Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I know what Girls want

I fucking love “Girls.” Both the gender and the TV show. My love for both are intertwined and layered. My love of women, particularly smart creative ones, led me to the show. My love of the show, even its flaws and unflattering bits, deepened my love for women. While it’s certainly not chicken egg – girls, lower case “g,” came way, way, wayyyyy first – they compliment each other in unexpected ways.

So it is with curiosity, commiseration and concern that I watch the backlash and reaction to the show. Which is, in itself, a fascinating look at gender politics and other things someone at some college somewhere is no doubt writing a very wordy thesis about this very second. Criticism of the show, its whiteness and privilege, entitlement and narcissism, have been there since day one and everyone and anyone has weighed in with varying degrees of insight. (James Franco, whatever dude. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thoughtful perspective, man.) Hell, even all the AfterEllen writers engaged in a spirited more than 60-string long email chain dissection of the show last week.

Now I have no problem with people pointing out some very valid concerns with the show, particularly those about the show’s lack of ethnic diversity. I am all for showing a more inclusive world, I am all for more perspectives and more otherness. Give me more, make it authentic, fuck tokenism. But I am also a realist who knows that no one television show can be all things to all people. Nothing can represent us all, can show every aspect of life’s unending kaleidoscope. So then what I ask, nay demand, is that it does the best it can with its small slice on the wheel.

And with that, that is where I think “Girls” triumphs. Hannah’s experiences may not be yours. And there’s a very good possibility you wouldn’t even want to be her friend, or hang with her friends. She is at once a classic and singular American antihero. Classis in that she is the lead who does bad things and allows her weaknesses to show. Yet singular in that female antiheroes are rare and rarer still are those without violent agency like your Lisbeths or Faiths or even Starbucks. Others far smarter than I have already espoused on Hannah’s unique place in the antihero pantheon, but suffice it to say the female intellectual antihero is a character I could watch all day, every day.

Which brings me to the criticism of “Girls” and its creator Lena Dunham that bothers me the most. The arguments that essentially boil down to this: Where does this young girl who doesn’t deserve it get off? And it’s one that Dunham herself addressed in this week’s sly postcard of an episode, “One Man’s Trash.” The setup, for those who do not watch, was that Hannah meets a handsome, older, successful doctor Joshua, in the form of Patrick Wilson, after he complains about trash from the café where she works being placed in his garbage can. They embark on an unlikely and unexpectedly intimate two-day affair that challenges Hannah’s, and the viewers’, beliefs on happiness and who exactly deserves it.

On a meta level, it’s sadly predictable to see the criticism of the episode which, again, boils down to this: How in the world does fattie Hannah deserve to land hottie Joshua? We have soon conditioned to see blindingly attractive people hook up with equally blindingly attractive people on TV that when a dichotomy emerges we recoil almost instinctively in horror. Wait, let me add an important caveat to that, we recoil when the dichotomy favors the female we believe to be lesser. Other way around and no problem-o. If you think I’m kidding, please witness Kevin James’ entire career. So with this episode you have reviews convinced the whole thing had to be a dream because, bro, no way he wanted to bang her in real life.

One of the things I find most refreshing about “Girls,” aside from its unvarnished look at the self-centered floundering of one’s early twenties, is how it allows Lena Dunham to be naked in every sense possible. Yes, yes – we could have another long discussion about female sexuality and the inequality of exposed flesh in popular culture. Yet it’s almost exciting how Hannah represents the everywoman of nakedness. While she may not be the voice of a generation, one could certainly argue that she is the body of one. More women look like Lena would playing topless ping pong than her co-star super svelte Allison Williams, and that’s just a fact. Yet her very average, very normal body type is seldom shown on TV, let alone allowed to bare itself entirely.

Now, back to the episode itself, which beyond being meta is also a pensive look at our own feelings of self worth, definitions of happiness and trial runs at adulthood. As much as some viewers might think Hannah doesn’t deserve to be – if even fleetingly – with someone like Joshua, neither does Hannah herself. Because for all the grown-up things she thinks she shouldn’t want as a starving artist – “the fruit in the bowl and the fridge and the stuff” – she can’t help but be attracted to the comfortable trappings of domesticity. And she also can’t help but sabotage her own momentary happiness with her shotgun definition of intimacy and exhausting loop of introspection.

