris character being just so uncomfortable to watch. Solloway has put herself to the task of defining the female gaze in this show, and one thing Chris is not going to allow is to be made into the object of any *#$@& male gaze.
Most of you know by now I Love Dick is based on the book by Chris Kraus, played by Kathryn Hahn, inspired by her infatuation with the media theorist Dick Hebdige, now a Donald Judd-esque character named Dick Jarrett, played by Kevin Bacon. Chris is holed up in Marfa, TX, having accompanied her husband, Sylvere, on his residency there after the Venice Biennale rejected her film. After one conversation with Dick at a reception she becomes obsessed with him and starts writing a series of highly unladylike letters addressed to him, that she eventually turns into her art and plasters all over town. She has made Dick her muse, and he doesn’t like it one bit. (“It’s humiliating,” he says.)
Kathryn Hahn plays Chris as a highly verbal, highly emotional, uncorked headcase, but she’s wonderful- my kind of woman. She’s the id in all of us who were brought up not to rock the boat, to be gracious, self-effacing and even demure where need be. Not so Chris. She won’t be silenced, and she won’t lie about her passion either, to her husband or to Dick: it’s precious and she nurses it like a woman unscorn-able, with no concerns about how others might see her or what the object of her affections might think of her. But she’s super vulnerable too, and can feel the pea under the mattress as well as any princess.
Beyond that though, there is something for every member of the art world here, television and movies pretty much always getting us wrong (think Daryl Hannah in her super sized loft studio playing a starving artist in Legal Eagles, or how in Red, the Mark Rothko character primes his canvas with red paint rather than white, necessary for maintaining luminosity of later layers of paint). Along with earthworks there is conceptual and performance art, and a single brick laid on a pedestal like a piece of perfect form (“A straight line is perfection,” says Dick), and the Institute itself is filled with minimalist painting and sculpture that, by the end of the show the African American female curator Paula (Lily Mojekwu)- sick to death of all that dry and withholding (read “male”) work, replaces all of it with work by Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker and Glenn Ligon, among other distinctly non-withholding artists. Hoots from the audience in our tv room!
But it was the ending that I really loved-spoiler alert! Kraus finally finds herself alone with Dick in his farmhouse, his attraction for her made plain at last. As they mutually engage in wild fondling, Dick murmurs lustily, “Oh you’re so wet,” but it turns out that she’s started her period and all that male-thrilling vaginal wetness is really menstrual blood. Rather than going with it and wrapping himself in all her various juices Dick instead excuses himself to go clean up, at which point Chris takes a breath, picks up his ten-gallon cowboy hat, puts it on her head and walks out of his house, into the dawn, blood smeared all over her inner thigh.
Ladies, any of you who have had a guy get turned off at your lady-time – take heed! Blood is life and Dick is only a fledgling in that deep sea of knowledge.
— Julie Heffernan
As one of the “strong aversion” responses to I LOVE DICK, I hear the passion in this defense, but maintain that the object of Chris’s obsession is essentially empty, unmoving to my mind, off putting and sadly akin to many of the self appointed pranks, inward gazes, strange standards of human behavior that are oft aggrandized in the halls of academic/institutional/trendsetting schools of thought. There is little clever in theatrical sex, competitive condescension, limp marriage tales, or attention getting devices that are labeled art. Respectfully disagree this effort at “high-brow” mass entertainment is more than a failed parody, because real world self involved jerks do behave this way and hard to see this as liberating or overdue retaliation for the devastation and disaster of male arrogance. Same problem certain bumps in feminist history had that mimicked worst of male behavior to become powerful.