Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lauren Brownlow: A Defense of 'Girls'

Note: Please welcome the first ever guest writer to the blog, Lauren Brownlow. If you are not familiar with Lauren's work she covers the ACC for the Stanford Herald and blogs about basketball at http://lebrownlow.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on Twitter @lebrownlow. We've had some discussions about the HBO show Girls, which I appreciate but don't exactly like. Lauren expressed some interest in writing about the show and after much begging I got her to allow me to post it here.

The most common criticism I’ve heard of HBO’s “Girls” is that it’s not relatable. It’s a show about four white girls who are spoiled, entitled and whose lives revolve around so-called First World Problems.

But I think a lot of those people are seeing a mirror of themselves and they don’t like what they see. Their holier-than-thou attitude about the decisions these 20-something girls make fresh out of college turn them into the very people Lena Dunham is trying to lampoon.

The title itself is ironic. These “girls” are at least 23 years old and technically women. But they’re still transitioning to adult life, getting subsidies from their parents to live in New York City and pursue their dreams. They’re living independent lives and trying to form their own sense of self while struggling to let go of some of their more adolescent tendencies.

And like most 20-somethings fresh out of school of this generation, they think that they’re more important than they really are. All we’ve grown up hearing is how we can do anything we wanted in life and we should do what makes us happy. We’re each a unique and special flower.

But in case anyone hasn’t heard (and the show makes this abundantly clear), the economy is pretty bad. Oh, and sometimes you’re not nearly as gifted as you think you are. Maybe you have to get a job you hate just to make ends meet. Maybe your art history or philosophy major isn’t as
useful as you thought it would be.

I’ve grown out of that stage now. I’m married and almost 29 years old. But I remember what it was like to be fresh out of college, just waiting for the day when some prestigious magazine or newspaper “discovered” me.

I had an unpaid internship and though I could have lived with my parents for free, they paid for me to live with three girlfriends in Chapel Hill. I had an online tutoring job on the side that paid next to nothing, but made me feel justified in taking their money. And I would have stuck with that unpaid internship for 2-3 more years, like Hannah was prepared to do with her publishing internship in New York City, if the alternative meant having to get a real job.

In other words, I was one of them. So while some have criticized the show by saying it’s not relatable, I would argue that it’s very relatable. Maybe I’m the only person willing to admit that I was an adolescent girl not ready to grow up and embrace life’s responsibilities. Or maybe I’m willing to admit that in my 20’s, I was pretty terrible and made some awful decisions.

Like Hannah, I’ve had relationships with multiple guys like her Adam, who treats her like crap most of the time but gives her enough glimpses of affection that she rationalizes away his asshole behavior.

Like Marnie, I’ve allowed myself to feel superior to those around me because of how much more “responsible” I am than they are, while secretly envying their free lifestyle. I know fully-grown women who still do this.

Like Shoshanna (who’s probably the least complex character on the show so far but makes for some nice comic relief), I’ve often felt like the least experienced person on the planet. And I nearly cheered aloud when Jessa chastised Shoshanna for reading a self-help book about relationships: “I’m offended by all of the ‘supposed-to’s’. I don’t like women telling other women what to do or how to do it or when to do it.”

Just because I am or was like them doesn’t mean that I like them. Jessa flits around in bohemian outfits and shamelessly flirts with the father of a family she’s babysitting for. Hannah tries to have sex with her much-older boss who was sexually harassing her “just for the experience”.

Marnie recoils any time her devoted, doormat boyfriend of five years touched her. After he broke up with her, she convinced him not to and in the throes of makeup sex (literally) she dumped him again, just so she could regain control. Shoshanna uses phrases like “totes” (for “totally”) and says things like “So, I hear you’re getting an STD test. Fun!”

Is it more fun to watch a show like Sex and the City, where four middle-aged women live in preposterously large apartments and have seemingly endless budgets with which to buy designer shoes and clothes, with the poshest parts of New York City nightlife as a backdrop? Maybe.

But in the end, what did that show really say? In six seasons, we learned that Samantha liked to have tons of sex and spoke in nothing but Cosmopolitan-esque innuendo. But did we ever learn why she was commitment-phobic? Did we ever feel like she was a real person? (Or do you actually know someone who would pull a random delivery man/woman into his/her office for
midday sex?)

Already in six episodes, we’ve learned that Hannah has low self-esteem and was spoiled by her parents, who continue to indulge her dreams of being a writer despite not being sure themselves if she’s any good. We’ve learned that Jessa had a bad relationship with her mother starting from an early age, which has made her anti-relationship, anti-family and anti-establishment.

Does that make them sympathetic? Not really. But it gives them dimension. And there have been times in all of our lives when we thought our own experiences were the most important thing ever and that everyone should want to know about them and share in them. It’s part of the reason we blog and Tweet incessantly.

We are the generation of reality television, after all, where everyone’s thoughts and feelings and emotions are chronicled in “confessionals”. It started out organically in the early days of MTV’s “Real World” until even reality TV became a reflection of what producers thought viewers wanted to see.

Lena Dunham is lampooning herself to a degree when, as Hannah, she calls herself the Voice of Her Generation in an opium-induced rant. And even then, she quickly adds: “Or, a voice.”

This show is about our generation, though. If people think the show isn’t worth watching because the characters aren’t likable, it might be because our generation kind of sucks. But if we have nothing else, we should have some self-awareness. Of course, as “Girls” shows us, we tend to lack that too. But we should at least be able to laugh at how stupid we can be.

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