I’ll give Lena Dunham credit for the honesty and accuracy of the title of her show, ‘Girls’ (as opposed to titling it “women”). I give her credit for her unorthodox casting – namely herself – and her all-or-nothing approach to the storyline. I give her credit for paying heed to an often-overlooked segment of society – the group of twenty-somethings for whom the term “First World Problems” was coined. I give her credit for being fearless in her defense of everything ‘Girls’ and I will absolutely give her credit for creating an incredibly addictive and well-written drama – soap-opera, really.
But, as a twenty-four year old woman, a living relic of the “twenty-something” narrative (a term I’m beginning to hate), I really can’t call ‘Girls’ realistic, honest, or truthful. In fact, I think it could be totally damaging to the overly-impressionable psyches of young people, fresh out of college, and too green to know which way is up.
This post is a diddy that has nothing to do with the state of education, except that I think speaks pretty loudly to my very early point about Recent College Grad’s sense of entitlement towards and mis-perceptions of the “real world”.
My gripe with ‘Girls’ is that it wants to make 20-30 year old people – but mostly women – more selfish, more immature, more impetuous, less responsible, and less foresightful than they really are – because that’s the only audience who will tolerate this soap-opera parading as a dramatic representation of reality. I argue that ‘Girls’ turns back the progressive clock on women, celebrating immaturity, impetuousness, and male-dependency while pairing these behaviors with sexual “freedom” and “openness”.
‘Girls’ illustrates twenty-something women as slutty, shallow, aimless babies who wallow a lot. The show accomplishes two things: 1) it validates hyper-dramatic, self-involved, aimless-for-aimlessness’s-sake BS that some young people are prone to, and 2) it makes women who aren’t in those positions feel like they’re not a part of the twenty-something narrative because, though they might be confused, they’re not engaging in a soap opera about it – the soap-opera element is indicative of ‘Girls’ commitment to being “true to yourself”. In the spirit of “true to oneself”, Lena Durham’s character, Hannah, wears a sheer yellow mesh shirt, nipples showing, out in public, coked-out, engaging with people – friends and strangers, and ends the night by dictating other people’s morals to them. In this episode, Hannah is actively going out of her comfort zone in order to “find where the magic happens”. But the only part that’s out of her comfort zone is the coke – the rest of it is totally normal for her.
Regardless of whether I would personally engage in that behavior, my point is that I don’t know a single twenty-something woman who would. First, most people define a difference between “free spirit” and “nips out” – because the former embraces self-respect and ignores outside influence, while the latter just screams for outside commentary. Second, the implication that Hannah’s moral opposition to cocaine is holding her back from artistic achievement, suggests all sorts of obnoxious things about women and their morals. For example, a twenty-something woman who doesn’t engage in sexual behavior before marriage, according to Girls, would be missing out on her god-given right to participate in the twenty-something narrative. The point here is that the show celebrates impetuousness and bad-decision-making to the point of excluding all other types of young women from the conversation. And unfortunately, one thing ‘Girls’ does get right is that young women desperately want to be included – and they contort themselves in all sorts of ways to achieve that. If inclusion requires that women break their moral beliefs and engage in behavior that they neither believe in nor are comfortable with, then we’ve really jumped backward in the feminist narrative, never mind the general societal narrative.
Furthermore, ‘Girls’ suggests, by its casting and its story line, that the selfish, immature, short-sighted, irresponsible antics are usually and predominantly perpetuated by women. While this show seeks to progress the sexuality of twenty-something women, it represses the emotional and professional maturity of that same demographic, suggesting there is an inherent link between a sexually carefree attitude and immature, irresponsible behavior. Since its genesis, commentators have called ‘Girls’ the new Sex In The City – a next generation media wave that portrays women’s sexual antics in as harsh, honest, and un-puritanical a light as men’s sexual antics. But ‘Girls’ is remiss because it claims to be representative of the “gritty” realities of twenty-something life when, at best, it represents a very small minority of realities for a small minority of people – mostly women.
