As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

On being a “girl”

Posted by Hedwig on April 18, 2012

“…or at least a voice of generation”

You can’t put a quote like that in the pilot of your show, and even assign it to the character you play yourself, without inviting a lot of comments, and Lena Dunham certainly got that in the past days/weeks. Specifically, since her character is 24, she’s 26, and I’m 27, and we furthermore share a gender, race, sexual orientation and approximate socio-economic background, the generation would be my generation, and it’s tempting to dive into a list of differences and similarities between her characters’ situations and, trying to rate just how “true” or “representative” or whatever the show is.

After watching the pilot of GIRLS and finally catching up to TINY FURNITURE, I almost did just that. The thing is, my thoughts kept devolving into dirges about how irresponsible and lazy the characters (and especially Dunham’s Hannah) are, and some of the great writing about this show has pointed out that that might not be the most productive thing to do. More importantly, my admittedly smug sense of superiority at being financially independent and fairly secure about my looks can’t really survive when confronted with the extratextual fact that Lena Dunham, who is younger than me, has achieved much more than I could ever dream to, having written and directed a theatrically released film and a HBO show.

I do think that a piece of art that has the ambition to truly tackle the issues confronting “our generation” would have to look beyond the entitlement of slackers. Compared to the characters in the show, I have achieved many of the traditional markers of adulthood (a job, an apartment, a stable long term relationship), but I don’t feel like an adult at all. The boyfriend and I were doing some remodeling a week ago (not much, but there was sawing and drilling involved), and I honestly remarked that it felt weird to do it “without any adults present”  before realizing how odd that sentence was. One of the reasons I don’t want to get married is because I can think of myself as a “girlfriend”, but not as a “wife” – despite the fact that both my parents were already married at my age. And while I have a salary, I only took my current job* because it was offered to me, and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. I still have to “find out who I am” – a quote from GIRLS that did ring true. In my friends, this phenomenon manifests differently, but especially among my fellow PhD-students, nobody seems to feel mature, regardless of external signs.

Maybe my hesitance to embrace GIRLS is simply out of spite. After all, I was always the responsible girl, who did what was expected, who worked summers even when I could have relied on the money my parents gave me, who made the “wise” choice to go into a STEM field instead of an art one because it guaranteed job prospects. And what did it get me? My colleagues who already got their PhD’s are having trouble finding jobs, and my PhD is not going to mean much more than four years of lost time when, next year, I plan to try to make a living as a film critic/writer.

The above paragraph sounds more bitter than I am. I’m looking forward to 2013, and not just because my dissertation will be done and behind me then. My responsible behavior through the years even means that I have enough savings to finance the experiment.  And I’ll be watching GIRLS, because Lena Dunham is clearly talented, and even insightful. The most important word may be in the title  – and as a fellow girl, I’m curious about what she has to say.


*as a PhD student, but in the Netherlands that’s an actual job with sick days and pension payments and everything.

5 Responses to “On being a “girl””

  1. I’m trying to resist the impulse of strong arming people to love this show as much as I have so far (and hope to continue) because there are plenty of reasons it just might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to admit I was pretty stunned by the mean-spirited backlash against the show in comments sections and on Twitter and elsewhere. I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing, in fact I like your honest ambivalence, but I had to get it off my chest.

    I don’t subscribe to the idea that the characters in TV shows have to be good people or even likable in order for a show to be good. I don’t think Dunham is holding up the characters in Girls or Tiny Furniture as examples of how people should be, she’s taking deeply flawed characters she knows and in fact may be a big part of her own experience and finding some humanity in them, warts and all. Not so much the supporting characters, but the characters she plays.

    She knows Hannah and Aura are self-entitled and over privileged, that’s part of the joke, but that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer. Sure, it’s better to be rich and lost than poor and lost, but lost is lost, even if ultimately it’s your own doing. I see a real sadness in both characters, particularly in the depths they’ll sink to in order to find acceptance from men, but also there’s the reluctance to let go of parents. There’s a movie called Momma’s Man that explored a very similar theme. It’s a necessary, healthy step, but it’s hard and a little scary. I lost both of my parents when I was in my early 20s and although I was living on my own and self supporting and in a long term relationship, beyond the basic hurt of losing them I also vividly remember the shock of the sudden realization that a safety net that I’d always known was now gone. Who else would ever love me so unquestioningly or put my own interests ahead of their own? Even though I no longer depended on them materially or even emotionally day to day, subconsciously they were a safety net. If things ever got bad, I always knew I had a place to go where I would be safe. If anything, I think parents of the generation after mine are even MORE nurturing and supportive.

    I’m totally rambling here about boring personal junk, and that wasn’t my intention so I’ll move on, then wrap up.

