Guys, I’ve decided it’s probably time for me to fulfill my destiny.
I’ve also recently decided that my destiny should probably include working from home on a laptop in my pajamas all day.
You know who seem to be able to make a living at that? Bloggers. And while I definitely don’t consider myself a writer, or a very good blogger if my uber-irregular posting schedule is any indication, I do have one thing that a good blogger needs: opinions about stuff.
I also, despite my best intentions to do exactly the opposite, watch a lot of really, really great TV and have enough background in literary and film analysis that my opinions on this really, really great TV could potentially be valid. Or at least entertaining.
So let’s discuss some things, and maybe we can learn together.
I love pop culture. I love seeing metaphor where less-savvy watchers and readers only see plot. I have such a fickle yet undying love for books, music, movies, and of course, television that in brief instances this devotion turns into some legitimate analytic thought. (Read this if you don’t believe me.) And there are plenty of people out there just like me, and I love reading their thoughts on these things we categorize as entertainment but in fact may go down in history as the best insight into our current zeitgeist. YES, I SAID ZEITGEIST.
So in the interest of fulfilling my destiny as a sweatpant-couch-potato-media-historian, I bring you my current television love affair: Girls.
Plenty of people are talking about this show. It’s reflective of the past fifteen years or so of our favorite TV shows, but so different all at once. Many people hate it, or they hate the message, or they love the message but they hate the strategy for speaking the message.
Well, to that I say: I love Girls. I love the message it’s slowly driving at, and I love the unapologetic way Lena Dunham delivers this message. I also very much loved the most recent episode, Season 2 Episode 5, “One Man’s Trash.”
One of the reasons I’m cheering for Girls right now is that it’s one of the few shows meant specifically for women that my guy friends enjoy as well. There’s plenty of commentary out there on how our culture teaches women to empathize with protagonists of both genders while men are only expected to empathize with male protagonists in fiction. (Any high school lit teacher will tell you that 8 times out of 10, they pick classics with male protagonists to study so the boys in class will pay attention and be engaged in the book.) Of course there are exceptions to this rule, as well as many more gender-sensitive men – see The Fault in Our Stars by John Green for reference – but rules are rules for a reason. These frustratingly overdone stereotypes are still around, though much of the population has learned differently and thinks we’re “past that,” it still happens in mainstream media. So while I definitely enjoy watching shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or The Following with my boyfriend and roommates, I secretly rejoice every time they sit down with me to watch a show thoroughly devoted to my lady business.
It took me until the end of the second episode to really click with the show. (And with the title of that episode, “Vagina Panic,” how could I not get sucked in?) First I was annoyed by characters I saw being overtly shocking and trying too hard to be real. I was immediately wary of the Millennial generation’s developing trope of having no fucking idea who we are or what we should be doing. Television is crafting for my generation an unlikable stereotype that looks like this: A hipster who, of course, was always a hipster. She had a lackluster high school experience. She indulged in a life-changing liberal arts college experience that left her feeling arrogantly adept in the world, until she was actually faced with it. Then, realizing she has no actual experience doing anything substantial, she struggles for employment during a recession, struggles for success in a culture that no longer glorifies success in the way they glorify artistic integrity, and struggles for artistic integrity in a creative shitstorm where truly nothing is original.
I hated this stereotypical Millenial because I am that girl. All of my friends – male and female – are that girl. We just are. We can blame it on the economy, or growing up in the alternative-cool 90s, or having post-Vietnam-free-love-era parents who just didn’t discipline us enough, but I see little pieces of this Millenial struggle in everyone I know. LITERALLY EVERYONE.
So slowly, Girls has begun to parrot back to me every fear and doubt I’ve had over the course of the last seven years or so (more and more I keep forgetting I’m only 23) and turned it into a shared experience. Lena Dunham so totally gets me, you guys. And she gets me in a way that turns my worst thoughts and feelings into seriously great comedy that makes this kind of self-awareness feel earned rather than burdened unto me. Comedy that me and critics – and even the boys – can enjoy.
So, on to why I was especially impressed with this episode, “One Man’s Trash.”
