the frequency a kenny chung blog

Steve Buscemi Fellow Kids joke on 30 Rock

If you watch 30 Rock religiously, then you’re probably aware of the origins of the “fellow kids” meme that’s been making its rounds on the internet for a few years now. It’s a screengrab from an episode where guest star Steve Buscemi plays a private detective who at some point infiltrated a high school by pretending to be a student:

That joke has taken a life of its own, with reddit at the forefront of proliferating references to it. The term “fellow kids” was adopted as a pejorative shorthand for brands and advertisers trying to relate to millennials using slang or memes (often to cringeworthy results). As of this writing, the subreddit /r/FellowKids has over 62,000 subscribers, this author inclusive.

A few notable examples:

Mountain Dew saying Bae on Twitter

Microsoft handing out shibe doge meme fliers at their Windows 10 Conference

WhatABurger Tweeting dank memes

Sources: reddit, @BrandsSayingBae

Should Your Brand Be Using “Dank Memes”?

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “maybe, but only in very rare circumstances”. By definition, memes take a life of their own, and a brand trying to align with that messaging is essentially giving up some creative control. The term “dank memes” is itself a reference to marijuana culture.

When social media “gurus” post memes that they don’t fully understand, not only does it open the brand up for ridicule, but it can also negatively affect brand messaging. And because you can write a textbook and debate for days on the genesis and true meaning of specific memes (KnowYourMeme has created an entire website on trying to crowdsource explanations for them), it’s often safer to just stay away from using memes on brand channels.

One of the most egregious examples of a brand misusing memes is Truth (the anti-smoking coalition). Their latest ad campaigns are chock full of popular memes. Here’s one of their current commercials:

Let’s only briefly touch on the fact that the “it’s a trap” meme is a reference to trolling straight men with photos of women who are later revealed to be transgender. This reinterpretation of the now-famous line from Return of the Jedi originated on 4chan (naturally). It would have literally taken 30 seconds of research for Truth’s creatives to figure out that it was probably not the best tagline to base a campaign around. The rest of the commercial misuses several memes and shoehorns them into their anti-smoking messaging.

Can memes ever be used properly?

Yes, but it’s a minefield. Here are a few pointers for getting it right:

  1. Understand the memes
    There’s no quicker way to show the world you’re out of touch than by misappropriating Internet culture. A simple search on Know Your Meme or Urban Dictionary should be the first stop for anyone trying to leverage memes or youth slang.
  2. Don’t force it
    I cannot stress this enough. If it doesn’t fit your brand to be using sophomoric memes, then don’t use them! Does it make sense for Mike Huckabee to be using a meme related to gangsta rap to reach potential voters? Absolutely not.
  3. Don’t try to create memes
    I cannot tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where people’s ideas of a successful social media or creative campaign is “to go viral”. Going viral is a result of a good campaign, not the goal. You can’t control it, and you definitely shouldn’t start your own meme. You’ll seem like you’re trying too hard and there will be backlash from the /r/HailCorporate crowd. Don’t do what Lunchables attempted:

    Lunchables trying to create their own meme

  4. You can’t change the meaning of memes, so don’t try
    Trying to co-opt a meme is at best guaranteed to fail, and at worst, it’ll create a backlash. Especially when you try to co-opt an organic meme like Bagel Bites tried to.
  5. Use the right message for the right channel
    This is more of a general marketing tip, but it still applies when we’re talking about memes. The things you can get away with on Facebook are different from what you can do in a magazine ad, or a TV commercial. If something’s worth sharing, put it on a network that facilitates sharing. Don’t do this:

    Target says holla in an email

  6. Be timely.
    Like most trends on the internet, memes have a relatively short shelf life. That means you should stop referencing Gangnam Style no matter how funny you still think it is. This also makes it dangerous to create costly television spots that reference memes if you don’t plan on refreshing your creative. Here’s a great example of the GOP trying to use an old meme and being called out by the Democratic Party:

    GOP and Democratic Party on using memes on Twitter

Brands Doing It Right

Some brands get it right. Old Spice created some of the most viral commercials of the last decade. WWE consistently becomes the top trending hashtag during their live events. I saw this cat commercial as a pre-roll on YouTube once and didn’t skip it. Count that as a success.

