Pretty much how I felt watching the first episode of "Girls."
So, I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new HBO show, Girls. You know the one. The one everyone’s been either passionately defending or ripping to shreds due to issues of race, gender, and class lately. I wanted to watch it, because lately it’s become more important to me to support female-helmed and female-created work. Yes, Judd Apatow is an Executive Producer, but this is Lena Dunham’s project as she’s not only the show’s creator, writer, and star, but also the director. The show also has a mostly female cast too, which is nice.
I’m not going to get into the show’s issues with race (it’s sadly accurate, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve met women like this in New York, and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, I was often the darkest person many of them hung out with). I’m also not going to talk about the show’s issues with class, though it does come off as “rich girl whining” a lot of the time.
What I want to address is the way that the show addresses a generation. The thing of it is, it’s accurate. It’s spot-on. This is, indeed, what many 20-somethings are like. However, something being accurate doesn’t necessarily make it funny or entertaining. I was surprised that, though it’s a “half-hour comedy,” I only laughed once the whole episode. (“When I look at you both, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”) The rest of the time, I alternated between sad, angry, and bored.
I hated Hannah (played by Dunham) immediately, and cringed at both her overwhelming sense of entitlement and her out and out stupidity (I’m sorry, but internships are generally for when you’re IN college. An internship TWO YEARS AFTER college with no other job?! File that under Poor Life Choices). She made me furious. However, Hannah’s entitlement has less to do with race and class and more to do with her age and the time in which she’s grown up. 20-somethings whose parents don’t support them have this sense of entitlement. 20-somethings who aren’t white have it, too. These days, you don’t have to be rich or white to feel like the world owes you something. In that sense, we’re living in the most egalitarian time ever, as there’s plenty of equal-opportunity entitlement to go around in the United States. But as much as I hated Hannah, I also hated her parents, because I knew that they were responsible for her being this way, and when Hannah calls them out on it (Hannah’s mom calls her spoiled, and Hannah correctly responds, “Well, whose fault is that?”) it was the first time I was really on her side.
Interwoven into my anger, were pockets of sadness, as I watched the lives of these 20-somethings unfold and felt sorry for them. Aren’t we supposed to look back on our 20s fondly? Enviously, even? Aren’t we supposed to wish we could go back? Well, if my 20-something life were anything like those on this show, I’d want to high-tail it out of my twenties as quickly as possible, because there’s no way I’d ever want to live like this. It’s amazing to me how, despite their huge senses of entitlement, these characters are so willing to accept the shitty circumstances of their shitty lives without thinking they deserve better. Hannah is in a fuck-buddy relationship with some guy (played by Adam Driver) who not only doesn’t seem to like her very much, but also doesn’t seem to even enjoy fucking her all that much. So, he’s neither a buddy, nor a good fuck. Their sex scene was just depressing. Like, it wasn’t even fun casual sex. It was perfunctory. Like, “I’m X years old. I should be having sex now. Doesn’t matter who with. Doesn’t matter if I enjoy it. This is what I should be doing now.” Ugh. Double cringe. Hannah also insults me as a writer. I get the whole Calling Yourself a Writer Even Though You Haven’t Finished Much of Anything thing. I’ve totally been there. What bothered me was the fact that she’s writing a memoir. Because, apparently, the thing to do in the age of reality television and social media is to write a book about yourself. Because, at 24 (and a sheltered, entitled 24 at that) you’ve totally led a life worth reading about. Riiiiight.
Hannah’s best friend, Marnie (played by Allison Williams), admits that she doesn’t love her boyfriend and says she’s going to leave him, but when Hannah asks her about it later, she’s all “No I’m not!” I guess having someone at the ready to possibly pay rent overrides being in a bullshit relationship? There’s the “worldly” Jessa (played by Jemima Kirke), who is a total cliche and seems to revel in it, as if the lives of 20-somethings have become so meta that their very lives have to be appropriated from the lives of other characters they’ve seen on TV or in movies. And lastly, there’s Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet, who gets to do much better work in her role on Mad Men), whom I just wanted to shake like a rag doll every time she was on screen.
Watching these people exist just made me sad, because they’re hopeless even in their entitlement. One’s twenties are supposed to be all about hope and possibility and the world being your oyster. The characters on Girls seem to be limiting their own existences based on arbitrary criteria they pieced together from the internet. And this may be what 20-somethings do now. And this is what saddens me. When I graduated college, I immediately moved out of my parents’ apartment, because I wanted to be on my own. Despite their willingness to have me live with them until I got married (we’re Latino. It’s a thing.), citing every reason why I should (“You wouldn’t have to pay rent!” “Mommy would cook for you!” and the ever guilt-inducing “Don’t you love us anymore?”), I didn’t want to be a burden to them. I wanted to pay my own bills, provide for myself, make my way in the world on my own. It was a matter of pride. I would’ve been ashamed to rely on my parents if I didn’t have to. Please don’t take this the wrong way. One should never be too proud to ask for help if they really need it, and on occasion, even after I moved out on my own, I had to ask my parents for money here and there to get by. But they weren’t paying my rent. They weren’t buying my groceries. I was. And I was proud of that, even when times were hard, because I was living life on my own terms. Still am.
An interview with Lena Dunham made me feel a little better in that the show is knowingly depicting these characters this way. 25-year-old Dunham is consciously commenting on their attitudes and behavior, which gives me hope that not everyone in their mid-twenties is so clueless and self-involved. Girls is a well-written show that is sadly accurate, which makes it not entertaining to me. There is not one character on this show that I care to spend an extended amount of time with. Marnie comes the closest, but even she gives me trouble, and she’s not even the protagonist. I may watch another episode, I may not. It will take a lot to get me in the mood to watch more.
Does the fact that the point of view of women in their mid-twenties doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t find it funny mean that I’m officially old? Maybe. But I’m also grateful that I came of age at a time when paying one’s dues was a badge of honor, not something to try and find a shortcut around. I’m grateful that I had the drive to make my own way. I’m also grateful that I’m officially past the bullshit that comes with being in your twenties. When these ladies get a bit older, I’ll be happy to welcome them to the world of real womanhood, where sex is something you’re supposed to enjoy, you take pride in learning before doing, and you’re never afraid to ask for what you want and need – a sense of entitlement that is the product of years of experience and work rather than pop culture.
**BTW – I just realized that all the characters have the same first and last initial. Their names are Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson, and Shoshanna Shapiro. Really?!