And so, it ends – just as quickly and quietly as it began. And I am left, as I often am after 30 minutes of this show, wanting more. More of these strange and often silly and certainly self-indulgent lives. More stories told by women of any and all ages. Of any and all races, sexual orientations, classes, experiences. Because there are far too stories told by women, created by women, run by women on TV in the first place. The world needs more Tina Feys, Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kalings and, yes, Lena Dunhams. And while we might never all agree on the merits of “Girls,” I hope we at least can all be happy it exists in the first place.


Rachelle said...

"I fucking love Girls" - I have the exact same reaction at the end of every episode...I was going to post the exact same sentence at my end... :P

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Starker: excellent review. An Intellectual antihero, rarely seen in film or tv. Which forces us to gauge our own feelings of self worth. Well said.

Tracy said...

Agree. Agree. Agree. I'm sick of the Girls haters. Lena is a brave, fucking genius. And she puts it out there- her stories- like a performance artist- and sometimes it makes me downright uncomfortable, but I usually have a shit eating grin on my face, and she totally gets off and she totally deserves it.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a brilliant episode and I love how she is giving the finger to the predominant view of women and sexuality in film. Because Hannah is funny and smart and open which is sexy. I don't want her as my friend but I get what LD is doing with this character and I like it.
I think she is incredibly brave.

Amanda Morrell said...

Thank you thank you. I tell people that even with all the weird hetero sex, I still watch this show for it's incredible writing and realism.

Also, I yelled a dude Saturday at a party for comparing this show to Sex and the City. Insulting.


Anonymous said...

PREACH!!! What you said woman:)

Anonymous said...

I barely made it through two episodes -- and I really wanted to like it, because some friends highly recommended it. Alas, I think the only thing that would make it even remotely watchable would be if it were categorized as what it is in my mind: a highly tragic drama. I TRIED desperately to find ANYTHING funny or even mildly amusing. Nada. Oh well, as you said: not every show can be for everybody.

Tracy said...

I'm not saying you have to like it... Just that I really didn't start liking it until about 5 or 6 episodes in. Like a car wreck, I couldn't look away, and then at some point I just realized that I was confusing how flawed these people were with the quality of the show. The characters are SO FLAWED that they sometimes suck, but the show, especially the writer/actor/director/creator is pretty amazing.

Anonymous said...

While I won't say everything she does is wrong, it bothers me how racist she can be. Her article about visiting Japan was disgusting. And then there's that time she veiled herself as a joke and only issued an apology about the timing being wrong instead of apologizing for the act itself.

S said...

"What I want to add to the debate is a small piece of truth that gets glossed over. In response to the complaint of white writers about writing about people of color: "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't," I want to say: absolutely.

It's absolutely true. You're damned either way. If you don't do it, you're a racist. Yes, you are. Race and racism exist in this society, and if you ignore them, you're expressing a racial privilege that you don't, morally, have any right to. That's a subtle form of racism.

If you do do it and get it "wrong", you'll get reamed, and rightfully so. It's presumptuous of you to think that you have the right to represent a culture you don't belong to if you can't be bothered to properly examine and accurately portray that culture.

Further, if you do it and get it "right", or rather, don't get it wrong, you'll still get reamed by members of that culture you've represented who rightfully resent a white writer's success representing their culture. After all, every American ethnic minority has its writers: good and bad. The good writers are mostly ignored. Inevitably, some white writer will come along and do a bang-up job portraying that culture and will get--in one book, in one section of a book--more attention than the poc writer got over the course of three or five or ten books.

You're a white writer trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, it's wrong. And that's so unfair to you, isn't it?

Welcome to a tiny taste of what it's like to be a person of color.

Oh, and quit complaining."


Anonymous said...

Its funny how you omitted the mention of Dunham and another Girls writers racist comments. Maybe thats why non-white women arent interested in watching the show. We are subjected to enough abuse without having to support a woman who thinks its funny to mock racial minorities. Also if she had made homophobic comments the white lesbians sure as hell wouldnt be supporting her but racism is A Ok.

Taylor Hatmaker said...

Great analysis and my thoughts exactly :)