More recently, Domino’s created a campaign where you could order a pizza through various devices, including via emoji. On paper, it sounds like a decent stunt but also potentially FellowKids territory if not done right. Domino’s understood that millennials are fluent in irony and the tongue-in-cheek tone they took in their commercials was spot on:

Outside Of Your Control

Internet, grant me the serenity to accept the memes I cannot change, the courage to use the memes I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes you simply can’t predict what will go viral. The internet is both a fickle and crushing machine.

Dos Equiis created a great mascot and tagline with the most interesting man in the world and years later, are now reaping the rewards for its memeworthiness.

There’s an incredibly strange and cult-like subreddit called /r/Kelloggs devoted to their cereal brands to the point where users honestly don’t know if it’s a joke or not.

And most recently, “Netflix and Chill” has become one of the most commonplace memes, especially among Black Twitter (a subject for a different blog post). It refers to young people (typically men) inviting other people over to watch Netflix and “chill” as the pretext for engaging in sexual activity. The phrase proliferated on social media and has become one of the best things to happen for Netflix’s brand recognition. All this without Netflix lifting a finger.

Lastly, when in doubt…

…err on the side of not looking stupid. This is probably a good life lesson in general, but if you don’t understand a social media phenomenon and aren’t willing to pay someone who does, then just forego it altogether. Having your target audience perceive your brand as stupid is not a place you want to be.

SEJ Summit NYC 2015

I was invited to the 2015 SEJSummit in NYC hosted by Searchmetrics. It was unique in that they advertised zero vendor pitches, just content. And they definitely delivered on that promise. The day was jam-packed with 8 speakers, talking about a wide variety of topics ranging from content strategy to user tracking to mobile SEO. Each presentation was meant to have 3 Takeaways, presented at the beginning and recapped at the end. Below are my notes and liveTweets of the presentations, separated by presentation topic:

“Thinking Outside of the Text Box: 6 Ways to Increase the Life of Your Content” with Kelsey Jones (Search Engine Journal)

We kicked off the day with some fresh content marketing ideas. Kelsey’s presentation mainly focused on ways to leverage existing content and either spin it or repurpose it into different formats or social networks. Some of the tips were things we should all know (guest blog, syndicate content, etc.), but there were a lot of good ideas for other channels. Slideshare, for example, was mentioned a lot as a new way to present existing content to a different audience.

Podcasts surprisingly make up almost 26% of all audio consumed (that’s across all media devices including cars), which is an astounding number. Sometimes, it’s worth altering the format of your information since people prefer different consumption behaviors (e.g. the Oregon DMV offers an audio version of their driving manual). You can also turn long-form written content into short-form podcasts. One example was Frommer’s (known for their travel guides) creating short bite-sized podcast episodes focusing on very specific locations within a country.

For videos, there were also a few ideas. For example, NewEgg creates videos for breaking news stories, which is often quicker than writing them up. This allows them to be first to publish, and then they turn the content into longer, written posts.

Lastly, one metric Kelsey touched upon was that syndicating content elsewhere can lead to an 180% increase in email subscribers. The logic here is that if a new audience sees your content, they’ll seek out the author or company who puts it out (assuming the content is worthwhile).

“The Social Future” with Peter Shankman (Geek Factory Inc.)

Peter Shankman’s presentation was more free-form, with no deck. It was focused on customer service in the digital world, and if there was one major takeaway, it was that you don’t need to be the best at customer service; you only need to be “several levels above crap.” The point being most companies are terrible at social media and online service, so you only need to be better than they are.

