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Extending the Feminist Vision on the Small Screen

‘Transparent’ creator Jill Soloway will produce and direct a new show called ‘I Love Dick,’ based on a feminist cult classic book

Rachel Shukert
February 23, 2016
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA
Jill Soloway attends the 68th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California, February 6, 2016. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA
Jill Soloway attends the 68th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California, February 6, 2016. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA

Good news for fans of Transparent: Last week Amazon Studios announced that Jill Soloway, the creator and executive producer of what is still Amazon’s most lauded and critically acclaimed show to-date, will write, produce, and direct a new pilot. Soloway’s new show is called I Love Dick, based on Chris Kraus’s book of the same name, which, since its publishing in 1997, has become “a cult feminist classic.”

As written by Kraus, I Love Dick, which is part memoir, part novel, and part work of critical theory, details the obsessive love of its author with a man she identifies only as “Dick.” With the mind of the academic, and often in epistolary form, the main character minutely analyzes the self-abnegation, humiliation, and loss of self that comes with obsession—and ultimately, in the study of her own state, she takes that power back. I Love Dick is “a manifesto for a new kind of feminist who isn’t afraid to burn through her own narcissism in order to assume responsibility for herself and for all the injustice in world.”

The obvious problematic and probably anti-feminist/patriarchal jokes to be made about the title aside (let’s just say it’s something that few characters on Transparent can be accused of, amirite, ladies?), I Love Dick is a fascinating, immediately adaptable piece of source material. What’s more, it serves as the ideal canvas upon which Soloway can expand her artistic vision and mission statement: to represent many facets of the female experience from a specifically female—and circumstantially revolutionary—perspective.

The sexual obsessions of men have been endlessly detailed, often in the literary canon—think Death in Venice, Lolita, or even something less explicitly psychosexual like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the love of Jake Barnes for Lady Brett Ashley (and his subsequent inability to consummate said love) drives the plot—but obsessive desire from a female point of view has traditionally been seen through a more derogatory lens. The Victorians (and their modern-day counterparts) saw sex as something unseemly for women to have too much of an interest in. Instead, a woman’s sexual appetite was the symptom of a deformed character.

But there’s plenty of pushback from more progressive quarters on this issue as well. A great deal of pseudo-feminist rhetoric carries a subliminal message that for a woman (particularly a straight woman) to be too wrapped up in her love life is for her to be something less than admirable. Teenage girls in the throes of reckoning with the thorny issues of sexuality for the first time are dismissed as “boy crazy” because they should be focusing on the SATs and becoming Supreme Court justices. These ideas are reflected in television and film characters who are routinely derided for being too focused on men. Think of the Bechdel Test, the applicable algorithm invented by the Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Alison Bechdel: Does a movie have more than two women in it? And do they speak to each other about something other than a man?

The Bechdel test a clever and valid way of discussing the dearth of complex female characters in film (and one that Soloway and her compatriots have gone a long way towards meaningfully addressing) but like so many statements taken out of context, it carries the risk of hardening into dogma and into a world where any treatment of women navigating their love lives, let alone tipping over into the sort of obsession Kraus writes about in her book, is problematic. And that is a most feared and dialogue-ending of words.

The truth is that romantic and sexual obsession are just as volcanic and life-altering in men and women, and equally worth exploring in art. What Soloway clearly understands with this potentially controversial choice of material (and what can already be seen from her week exploring both gender and Jewish culture on Transparent) is that in order to smash the patriarchy, feminists also have to unfurl themselves from the defensive crouch we have for so long reflexively assumed against it. We have to be willing to show ourselves—warts, weaknesses and all. It’s quite a mountain to climb, and I can’t wait to see what Soloway does it.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.