As usual, I’m behind the curve. But at least I’m catching up.
I’ve managed to finally get around to watching a few episodes of HBO’s “Girls.” If you don’t wade into the blogosphere or subscribe to HBO, then you may not be familiar with the Lena Dunham created and written and Judd Apatow produced half-hour dramedy. I’ll sum it up for you: “Girls” is Lena Dunham’s “Write your diary like Diablo Cody fanfic” fantasy come to life. Four twenty-something white women braving the Big Apple with jerk boyfriends and a mixed nuts group of friends and acquaintances in tow. Yes, of course it sounds familiar. Yes, the “Sex and the City” comparisons are played up and chum for glossy magazine reviews. But the show isn’t original, gritty, groundbreaking, or any of the other overly magnanimous modifiers pinned to it like a tacky corsage to a cheap prom dress.
The only success of the show is that a show with nothing new to offer managed to get made, managed to get a slew of shockingly good reviews, and managed renewal for a second season. Most of the positive reviews for “Girls” are from women. I don’t mention this to say that female critics like the show only because it’s written by and is centered on women. I mention this to highlight exactly what is wrong with this show and the portrayal of women on television generally. Noted often, and with a correct amount of amazement, is the fact that this is a show created by, written, and directed by a woman. A rare feat indeed in Hollywood. But is that reason enough to excuse the faults? It’s great to see a woman in charge of a show on a major network, but that’s not enough reason to support the show.
The most common praise improperly heaped upon “Girls” is that it’s a snapshot of young women making their way in the big city without a lot of gloss and polish. (I suppose that’s what bloggers mean when they say “gritty.”) People unaccustomed to reading their children’s twitter feeds or having an unadulterated or pre-formulated experience themselves have called “Girls” “real” and “frank.” True, the Vogue editorial panache of SATC is nowhere to be found here. Upper East Siders these gals are not. I suppose we can applaud “Girls” for being the antithesis of “Gossip Girl;” even if it accomplishes nothing else. Hannah (Dunham) and her gal-pals rolled through an Urban Outfitters on their way out of an Anthropologie catalog and hit the streets of Brooklyn with the confidence only Millennials could express with a straight face. It helps that the actresses themselves have the luxury of being from New York without actually being from New York. Children of an artist (Dunham), NBC’s Nightly News anchor (Williams), and a film and theater multi-hyphenate (Mamet). Children without the need for skill and education to back up and support their ambitions staring in a show about children without the skill or aptitude to support their ambitions let alone themselves.
It’s not without some sense of humor that I write this piece while I watch the amazing Marina Abramović documentary. Here is a artist who uses, displays, abuses, manipulates, tortures, praises and honors her body by turning it into definitive performance art. Without knowing it, Dunham is beholden to the legacy and ongoing evolution of performance art. Body as canvas, life as art work. But where Abramović (without getting off the point too much) transformed a dialogue and paradigm with her work, Dunham reinforces everything she thinks she’s breaking. The female actress portraying a female stereotype, young woman making it (or attempting to) in the city, unfiltered discussion of sex and sexuality as mode of “realness” or “authenticity.” I could go on, but I think the point is made. Dunham’s formula isn’t new and worse it’s been done better. “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Murphy Brown,” hell “Cybil” and “Designing Women” were better than this.
I rarely care for HuffPo, but in this instance I think the review hit the nail on the head (and not just because it agrees with me and I with it, though that helps):
“Girls feels less like a commentary on this generation and more like an indictment on it,” John Kubicek wrote for BuddyTV.com. “These characters have been raised believing that they’re special and that they can do anything they want. The problem is that none of them seem to want to do anything. There’s nothing particularly special about Hannah’s life, no reason that her memoirs would be remotely interesting.”
Many writers found the characters unsympathetic, mostly on account of their privilege. (Dunham is photographer Laurie Simmons’ daughter and plays the daughter of two professors on the show. Brian Willliams’ daughter Allison plays Dunham’s roommate).
“Laurie Simmons’ daughter’s best friend is Brian Williams’ daughter. She is uptight, pretty, straight-laced, and has a boyfriend who’s just too nice and loving. She wears a retainer when she sleeps, symbolically,” John Cook wrote on Gawker. “Laurie Simmons’ daughter says Brian Williams’ daughter’s boyfriend ‘has a vagina,’ a notion that isn’t at all hackneyed and retrograde when it’s uttered by a self-aware 24-year-old girl who has tattoos of illustrations from children’s books all over her body.”
I could go on, I really could. But if you’ve read any of my pieces before (especially my piece on SATC or Vogue, etc) then you probably already have a since that myopic narrow-mindedness is the fuel to my cultural rage. If you want to live in a bubble, go ahead. Enjoy your bubble. But don’t tell me that your bubble is the real world and that you’ve some how become enlightened in your bubble, from your bubble. That’s bullshit. And “Girls” is one big, privileged, white, myopic bubble. Dunham manages to insult and enslave the vary audience she thinks she’s speaking to. Is this what twenty-somethings are? Should be? Can be? More importantly, is this what we all are? Hardly. Not even close. “Girls” is Dunham’s fangirl diary experiment come to life for her and her friends’ amusement. Such a terrible, insulting, damaging shame it is for young women everywhere who now must bear the burden of this nonsense and the nonsense of brainless women posturing as generational mouthpieces.