One recurring theme of the summit was about the usefulness of social media metrics, or lack thereof. Peter postulated that the idea of big brands chasing social media Follows, Friends, Fans and Likes is going away because it doesn’t follow natural human behavior, and they aren’t useful to report on. People want to interact with people they know, and not necessarily with brands. He also mentioned that Yelp was dead (or soon to be) because other social networks are more useful for recommendations. I took issue with this one, because like I’ve written about two years ago, Yelp is a social network.

Peter provided his four rules for better customer communications. Rule #1 was to be transparent. It’s inevitable that screwups will happen. Brands should own up to them, rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. Using a real life example, he said we should aspire to be like Eliot Spitzer (he apologized and is now accepted back in the mainstream) and not to be Anthony Weiner (who tried desperately for damage control). [sic] in my Tweet of Weiner’s name, by the way. A great quote from Peter was that “the best lover is a former hater”, meaning if you can turn someone around, they will become your greatest brand advocate.

Rule #2 is to find out how your audience wants to receive information and deliver it to them that way. He told a story about a company that gave thank you gifts in the form of a coffee table book, but through a simple survey, he helped them figure out that the majority of customers preferred online content. So with that simple change, they not only saved money on printing books, but also increased their rate of donations.

Rule #3 is to focus on brevity. Brands have an average of 2.7 seconds to reach their audience. After that, their attention will be gone. Peter advised anyone involved with corporate communications to take an improv class, as it will positively affect the way they speak, and help you get to the point.

Rule #4 is to talk to people even when you don’t need anything. Sometimes it just pays to be top of mind. Peter told us the story of Barry Diller, a former CEO of Paramount during the 70s and 80s. One of his keys to success was to call people just to speak to them and ask if they needed help with anything, rather than just calling when he needed a favor. In turn, under his watch, Paramount became the most successful motion picture house of its time.

“3 Red Hot Social Marketing Hacks To Crush in 2015” with Daniel Morrison (aimClear)

Usually at marketing conferences, there are only one or two presentations that have super clearly defined actionable takeaways. Luckily, SEJSummit had three of them (in a row!). The first was from Daniel Morrison, who was a quant through and through. I took the most notes from his presentation, which focused on leveraging psychographics to enrich your remarketing data/lists.

Daniel outlined three steps for improving your data pool:

  • Inject psychographic data into your audience list
  • Cookie them with retargeting pixels (as first party data)
  • Nurture/convert them with remarketing/RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads).

In order to create the best personas, Daniel recommended layering in active intent filters (the types of people specifically looking to do something, which directly/indirectly ties to a conversion for your brand) as well as taking a dual root approach (creating target segments based on multiple criteria, such as behavior and financial qualifiers).

He also recommended tagging campaign URLs with UTM codes so they can feed into remarketing list rules. He provided three real-world examples of successful campaigns. The first was a tire reseller who increased sales by 22% by bidding higher for users who had previously visited the homepage. The second was a vacation tour company that increased conversation rates by 300% by bidding on broad “gift” terms on people who had previously made a purchase. And the last was a telecom company (with TV, voice and internet services) who decreased CPO by 66% by serving custom ad copy based on the services that the users subscribed to.

There was also talk of setting frequency caps based on the type of service and the typical life cycle, but I’ll touch upon that at the end of the next recap.

“Harnessing the Awesome Power of Identity-Based PPC Marketing” with Larry Kim (WordStream)

Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream, and I’ve had the fortune of listening in on one of his webinars before. His presentation at SEJSummit was full of hyperbole, but his conviction to and expertise in the topic was something to behold. According to Larry, identity-based PPC marketing was the biggest evolution in both paid search and email marketing.

Simply put, identity-based marketing (or people-based marketing) is the ability to target specific users by some sort of unique identifier (email address, phone number, Twitter handle, etc.). By targeting groups of curated individuals, you avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional PPC and email marketing efforts. Firstly, there are no inventory constraints as there are with email blasts, and it is harder to unsubscribe because targeted paid ads are just about everywhere (not sure if this is good or bad for the consumer…). Secondly, it makes it easier to increase your potential target pools while maintaining quality, as you can clone your audience lists using tools like Facebook’s lookalike audiences.

