Does abjection signify freedom for white people?
Sarah: I cannot express enough how much I loved that Pissing Millennial. That girl was magical to me! All dolled up, checking her phone, pissing with a complete lack of concern for who might see! (Her posture was also sort of amazing; I personally have never seen a woman pee in that stance, so it was a sort of break down in realism, but I liked it because it reminded me of the Tree Man's lanky pose.) It's an "unruly" moment in classic Broad City style; have you ever seen a woman pee on television before? (Honest question: Have you?) That Abbi and Ilana seem unphased by it makes their relationship with her seem more clear: we've never seen Abbi and Ilana publicly pee together, but I believe that they would, and do!
But it was also a strange moment for me, because I've been thinking so much about this essay, which is, in a gentle way, quite critical of Broad City. The question the essay asks that has really lingered with me is, "Why does abjection signify freedom for white people?" That's a broader question than we can fully answer here, but this episode put it dramatically on the table.
Is public peeing "abject"? I think so, in that "abject" is the word for "unruly" that really makes clear the social stakes of unruliness. Unruly seems zany and fun, while abject signals gross and, even, despised.
Phil: My question about that is this: Does abjection signify freedom for white people? Or, more specifically, is freedom what we're supposed to be reading in Abbi scrubbing toilets or Selfie Sue taking a leak on a tree? (Also, for what it's worth, Jessa got arrested for peeing on the street in an episode of Girls this very season! This has to be an instance of multiple discovery, as I suspect they were shot basically at the same time, but Jessa's squat is slightly less graphic. Chalk up another one to Broad City for making Girls seem demure!)
Sarah: Well, let me answer that on an anecdotal level: I take pleasure in the Peeing Millennial precisely because she signals freedom to me. It's a freedom that's closely associated with one of the main pleasures I take in watching this show in general: It is mindblowingly pleasurable to watch women--it's usually but not always Ilana--completely fail to follow the rules of feminine propriety and to escape unscathed. Like, there are no repercussions. (Here, following up on your Sister Carrie reference, let's think about how Ilana is absolutely the opposite of Lily Bart. Or Tess. Or Edna Pontellier. All variously unruly women who die. That's what's usually happens to unruly women!)
As a woman, I think I have a very strong ingrained sense that if you don't keep everything together, and spend a rather considerable amount of energy making yourself attractive to other people, shit is just going to hit the fucking fan. Like, no one will ever love you and no one will ever hire you or take care of you and you will not be okay, in a vague but nevertheless terrifying way. (And I say that as a woman who really carries my femininity very lightly!) So to watch this woman just not give a shit and be fine - yes, that does signal freedom!
But the condition of her being "fine" is her discovery, or her confidence, that she'll be okay even without the safety net of public approval. Or, rather, she is fine because of the security that comes from knowing you have other ways to marshal care and comfort. That is a security which people of color, in the U.S., have typically been denied.
Which brings us more concretely to race. Another example of unruly/abject behavior is Ilana doing the "tongue thing" at--or, I guess, about--the handsome black man she passes on the street. How do you read that? At the most basic level, I think it's a moment that "knows" that Ilana is safe in deploying her "tongue thing" in a way that the black man is not. That's a moment, I think, about the power differential around race. Yes?
Phil: First of all, the safety net makes sense to me. We've talked about the bumper-lane Manhattan in which these broads reside, and the safe off-sites of Long Island and the Main Line, respectively, that keep the lanes inflated. At the same time, race--interracial desire, passing, gentrification, minstrelsy, the "post-racial"--is another of this show's ongoing, almost constant, thematic concerns. I would say it's one of the show's anxieties if it weren't always invoked so blithely. As you noted above, this episode is an ethnographic encounter with themselves. It marks their privilege, marks their feelings of touristic superiority over their surroundings, at the same time that it refuses to validate that superiority. (Remember the awkward moment in "The Last Supper" when Ilana tells the Hispanic busboy that one day, he'll be the chef?) In other words, I think that there is a screwy race consciousness at work here, but I'm tempted to say it belongs to Abbi and Ilana rather than the show.
To your question, though, I don't fully know what to do with Ilana here. Like the "reverse rapism" in the first episode, this is another one of those strange moments where Broad City tries to pull a triple Lutz of progressive politics out of Ilana's obliviousness. There's a harebrained Wexlerian logic that the appropriate response to something like the racially lopsided "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" is to start catcalling African-American dudes on the street. And there's something classically farcical about the tactic of bringing up a valuable conversation about race by staging a situation in which somebody gets the dynamic so woefully and gleefully wrong. I'm thinking here about Ilana's famous first-season proclamation that within a couple of decades, everybody's going to be "caramel and queer." I'm imagining one of those Victorian-era Vanity Fair caricatures of Ilana Wexler as "The Post-Racialist." But the show doesn't often let that rhetoric play itself out in the world. It gestures but doesn't commit. I think it's telling that Ilana's comfortable licking her chops at these guys, but the actual reciprocated (and sincerely expressed) desire that it prompts gets cut short.