    As far as the “voice of a generation” business, I’m a little surprised how many people didn’t take that for the joke that it was. It’s true people did call Dunham that after Tiny Furniture came out, but I think she’s mocking the very idea in this show. It’s important to note that A) she’s stoned off opium tea when she says it and B) it’s part of a desperate bid to keep her parents from cutting her off. There’s no real indication in the character that she actually believes it deep down and Dunham most certainly doesn’t.

    I don’t think we’re supposed to “like” Hannah, per se, but I think there’s probably a lot more of ourselves in her than some people would like to admit.

  2. Hedwig said

    Hey Craig!

    No need to apologize – I love getting long comments, especially when they’re this thoughtful and help me to crystallize my muddled thoughts. Let me start by clarifying that one the whole, I rather liked GIRLS, and I’m baffled by the sudden backlash, but I guess I’d hoped for something more … relatable? recognizable? transformative? A high burden, admittedly, and I was bound to be disappointed. As for the criticisms about Hannah’s excessive privilege and the whiteness of the show, I think they’re justified for TV as a whole, but I think it’s rather odd to lay those burdens at the feet of this one show.

    I like what you said about parents as safety nets. Maybe that’s part of the lack of maturity I talk about: I still talk to my parents (through different types of technology) several times a week, I ask them for advice, they are really supportive of my writing (my dad even got a subscription to the magazine I write for), etc. It’s great to not have the traditionally adversarial relationship between generations, but maybe it does hinder that next step.

    I also agree with you on characters not needing to be likable. And Amanda Marcotte makes a great point in the piece I linked to that it’s strange to place this burden not just of likability but of “good role model” status on female characters more than on male ones. And I get that Dunham is going for comic exaggeration with these characters – and with the three other girls in the show, I think it works. With Hannah though… I’m not sure. Then again, I’ve never been much of a fan of the comedy style that relies on “plaatsvervangende schaamte”- a Dutch word without a good English translation, which means feeling shame for another person (think THE OFFICE, the British one especially).

    Finally, I did take the “a voice of a generation” line as a sort-of joke, but I do think that if you put that line out there (and Dunham is as much as an auteur on this as you can be), it’s fair game. And I do think, ultimately, that it’s too insular even to be just the voice of privileged white twenty-somethings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – and I’m hoping that it’s specificity that will make it both funny and interesting in the coming season.

  3. Hi Hedwig!

    Having that line in all the trailers for the show (which actually I never saw, I was blissfully free of the advance hype) was definitely a miscalculation i think for sure. In the context of the show It’s more clear, but to advertise the show that way is asking to be pinned down.

    What’s strange is I also hate what I call the comedy of humiliation. Anything where the laugh comes directly from another person being embarrassed or made miserable. In a way that applies to Hannah and her Tiny Furniture character Aura, but somehow I find real sympathy for those characters. I laugh uncomfortably, but I’m not laughing at them if that makes sense. I can’t explain it really nor can I reconcile it with the other kind of comedy I don’t like, but somehow it feels different. Perhaps because I know that Dunham is the one making the jokes, it’s ok if she makes them at her own expense. Plus, her character definitely needs to be taken down a few notches so there’s a certain sense of rightness in seeing her made to suffer a little bit.

    At the same time, I kind of root for her to work through her issues. She’s much younger than me, she much more well off and she’s a woman, but it’s scary how relatable I find her to be in some ways. In the first episode of the show, the “best” scene for me was when she was texting her jerk boyfriend and he’s ignoring her and then he finally responds and agrees to have her come over and she just lights up. Then she gets there and it’s clear right away he’s not all that interested in having her around but he puts up with it because he’s looking for sex. She puts up with it because she’s so desperate to have someone love her like her roommate’s boyfriend does. No matter how ridiculous she’s been or how absurd her made up problems are, her basic loneliness makes me really feel for her. She is not the same as me, but she wants many of the same things.

    Like the show or not, I definitely think there’s a lot of sexism and general bitterness behind some of the rage being directed at Dunham. Don Draper is a sociopathic asshole and people LOVE him because he’s handsome and he’s a man. Tony Soprano was a thug-prick and people treated him like a hero. Walt White is a selfish narcissist. Larry David? Come on!

    Having said all that, it’s only been one episode. It remains to be seen where the show goes. If it’s just a bunch of shallow princesses with made up problems week in and week out, I’ll probably lose interest. I’m watching on the assumption that Hannah does some growing.

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  5. Verena said

    I loved the show and I’m really looking forward to watch the other episodes. I used to feel a bit like some of the characters and maybe that’s why I loved it.

    Really nice text of yours even if I don’t agree with most of it, but that’s the beauty of having different opinions.

    And you know what, don’t really looking much for that “maturity” that everybody is looking for(and some proclaimed they are), I guess you did already too much of what is expecting from a 27 year woman.

    The thing is: enjoy life with responsibility but a bit of naiveté because we are and we’ll always be that child that we once were. We do adult stuff but most of time we are just going with the flow and doing what people expect what we should do at our age.

    Anyway, we are just kids playing adults 🙂 always.

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