Larry also brought up some real-world examples of his. In one instance, he blogged about a topic on a Friday afternoon and didn’t expect much press coverage. So he ran a Twitter campaign aimed at target influencers, and it was picked up by a large publication shortly thereafter. Another example was for a conference at which he was presenting. He created an audience list based on people in the location of the event within the relevant industry.

During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Larry and Daniel about frequency caps. Larry advised that marketers be aggressive with caps as they are rarely met. And in cases where ad fatigue occurs (which means fewer clicks), the corollary is that the conversion rate for users who actually click through actually increases.

“Big Brands, Mobile SEO and You” with John Shehata (Conde Nast)

I briefly worked with John when he was my ABC News client toward the end of my time at Morpheus Media. He’s an opinionated and clever guy, and his presentation was focused on optimizing websites for mobile. In it, he dispelled some misconceptions about mobile best practices. The major one was that responsive design is not always the most mobile-friendly solution for large sites. Google did not outright say that responsive is the best; they only stated that responsive is better than a strictly desktop experience. The most common alternative is a dedicated mobile site (e.g. m-dot), which leads to all sorts of organizational content issues. The third way is dynamic serving, which displays different HTML/CSS based on user agent. The main benefit is page load speed. John stated that 80-90% of site speed issues are on the front-end, and now that load time is a mobile ranking factor, it makes the most sense to start there. Another stat he quoted was to aim for a 1 second page load for all mobile content above the fold. If optimized rendering can be utilized to allow that content to load first, it is preferable.

John also mentioned that Google will start penalizing app download interstitials (on-page popups on mobile sites that ask the prompt users to download the site’s app instead). The best practice here is to use banners instead. For the future, it’s not outside the realm of possibility (and may actually be very likely) that Google’s stance will extend to all sorts of mobile interstitials and popups, regardless of intent.

One last useful bit of information was about the purpose of googlebot-mobile. It is not the standard mobile crawler. Instead, it is the crawler that Google uses for “feature phones”, which were the precursor to smartphones (think slide or flip phones with limited internet browsers). The standard Googlebot is that one that crawls for mobile.

“SEO Reporting in the Enterprise: Information is Power” with AJ Mihalic (Ayima)

Admittedly, this is the point of the summit where my attention was split between the presentations and some urgent client work, so my notes became a bit sparse. AJ of Ayima spoke about SEO reporting for enterprise clients. He championed graphical interpretations of data, rather than tabular formats. He also recommended utilizing some sort of “EKG” dashboard in order to monitor site health preemptively, instead of waiting for Google Search Console/Webmaster Tools to identify issues because at that point, the problem will have existed for days, if not weeks. In order to do this, AJ mentioned a few methods of early detection. One would be to look at the status codes that your website is returning. If an increase in 404s occurs, it may reflect a redirect problem. Another would be to look at a server log of which pages Googlebot is crawling. Your tech team is your friend for all of these things.

AJ also echoed an approach that I’d heard before at the last SEO meetup I attended, which was to optimize for metrics that will get your clients (or their bosses) promoted. Those are likely the most effective KPIs for your agency work.

“Increasing Your Content IQ” with Jordan Koene (Searchmetrics)

Jordan spoke about how to choose content topics, leverage competitive insights, and about the importance of content recall. On content topics: brands and agencies often have tunnel vision when it comes to keywords. Brands should embrace the image that they’ve cultivated instead of trying to redefine themselves in a way that runs counter to how searchers view them. The websites that brands view as competitors may not be the same ones that are actual competitors. One example was Toyota. Their search competitor for a lot of terms isn’t GM, it’s local Toyota dealerships. Once they added “Official” to all of their site page titles, SEO traffic increased 20%.

