Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took to his Huffington Post blog last week to review Girls. While I think he has some points worth considering about his show, I was actually more struck by his follow-up, in which he writes about the reaction to a professional basketball player writing cultural criticism—much of which ignored the fact that Abdul-Jabbar has both acted and written history. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
Some questioned why a man my age would watch a show about girls in their twenties, as if they’d just discovered me hanging around a school playground with a shopping bag full of candy in one hand a fluffy puppy in the other. Of course, these critics are right. When I read Moby Dick I first had to convince the bookseller that I was a former whaler named Queequeg. When I read the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I had to pretend I was a depressed white woman with daddy issues. Don’t worry, I used a fake ID.
One of the strangest, and most persistently irritating assumptions in popular culture is, as I’ve written before, the idea that white men are general interest, while women and people of color are niche subjects. It’s bizarre to me that we would think that women are interested in stories about men, and how they view sex, work, and power, all subjects that affect us, whether we have male lovers and partners, male bosses and coworkers, or simply male relatives and friends, but that men wouldn’t be interested in what insights fiction can give them into their families, friends, lovers, coworkers, or objects of distant desire. It’s a framework that assumes that men are hopelessly myopic, which is awfully condescending, but it’s also one that gives men who pay attention to culture created by and about women extra points for reaching out beyond the range of their own experience. It’s nice to see Abdul-Jabbar give that thumb on the scale precisely the bemused side-eye it deserves.