There’s been a lot of electronic ink spilled–on this website and others–about Lena Dunham‘s new HBO series Girls. So much, in fact, that rather than use another still from the show, I’m illustrating this post with a mildly unflattering photo of myself at age 22 to break up the monotony (or is it because I’m a huge, selfish, narcissist?) As soon as I saw the first few episodes, I felt simultaneously thrilled and anxious. Thrilled because I’d finally seen something on TV that felt like it was mine, and anxious because I knew people were already lining up to shit all over it.
The show is an interesting combination of realism and satire; Lena Dunham pokes fun at her characters without ever completely disowning them. As with many good comedies, the characters have some traits we would find abhorrent in real people, but unlike on say, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, they retain enough pathos that they aren’t cruel caricatures. Sure, they might make some bad decisions. Sometimes we cringe for them (like when Hannah disqualifies herself for a job by pushing the envelope of “inappropriate banter”), and sometimes we want to slap them in the face (taking the maid’s tip? NOT COOL). But as I haven’t led a seamlessly perfect life, I see a bit of myself in each of them, much in the same way the naive virgin character thinks she’s alternately a Carrie and a Miranda.
If you don’t identify with any of the characters on the show, that’s fine. (And, potentially: a good thing.) But that doesn’t mean you should write it off as something nobody identifies with. There were so, so many moments in the first two episodes when my friends and I looked at each other like, “GIRL, I HAVE BEEN THERE.” That hot/horrible fuck buddy character seemed lifted straight from our own lives. It even sparked a conversation about all the bad sex we had before we learned to ask for what we wanted in bed, which somehow caused me to run into one of the dudes I was talking about later that night. (I hadn’t seen him in years! It was awkward!) The friendships rang similarly true; I love my friends so much it’s not even funny (and yes, sometimes we pee in front of each other), and I think Hannah’s love for her friends is one of her biggest redeeming qualities.
And don’t get me started on the post-college years I spent looking for a job, any job, all the while feeling incredibly guilty about having been born to parents who could afford to help me out (if only to keep me from cramping their style at home). Did I have the same entitled attitude as Hannah? No, because I am a self-hating member of the petit bourgeois class, which I believe should be abolished. But I still accepted the money. Maybe my reaction to her reluctance to do un-fulfilling work is not that extreme because I just don’t believe in the Protestant work ethic. I think everyone should take their turn on janitorial duty or whatever (and other un-fun tasks that are necessary for society to function) and then spend the rest of their time doing whatever the fuck they like. (But maybe that’s a discussion for another time.)
I never, ever, in a million years thought that a show on mainstream television would deal with any of the things Girls deals with. TV sex is supposed to be sexy, privilege invisible. This is why it’s important to have all different kinds of people–not just old white dudes–writing TV shows. I’m really hoping this will be a precursor to shows written by young people, women, minorities, and other groups not traditionally represented in writers’ rooms. It’s a shame some are acting like this marginalized person landing a show means other marginalized people have somehow lost. It doesn’t. And for those saying it doesn’t mean anything that the female protagonist doesn’t have Hollywood good looks: When was the last time a young woman was allowed to not only star in, but get naked and have sex on, a TV show without being conventionally gorgeous and skinny? Glasses and a ponytail don’t count.
As a 27-year-old woman who just recently was in the midst of some turbulent early 20s shit, it feels like a breath of fresh air to me to see young women portrayed on television as something other than sex kittens or other limiting archetypes. In fact, I’d say this show comes pretty close to Jennifer‘s hypothetical complicated female protagonist who no one would take seriously because she’s got “white girl problems.” And guess what? A lot of people aren’t. I mean, it’s a comedy, so we aren’t supposed to take her totally seriously, but we’re also not supposed to despise her as Everything That’s Wrong With Youth Today. To listen to some folks rant about this show, I should have killed myself as soon as I realized I didn’t have a job offer waiting for me after graduation, because HOW DARE SHE.
I’m not saying this show is perfect, or that it speaks for everyone. In fact, I’m pretty sure Dunham mocks the idea that anyone can be “the voice of a generation” by putting that line in her character’s mouth and showing us how ridiculous it sounds. Do I wish there were more minority characters? Sure. I don’t think I know anyone who has only white friends, even in whitey-white hipster land. (Maybe as the show goes on, we’ll find out the four main characters have other friends besides each other.) Do I find the characters 100% likable? Hell no, but this show is not meant to be “aspirational.” Does their privilege make it harder for me to empathize with their problems? No, because pretty much all TV shows are about privileged people, and at least this one interrogates and examines that privilege. The point is that it shows young women who are, like Tavi said, “figuring it out,” a process that can be alternately messy, sad, scary, pathetic, and hilarious. And that seems pretty revolutionary to me.