Content recall is also important. The topics or themes to which users associate your brand are hard to shake, and may not exactly sync up with your goals. For example, eBay has tried to become a marketplace for luxury goods, but users continue to associate the site with a secondhand garage sale image. One random and interesting stat – there are more used/broken phones of any single iPhone model for sale on eBay than listings for all new phones combined.

“Content Marketing: Success by Design” with Eric Enge (Stone Temple Consulting)

Eric’s presentation was mainly about measuring for SEO successes. Without quantification of goals, any content creation is worthless. Eric’s recipe for content marketing success is to build you reputation, grow visibility, grow your audience, and get links.

By measuring your own successes and comparing to your competitors, it becomes easier to identify which areas need improvement in order to overtake them in organic rankings. For example, a site that recently outranked yours may have recently acquired a high authority link. Your goal should be to receive a link of similar equity, if not more. Rankings are incremental; you should be trying to leapfrog over the listing directly above you, rather than aiming for #1 every time. Eric recommended using Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and ahrefs for backlink reporting.

It’s been a while since I’d been to an SEO meetup (it seems like all of the big players stopped running them), so I was delighted to see a great panel sponsored by Yext. There were a few good industry friends, as well as other talented folks. The full lineup was:

  • Mike King, Founder & Digital Marketing Consultant at
  • Matt Ramos, Product Manager at LocalVox
  • Rhea Drysdale, CEO at Outspoken Media
  • David Minchala, SEO Manager at Yodle

There was a ton of great information, especially about personas and personalization. Below is my liveTweet coverage of the meetup:

If you’re running a large agency that can’t write localized content for every region, it makes sense to broadly define which topics you should cover (either based on current performance or what the top ranking sites have) and then have subject matter experts write specific local content. This is far better than just repurposing the same content for every region.

Paid search can tell you very quickly if people are actually searching for a specific topic in a region.

Sometimes, curating content provides enough value for Google to rank your site well. However, you must, must, must provide some sort of value otherwise you risk duplicate content penalties.

Track users throughout their customer journey so you can better attribute eventual conversions. Each touchpoint should have specific goals that lead to the main site conversion. Optimizing for each touchpoint allows you to help move consumers along.

The above should actually say “consumer life cycle”. Depending on your industry, you may want to track users throughout their anticipated cycle of use to see when potential dropoffs occur.

Browser fingerprints allow you to identify specific users, or specific subsets of users. If you track specific groups over time and set page values, it will help you refine your conversion path and user goals.

This is a good one. If your client doesn’t know what their KPIs should be, find out what their boss is judged on, and start from there. Very good advice for any type of marketing initiative.

Three of the four panelists agreed that the next big thing in SEO is personalization. Google will be able to show and tell you what you need before you tell them. Google Now is an example of this.

Outrage is the new black.

It’s been only a short four months since Slate’s 2014 recap, calling it the Year of Outrage. People don’t easily change behaviors, and we have yet another example of social media users rallying behind a campaign of anger. The victim du jour is Trevor Noah, who was announced to take over The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It didn’t take long for Twitter users to dig through his history and find some “antisemitic” and fat jokes that he’s made. A whole list of them is available at Buzzfeed.

Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show

I’m not going to defend the jokes themselves (because they’re not particularly funny), but I do think it’s unfair to cherrypick through Noah’s Twitter history to manufacture outrage. The most “offensive” Tweets cited are from 2009 and 2010. At the time of this writing, Noah has close to 9,000 posts, which means people went out of their way to locate these examples. Five or six years is archaic by social media standards, and comedians change their sets and their comedy style/jokes based on topicality and audience. The more recent “antisemitic” examples cited in the Buzzfeed article are barely offensive. One is about how Jewish girls are not easy to bed, and the other is about the stereotype that Jewish businessmen are wealthy. I’ve definitely Tweeted things way more offensive than that. Humans have a knack for pattern recognition, sometimes to a fault.

