The Appropriate Response: Complexities of Girls’ Reception in Gawker Recaps

Curator's Note

John Cook’s Gawker recaps of Girls rely on postmodern elements of parody and pastiche to critique the show and its commentaries. Although Cook derides Girls through snark, his creative form generates ambiguities that incited weekly debates in the comments. The recaps thus produce a response as complex as the reception to the show itself, demonstrating the significance of this paratext in Web 2.0 media culture.

Ostensibly plot summary, recaps have assumed critical, creative functions as regular features of online television discourse. Although snark—sarcastic “snide remarks”—is ubiquitous, individual writers use it and the recap structure uniquely, challenging the form’s origins as “objective” reportage. Here, Cook exploits his cultural expertise, particularly punk and independent music, to critique Girls and its commentaries.

Cook’s postmodern style suggests a contradiction in his discourse, arguing against a singular interpretation while affirming his response through his cultural vernacular. He establishes that perspective early, through the pastiche between iconic subcultural music and Girls in each header and title. This pastiche continues with the introduction, where Cook compiles incongruous elements of popular culture, including television, music, and politics. These absurd relations function ambivalently, undercutting the form’s authority while underscoring Cook’s cultural knowledge.

Starting recaps with “The appropriate response to Girls” parodies other commentaries, emphasizing their prescriptiveness and the impossibility of a standard reception. Cook often echoes this critique by claiming that loosely connected lyrics of featured musicians are the “only take that matters” on Girls. Signing off with the tag “Skrillex,” a nonsensical reference to the contemporary electronic musician, Cook mocks Girls’ hipster milieu in contrast to his own subcultural canon, notably comprised of mostly white men. Thus, Cook engages in elitism, misogyny, and generational hegemony, criticisms leveled at many of Girls’ commentaries.

The comments richly correspond to the recaps. As is common, support and opposition coexist, with debate occurring through replies. Aside from misogyny and ageism, the most criticized part is Cook’s use of the actors’ parental relationships in place of the characters’ names, a parodic allusion to broad accusations of Girls’ nepotism. Cook enters the fray, occasionally in the comments and eventually in the recap, by responding to the most common criticisms in his final entry. Ultimately, the complexities in Cook’s recaps and their reception reflect not only those in Girls and its reception, but also the significance of recaps as likewise creative and complex components of contemporary television culture.


Great post, Jennifer! Although I read much of the web commentary, I missed these Gawker recaps. Instead of detracting from a show like Girls, do you think recaps and similar online "banter" actually enhance the experience of watching a show? I'm thinking of the recent experience of watching the first episode of season 2. Certain scenes had more weight or resonance because I could envision Dunham et al. writing them as a response to the Season 1 detractors. Specifically, the scenes where she bared a lot of skin could be seen as a "so there" to people critical of her un-model-like body. (xoJane ran a great piece by Lesley Kinzel that chronicles the issue: I'm also fascinated by the extreme gender divide in responses to the show found on Gawker vs. Jezebel, Gawker's sister site, but that's a whole other question...

Thanks, Nedda, and thanks also to you and Jing for putting these weeks together! I do think that the recap experience does help to enhance the experience of watching the show, whether a viewer is a fan or not. In terms of these recaps specifically, I started reading them along with a few others because I was trying to figure out my thoughts on the show, which were often conflicted. I'm not a fan, but I was definitely trying to use them hermeneutically. Snark and other elements also provide entertainment that can go beyond the text as well, which I think can also be seen here. It would be interesting to do more work on how recaps relate to spoilers and reruns in impacting the viewing experience. The gender divide is interesting as two parts of the same company, but I honestly felt that there was a lot of derision and snark on the Jezebel side too, from the texts of articles and from comments. Gawker was often harsher in the text, but Jezebel--despite having the show sponsor a publication day--often seemed a mixed bag. Thanks again, Nedda!

I hadn't seen these recaps either. You provide a fascinating analysis of this work, and I am equally interested in the complexity of this pastiche coupled with the blatantly obvious irony of his own elitism. But the sexism here is what stands out for me most. His white, male snark makes me feel less critical of Girls---defensive, even. I wonder how much the comments in response are similarly fueled.

Good point! Just like there was hate-watching of GIRLS, it seems like there was also hate-reading of these recaps. As a critic, Cook definitely functions as a privileged paratexter, to use Jonathan Gray's words from SHOW SOLD SEPARATELY, whose work resides in his ability to provide distinction among texts. His subcultural tastes are among the tools that support his judgment, but the privilege embedded in that canon can easily go unnoticed, especially since it often flies under a "revolutionary" flag. Thanks so much for your comment!

Thanks for that citation, and thanks for a great post! I haven't seen these recaps or the commentary surrounding them, but they seems to fit in with my interests in paratexts and convergence regarding this show and its secondary and tertiary texts.

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