A Message to HBO’s ‘Girls’

So a couple of days late and multiple dollars short, I finally got to watch the first episode of Lena Dunham’s new HBO show. Unless you’ve been living under a rock – in which case you’ve missed being gleefully assaulted by all the marketing and preemptive opinion pieces about what exactly Ms. Dunham is trying to say about women in their early 20’s – you know the drill. Dunham and her merry band of co-stars, the titular girls all being the daughters of famous people in real life, explore and exploit the Bright Lights, Big City aspect of living in New York. This is a world that’s part-Woody Allen, Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld, Whit Stillman, Jay McInerney and of course, Candace Bushnell. A world where people spend a lot of time talking about doing things they then don’t do; where no one shows up on time to dinner parties thrown in their honor; and where it is acceptable at twenty-five to wheedle money out of your parents to support your artistic fancies while calling an unpaid internship ‘work.’ In short, this is the life of the upper-middle class liberal arts college graduate set adrift in a major metropolis. Picture Miranda July twenty years ago but with less whimsy.

Based on only viewing one episode, I can safely assert that Ms. Dunham has a sharp wit and casts a gimlet eye towards the pitfalls of being young. Most of the bloggers and writers casting aspersions on the lack of romance in the show probably have either never lived in New York, where many young new inhabitants engage in a sort of courtship (that seems at times to border on paraphilia) with the city, or have forgotten, maybe never experienced, the fumbled sweaty interludes, a heady mixture of desire, daring and wanting to be wanted, that can make up the bulk of early sexual experiences. Personally, I know that it takes a while to believe in one’s own self-worth, to make sound decisions, to start showing up on time for dinner. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who bemoaned the lack of a maturation ritual in American life; he posited that the dearth of such a rite essentially extends adolescence, allowing us to wallow in juvenility long past its sell-by date. So with that, I’d like to offer a few short missives to the women of ‘Girls’. Think of it like texts or something.

Marnie: Your boyfriend is gay. Or should be gay? I think he’s gay. Dump him. Also he never knocks before coming into the bathroom, what is that about?

Hannah: Get a job, girlfriend. Maybe get a real boyfriend? Definitely stop whining.

Jessa: “I’m pregnant” is not an appropriate reason to be late for dinner. Also, use that excuse once and you can never use it again. Just saying.

The one who wears a lot of pink: Any person who doesn’t think that Sex and the City is incredibly depressing needs to see an analyst. Also, maybe less pink?

And finally to Ms. Dunham, kudos on being a twenty-five-year-old woman who has written, directed, produced and starred in her own television show. Thanks for providing such honest dialogue that sounds like people I know, and being smart enough to call your show ‘Girls,’ because these people are definitely not women yet. I hope that you can also begin to populate your world with people who look like people I know, even me for example. Anyone who doesn’t realize that women of color have also graduated from college with seemingly meaningless degrees, had unfulfilling sexual experiences and worried about money is almost determinedly myopic in their outlook. We exist, Lena Dunham. We exist! Also, you maybe get a pass on whatever that homeless African-American character was supposed to be about, but for a show whose initial episode displays a crippling lack of diversity, having the only other non-White actor with a speaking part play a homeless man does not bode well. I realize that there’s a lot of pressure riding on you, Lena. Of course this is a direct by-product of there not being enough representation to go around. We want ‘Girls’ to be all girls everywhere, and of course it can’t be. By the same token, please recognize what a unique space you’re occupying in our cultural conversation. As Sondheim once wrote, “Give us more to see.”

This post originally appeared on This Lobster Loves You, and is cross-posted with permission.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

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