I understand that people are concerned that the content of The Daily Show would be affected by Noah’s “bias” against Jews. But first, you need to prove that he actually has a bias. If you can comb through 9,000 Tweets and find that Noah has made more Jewish jokes than he does against other groups, then by all means, call him a racist or an antisemite. But I’m sure none of these angry Twitter users are doing that level of analysis. It’s much easier to just be blindly offended.

In Chris Rock’s Vulture interview, he spoke about self-censorship and how it’s bad for comedy. He cites Dave Chapelle banning cell phones from live performances, and the interviewer mentions that Patton Oswalt is critical of how Tweets have gotten comedians in trouble. Whether or not it’s the correct platform, comedians test out jokes publicly on Twitter. That’s just the reality of it. Six years ago, Noah was a 25-year-old trying to break into the comedy scene by making jokes in poor taste on Twitter. Dog bites man. Big deal.

The Shame Game

I recently listened to an interview with Jon Ronson, the writer of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In it, he talks about how the advent of social media has caused us to lose sympathy for other human beings in the digital space. Someone’s life or career can be destroyed with a single joke Tweet. Says Ronson:

That what we do on Twitter is we surround ourselves by like-minded people. So, it’s like it’s a constant approval going on. You know, we say “This person is a monster,” everybody around us congratulates us for saying that, and it’s a great feeling to be told that you’re right. So, there’s no incentive to change your mind. If 100,000 people are tearing apart Justine Sacco for her ill-advised AIDS joke, then there’s absolutely no incentive to say: “I’m not sure that the tearing apart of this woman is justified.”  Because everybody else on your timeline is tearing them apart, and it’s much safer and it’s much more comfortable to join in with the throng.

Sure, Justine Sacco worked in PR so she shouldn’t have Tweeted that AIDS joke. And of course, the people threatening Curt Schilling’s daughter deserved to be publicly shamed. But other than the people who worked for the MLB, did any of them deserve to lose their jobs? I don’t have an answer for that, but it’s a slippery slope. Is a simple “these Tweets are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer” caveat enough anymore? It doesn’t seem like it. On the other side of that coin, those people certainly shouldn’t be making sexually assault jokes against Curt Schilling’s daughter (or anyone’s daughter for that matter). Self-censorship has its merits, but particularly for those of us trying to be professional. Or those of us who care about our reputations.

This all relates back to the echo chamber effect, which states that we as media consumers self-select the information we’re privy to. It becomes a feedback loop, where a user chooses to receive a certain type of information, and their thoughts are reinforced because the people they follow are of a similar mind. Says Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble:

One of the underlying dynamics here is that a lot of what this personalization trend is about is making the Web a more passive experience, delivering information to you, rather than you having to seek it out.


What these companies are trying to do is make it easier and easier just to sit back and have the information passively come to you. And it would be sad if it went in that direction because when you do get yourself on the hunt for information that’s exciting and interesting and different, you learn a lot.

This type of feedback loop becomes dangerous, as reddit knows all too well. People gather their pitchforks, and there’s really nobody around to tell them to slow down and think things through. Ironically, The Daily Show has always been one of the more level-headed voices in the media. This type of manufactured outrage is something that Stewart would lampoon on his show.

I’ll end with this quote from comedian Stephen Fry:

Stephen Fry Quote about Being Offended

It’s often said that comedians can get away with saying anything as long as they’re funny. That said, Trevor Noah’s only crime was not being funny. And we should only punish him for that if it happens on The Daily Show.

There’s no denying that between the unverified University of Virginia rape allegations and the #YesAllWomen hashtag, rape culture is a hot button topic right now. These days, it seems like everyone’s writing analyses about its influence in media. I don’t make a habit of reviewing TV shows (mostly because I think it’s a stupid thing to do), but I’d be remiss to ignore these larger media trends. That said, two of the half-hour cable shows that I follow are Girls and Broad City. On paper, they’re both similar in concept (they feature 20-something females in NYC and are considered spiritual successors to Sex & The City), but they also diverge in other ways (Broad City is a straight-up comedy, and Girls is a comedy/drama with a more serious tone).