1. The too-hot-for-her effect.
Patrick Wilson guest stars in this episode – in fact, there are only three people with speaking parts and he’s one of them. Hannah (Dunham) is the only girl present, so perhaps they should have temporarily renamed the series Girl until we see the return of Marni, Jessa, and Shoshanna. (Shosh being the favorite around our house.) There has been all sorts of criticism (mostly by men, I might add) that this particular episode is a fantasy for Hannah, or if it isn’t a fantasy it’s totally unbelievable because someone as attractive as Wilson’s Joshua would never have sex with an average-looking girl like Hannah. Patrick Wilson’s own wife commented on this backlash. (Chyeah, gurl.) One of the writers featured in the above “Guys on Girls” feature from Slate.com has this to say:
I felt trapped by my unwillingness to buy into the central premise. Narcissistic, childish men sleep with beautiful women all the time in movies and on TV, so why should this coupling be so difficult to fathom? I think it’s because Hannah is especially and assertively ugly in this episode. She’s rude (“what did you do?” she asks Joshua, referring to his broken marriage), self-centered (“I’m too smart and too sensitive”), sexually ungenerous (“no, make me come”), and defiantly ungraceful (naked ping-pong). In sum, the episode felt like a finger poked in my guys-on-Girls eyeball, or a double-dog dare for me to ask, How can a girl like that get a guy like this?
He goes on to qualify this a bit, but I’m sorry, some pretty gross sexism is still apparent. We see average-looking guys with beautiful girls all the time, but when one show flips that around and portrays a traditionally attractive guy with an average girl? Preposterous. Unbelievable. And Hannah acted so ugly and “defiantly ungraceful” – how dare Lena Dunham show off her boobs so much! Which brings me to my next point.
2. Let’s stop glorifying boobs.
Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great too. But I’ve read online and heard more than one complaint that Dunham shows her boobs too much. Who cares? Once you’ve seen them the first time, isn’t the mystery gone? So why does it matter that they keep reappearing? Like you’ve never played topless ping pong? (Okay, I haven’t either, but it’s not that weird.) Hannah bares her body the same way she bares her emotions, and it’s less about itimacy or titillation and more about being emotionally bare for the audience. Relating back to how this show characterizes the Millenial generation – most of us aren’t really that phased by sweater puppets anymore anyway, are we?
On to the third, and most difficult, point.
3. Hannah is neither a good person, nor a bad person, she’s just a very good reflection of the decisions we make and how they reflect our self-esteem.
I’m focused again on the writer who called Hannah rude, self-centered, sexually ungenerous, and defiantly ungraceful. There are moments on the show where each of the main characters portray all of these less-than-stellar traits. For instance, when Jessa failed to show up to her own abortion to make out with a stranger, while her friends waited patiently at the clinic in the hopes of cheering her up. Or when Marni breaks up with her devoted, loving boyfriend because she’s bored and then spends every episode since then pining for him. Or when anxiety-ridden Shoshanna unknowingly smokes crack and causes all sorts of hilarious havoc. The epiphany she experiences toward the end of this episode, after Joshua “saves” her from the shower, is both incredibly self-indulgent and realistic. She simply wants “all the things” – and don’t we all? (I’m instantly reminded of a Winston rant from New Girl regarding sex and intimacy with a girl who is also a great friend; “Can’t a guy just want all the things?”) It’s materialistic and self-searching but ultimately, having this awareness will allow Hannah to grow a little. Though she ignores Joshua’s instistance that his name is not “Josh” (“It’s the same name with an extra sound at the end”) and brushes off his anecdote about an childhood homosexual experience, he represents the adulthood she is loathe to admit she’s striving for and failing at. Her two-day relationship with Joshua is never actually about relating to Joshua. It’s an escapist journey of self-discovery.
I hope people keep writing about this show and demystifying the aspects of it that people “don’t get.” (For instance, check out the comments below this insightful review.) I think it’s original and truthful, and I may just blog about it again after forthcoming episodes.
This may be pretty rambley, and I have nearly enraged the boyfriend by blogging through much of Watchmen, but if you read the whole thing then we’re probably BEST FRIENDS. Hope I gave you something to think about, or at least a worthwhile endorsement of the show. If you’re into more reading, take a gander at these:
The New York Observer – Five Essay Prompts
The New Yorker – That Sex Scene on Last Night’s Girls
New York Magazine – It’s Different for Girls
(Totally unaware all my linked articles were from “New York” themed resources, but is it any wonder considering the setting of the show? They’re still good reads.)
Catch you all the next time I attempt to fulfill my destiny via internets.