This show is a soap-opera which is calling itself something else, and for that categorical faux-pas, it’s receiving a lot of attention. If Lena Dunham would acknowledge that this show shares more characteristics of a soap-opera than a docu-drama, then she would have to admit that ‘Girls’ profits off of drama for drama’s sake – and drama of any kind carries a certain amount of glamour. But, problematically, she claims that ‘Girls’ is real. I seriously wonder about the the circular effect ‘Girls’ might have – encouraging and creating a cult of self-absorption and self-indulgence as the new norm for young, post-bachelor’s women. The characters on Girls exist in a kind of hipster glamour, where things are ‘rough’ and they may be confused but, dammit! they’re artistic souls and they’re true to themselves, so what else matters? Let me answer that one for you: a shit ton of stuff outside of your personal feelings matters.
Girls supports the continuation of a “spoiled brat” attitude in young people that has somehow grown beyond teenage antics, spread into being acceptable college student antics, and now is becoming a standard mode of behavior for twenty-something post-baccalaureates, too. It’s ridiculous – by the time you’re out of college, you’ve had two decades to be selfish, shallow, and ignorant of the world around you. Don’t you thnk after spending $40,000 a year of daddy’s or Uncle Sam’s money, it’s time you grow up and start contributing to the world, rather than wallowing in your own misery? Instead, Girls endorses a prolonged adolescence – and with it, the sense of entitlement and whining that has historically been associated with spoiled teenagers.
‘Girls’ perpetuates a narrative wherein the characters face tangible and relate-able problems, like loneliness, career confusion, poverty, friendship complications, identity crises, etc, but then undermines the relate-ability of those situations by praising and celebrating the characters for their completely immature and short-sighted problem-solving methods. Every single character in this show feels that the world has somehow “wronged” them. The narrative is that the characters shouldn’t try to correct these situations or examine themselves to perhaps evolve and adapt to the grown-up world – instead the narrative of ‘Girls’ suggests that the characters should just live moment-to-moment and deal with problems as they arise, in whatever way is most emotionally rewarding – usually harsh words or a one-night-stand. None of the characters show any concern for the way their actions impact other people, situations, or themselves in the future – it’s all about instant gratification and the glory of being impetuous.
This show is the battle-cry for those who live on the phrase, “woe is me – why is it so hard to be me?” It offers nothing in the way of a proactive approach or long-term solutions to those “woes” (the relate-able issues, listed above). Girls offers an implicit support of the idea that the world has “wronged” twenty-something’s – and the narrative is structured so that all the characters wait around for the world to align, hand them good fortune, and apologize for the transgression.
I’ve considered the possibility that this structure is meant to reveal the pitfalls of that kind of self-indulgence – but after watching an entire marathon, I’ve concluded that – no, it isn’t setting up a false paradigm in order to prove the falsity; it’s not a parody or a farce. It is “honest”, in that Dunham really believes this story-line is an accurate and worthwhile reflection of the problems and solutions of young people.
As always, my opinion is by no means definitive. It’s fully possible that this “twenty-something narrative is actually just an “early-twenty-something” narrative, intended for 20-23 year old’s and I’m over-ripe. Or perhaps, I’m just surrounded by superior twenty-something’s who have their lives together and aspire to more than the hipster, existentially-confused, not-really-in-poverty-but-kind-of-wish-they-were-because-slumming-is-SO-cool glamour that ‘Girls’ perpetuates. But let’s be honest – for most young people, the debauchery and discord in Girls doesn’t really exist in such potent forms, with such regularity, and with such reckless disregard for the future and for the world beyond our own ego’s.
“Twenty-something’s”, people between the ages of 20 and 30 years old – are better than Girls wants them to be. I just hope all the 20-30 year old’s watching this show know that, lest they fall into the trap of aspiring downward to join Marni, Hannah, and the gang.