It’s difficult to ignore an overlapping theme between the latest episodes of both shows – rape culture. It was a literal tale of two cities – this most recent episode of Girls followed Hannah to Iowa, and the episode of Broad City was set in Brooklyn/Manhattan, as the show typically is.

Fair warning: This blog post contains spoilers about the latest episodes of Broad City (S02E01 – “In Heat”) and Girls (S04E02 – “Triggering”). Oh, and it also deals heavily with content of a sexual nature.

Broad City S02E01 - In Heat

Broad City – “In Heat”

Let’s start with Broad City since it aired first. In the episode, Abbi (played by Abbi Jacobson) is dating a new character played by Seth Rogen (“Male Stacy”). They’re in bed together, but due to the heat wave, Male Stacy falls asleep. We find out the next day (in comical fashion) that Abbi “finished” while he was unconscious.

The following exchange happens between Abbi and her best friend/other main character on the show Ilana (played by Ilana Glazer):

Ilana: (yelling over jackhammer) So, to clarify, you raped– [jackhammer stops] — (lowers voice) you raped him.
Abbi: No, no. He passed out from the heat. He seriously wanted it.
Ilana: That is literally what they say.
Abbi: Yeah, but I really mean it.
Ilana: So do they.
Abbi: Well, I…
Ilana: Dude, did you finish?
Abbi: My God, I raped him, dude. I raped Male Stacy. I’m a monster!

Earlier in the episode, Ilana directly refers to rape culture during a birthday dinner for her not-boyfriend Lincoln:

Ilana: All Hollywood media is porn, and all porn is kiddie porn. We live in a rape culture, you know? We just do. I’m gonna run to the little girl’s room. That is rape culture language right there!

By the end of the episode, Abbi accidentally makes out with an underage teenager in a dorm room, an act that she laments turns her into a repeat sex offender.

All of these conversations are played as jokes, mostly because: the show is a comedy on Comedy Central; because the situations themselves are absurd; and because – let’s face it – Seth Rogen being raped in his sleep is a funny concept.

There have been analyses written about how the episode “rapes rape culture” (a line paraphrased from the episode) by turning rape culture on its head with these jokes. The episode serves to highlight the double standard of how women raping men is often not taken seriously (surely enough, we never see Seth Rogen’s character find out about it, or any sort of falling out). And it also shows that rape jokes can be funny if done correctly. After Daniel Tosh made a threatening rape joke at a female audience member in 2012, many writers took the stance that “rape jokes are never funny”. It may be a matter of taste, but I’d venture that those same people don’t watch Louis CK’s standup, or could not imagine the possibility of the Broad City excerpt above.

The main characters of Broad City border on caricatures at times. The fictional versions of Abbi and Ilana are sexually liberated to an extreme – in the first season, Ilana video chats with Abbi while having sex so it feels like a “threesome”; in the Season 1 finale, Abbi discovers a used condom that had been inside of her for over half a week; and that’s not to mention all of the times Abbi has to reject sexual advances from Ilana.

The show almost directly addresses the oft-cited double standard that men who sleep around are commended while women who do the same are shamed. Broad City plays with these tropes, and in many cases, subverts them entirely.

In American TV, there’s a long history of womanizing being played for laughs (think Joey from Friends, or Barney from How I Met Your Mother). And in the 60s on, there were a ton of male characters who engaged in what was essentially sexual harassment (think Steve Urkel or Pepé Le Pew), also played for laughs.

Broad City goes along with these tropes, takes them to an extreme, and then toes a line predicated on social mores that probably shouldn’t be there to begin with. And that’s what makes the show funny. In my opinion, anyway.

