HBO’s Girls Recevies Unwarranted Internet Backlash

Lena Dunham’s new HBO television
show Girls, about Hannah (played by Dunham) and
her friends being young and confused in New York City, has lit a fire
underneath the internet that has yet to be quelled. It’s a bit strange how the
whole phenomenon happened, at least for me—and I feel that I have the right to
make this particular review more me-centric since this tendency towards self-presentation
has been the nature of much of the praise and criticism that surrounds the
show. I was sitting in a Double Tree hotel room, lovingly procured for me by my
mother who had just been confronted by the full wrath of my thesis induced
panic attack, trying to get a handle on my work and my irrational despair, when
I stumbled across an article on Girls.
Having attended a screening of Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture while visiting a friend in New York, I decided to
check it out. I watched the trailer
and was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of connection and
well-being. I am not alone! My struggles are understood! Yes my white,
upper-middle class, twenty-something female angst stems from a place of
privilege and elite education, but does this fact or even my acknowledgement of
this fact make my pain any less real or valid?

            Girls’ answer to this question is yes
and no. Yes, the fact that we (educated, white, young women) are so wrapped up
in our own self-importance, our own certainty that we have something to say and
if only the world would just cooperate and give us the attention we deserve
everyone would be profoundly moved, is ridiculous and horrible. We are, in many
ways, horrible, self-obsessed and inconsiderate. But no, we are not more
horrible than anyone else and we are not any less entitled to our suffering. We
have a right to be sad and angry, to get upset about a clingy boyfriend, a
flaky friend or an unanswered text.

This is, perhaps, where the backlash to
the show begins to irk me: why is it that in asserting her right to express her
horribleness and showcase her humiliations Dunham has offended so many? Larry
David and Louis CK utilize a similar style of self-deprecating, hyper-realistic
humor yet they are not ridiculed for naval-gazing or unexamined privilege. Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Entourage
and How I Met Your Mother are no more
racially diverse, yet they are somehow held to a different standard than Girls. This is not to say that I think Girls is exempt from such critiques or
does not bear any responsibility towards the racial landscape of television,
but it should not be forced to shoulder the weight of a larger societal trend

            Part of the
reason I think Girls is made to
account for the problems of our entire culture in a way other shows are not is
because it is aware of itself and its place within culture. It recognizes its
own privilege and attempts to engage with it in a way that is fairly
unforgiving. It is a largely non-fantasized take on a very specific sub-set of
American culture and thus refuses to insert the obligatory black supporting
characters as a way of mitigating cultural anxieties about race-relations. The
New York society that Dunham inhabits is full of white people because we are
still a country stratified by class, race and education in which there is
little mobility and lots of self-segregation. Adding a Hispanic best friend to Girls would not make this reality go
away, but it would hide it, and conceal this uncomfortable truth under the patina
of perfect equality and race-blindness.

            Many have
also criticized Girls for either being
too specific and difficult to relate to for those outside Dunham’s subject position or for
universalizing twenty-something women as the narcissistic, sexually confused
girls represented in the show. But since when, after the sixties anyway, has it
been the goal of a television program to appeal to all demographics? Everybody Loves Raymond has never
appealed to me on any level, but does
that mean it should be denied to those who do identify with its characters and
plot? Of course not. With hundreds of channels, there is more than enough
space for every demographic to have a piece of the airtime, and young, white,
educated women deserve this pandering and cathartic identification as much as working-class,
middle-aged, beer-drinking men.

            There is a
scene in the pilot episode (the only episode that has aired thus far) that
perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of some of the (especially male) backlash.
After her parents cut her off financially and she is fired from her unpaid
internship, Hannah goes to Adam’s (Adam Sackler) apartment for some deeply awkward
casual sex. She threw a fairly obnoxious hissy fit when her parents told her
they would not give her any more money, but in this scene the audience realizes
that she is aware of the ridiculousness of her situation. She asks if Adam
thinks she’s pathetic for having been supported by her parents for so long and
he, full of unexamined self-importance, assures her that her dependence is not
nausea inducing, though he explains “I wouldn’t take shit from my parents, they’re
buffoons.” He holds himself above her with so little self-consciousness that he
cannot hear the ridiculousness of his next words: “my grandma gives me $800 a
month,” which is enough so that he doesn’t “have to be anyone’s slave.” Hannah at least
is aware of where she sits within the larger picture of privilege and suffering
whereas Adam assumes that everything is his by right, by virtue of his
manliness and awesomeness and for anyone to impinge upon that would be
tantamount to slavery. Lol.

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