Girls S04E02 - Triggering

Girls – “Triggering”

On the other hand, the latest episode of Girls has Hannah (Lena Dunham’s character) moving to Iowa to attend grad school for an advanced writing degree. In the first student workshop to which the audience is privy, Hannah shares a first-person fictional piece that details the emotional and sexual abuse suffered by the narrator, who many of the other students agree is clearly based on Hannah.

Her peers tear her story apart, and call it unoriginal (they liken it to 50 Shades) and say that the main character is unsympathetic. Hannah is quick to be offended and breaks the rules by providing out-of-turn cringe-worthy retorts (i.e. “history didn’t really focus on the female perspective”). Later in the episode, she even goes as far as to insist that one of the female students who criticized her in class was a survivor of abuse, which is vehemently refuted.

Much like Broad City did, Girls puts rape culture at the forefront this week. The title of the episode is a reference to how stories/descriptions of assault can trigger post-traumatic responses in survivors. Hannah even goes out of her way to warn her peers that there were “triggering aspects of the piece” as a testament to how strong she believes her writing to be, rather than as a real courtesy (there have been articles and interviews about the trivialization of the trigger warning).

Who did it better?

I won’t pass judgment on the messages that either show presented this week (again, this isn’t a TV show review blog), but I think it’s worth commending both for acknowledging the issue, but also worth understanding that neither is claiming an absolute truth or a moral high ground (definitely not Broad City). Each storyline allows for interpretation and helps further discussion, which is always a good thing.

I don’t feel that either show has an imperative to be the final say on women’s issues just because they have female creators/writers. I think that’s an impossibly high standard to place on creative people.

If rape culture were a nail, Broad City addressed it with a sledgehammer. Girls, on the other hand, took a roundabout approach to critique the use of rape culture as a plot point. There’s also some semblance of a Shakespearean “play-within-a-play” at work here. Lena Dunham, the show’s creator, has used rape/unwanted sexual advances as a plotline before (she’s also written about real life experiences in her autobiography). And in this latest episode, her character write a fictional story using a similar theme. The fictional character that Dunham portrays on the screen however, is shameless in her use of “triggering” language and scenarios. This could be a criticism of other writers (and perhaps an exercise in self-reflection), or it could simply be an unintended parallel. But it does follow a trend of Hannah’s character being incredibly unsympathetic (like the character that her character creates).

On some level, the fictional Hannah Horvath seems to purposefully fly in the face of the “strong female” archetype and is one of the least empowering female characters on TV – she’s not self-sufficient, overly dependent on her boyfriend/friends/parents, and can’t take criticism; she had a nervous breakdown and was “saved” by her ex-boyfriend Adam, who literally carried her in his arms in the final scene of the season 2. The rest of the female leads aren’t much better – one can’t cope with being broken up with her more successful boyfriend; one fails to graduate college on time because she was broken up with; and the last one basically extorted a rich man in exchange for a divorce. Not exactly role models, but then again, nobody purported that the characters on the show were supposed to be. Starring a female protagonist does not a feminist show make.

But does every single episode of Girls have to be filtered through the lens of “Is Lena Dunham undermining feminism by creating weak female characters”? I’d also say no. I’d blame it more on bad writing and one-dimensional characterization than on an explicit rebuttal of feminist ideals.

Similarly, does the fact that Amy Poehler both created a webseries titled Smart Girls and currently serves as executive producer on Broad City necessarily tie the two together thematically? Again, I’d like to say no, but I know others would disagree.

Do we have to run every episode of TV through the Bechdel test?

Probably not, but it is a fun exercise. I would venture a guess that most if not all episodes of Broad City pass with flying colors. Girls probably doesn’t and barely squeaks by this week between a throwaway scene with two of the girls watching a movie/receiving a collect call, and one of Hannah talking to her real estate agent.

It’s definitely worth analyzing how women are portrayed in popular culture. But it does a disservice to everyone to separate “female writers” and “writers”. Ideas and writing should be evaluated similarly regardless of who’s saying them. Even if the shows are called Girls and Broad City.

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