Why so much vitriol for Lena Dunham’s HBO series? Pat Brothwell thinks he gets it.
HBO recently released a trailer for season 3 of their hit series Girls.
I know about this because it blew up my news feed the other day. I’m not pretending I don’t watch it though, because I totally do. I’m just currently in between television sets. I thoroughly enjoyed season 1. I found it relatable and empathetic and laughed aloud several times. I felt like the titular girls are put together from facets of girls I know. I found Season 2 to be a little underwhelming, confusing, and frankly a little bleak for a show that categorizes itself as a comedy, but was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of storylines revolving around the “boy” characters.
If you’re unfamiliar with Girls, it’s created and largely written by 27 year-old Lena Dunham, who also plays the primary protagonist, Hannah Horvath. I know a lot of girls who love Girls. I don’t know many guys who will publicly claim to watch it, yet the majority of the viewers are male.
I also know that hating Girls, regardless of your gender, is something of a pastime in itself. The show seems like it’s been lambasted and scrutinized just as much as it’s been watched. This is not going to be a piece on why guys hate Girls. It’s going to be a piece on why people hate Girls, because much like the show itself, I believe this hatred transcends genders.
Girls was always on my radar, as evident by the earlier discussed Facebook obsessions. I didn’t watch though until this past spring when I binge watched Seasons 1 and 2 On Demand to fill the Game of Thrones sized void in my Sunday nights. From a writer’s standpoint, I was impressed. Dunham’s character’s diction and lexicon, a strange cocktail of overly educated and ignorant, is sadly one I speak, but I feel is hard to really capture. It’s also impressive when I realize that Dunham and I were both born in the spring of 1986. Whether you agree with her take on life, what she’s managed to accomplish at a young age is commendable. All in all, I enjoyed Girls.
On second thought, enjoyed might not be the right word to encapsulate what I felt. There were episodes I enjoyed. There were moments I laughed out loud. But there were also moments that made me supremely uncomfortable. I cringed not just at but with the show. This discomfort also helped me to begin formulating my own hypothesis on why this show creates so much vitriol.
Upon first viewing, I got it. The hype made sense. I get what she’s doing here, and maybe part of that has to do with being the demographic that’s being targeted (and/or skewered, depending on if you think Dunham is creating a comedy, drama, or sharp social commentary).
One of the main criticisms is that Girls is too secular. The characters are all in their mid-20s. They’re all relatively attractive and mostly educated at private liberal arts colleges. They’re floating about aimlessly in crappy Brooklyn apartments well below the standards of living in which they grew up in and deal with “easy” problems like figuring out what they want to be when they “grow up”, navigating today’s job market with English and Art History degrees, maintaining friendships when everyone is at different places and the weird nuances that go along with a world where casual sex is set up via text message. They’re “privileged” and very Caucasian.
As much as I’d like to say I’m deeper and more complex and compassionate than the characters we see, parts of me aren’t. Besides for that, I’m in my mid-20’s. I have an English degree from a private liberal arts college. I still feel like I have a lot of growing up to do and realize that a lot of my problems are eye roll inducing to some. You could throw around the term privileged if you were so inclined and I wouldn’t have a valid argument against you. And that’s one of the big complaints. These are just whiny, self-indulged brats who don’t know how good they have it. They’re vapid. They’re one dimensional. They don’t have “real problems.”
I always hate when people talk about complexity and “real problems.” It’s so subjective and situational.
Whose problems do you find real and compelling? Don Draper? He’s an alcoholic that can’t keep it in his pants. Sure, he’s “layered” and “complex” but does “critically acclaimed” mean that his burgeoning alcoholism has more depth than 32 year-old guy realizing he’s let his twenties, and much of his potential, pass him by because he was too busy snarking at anyone who pointed out otherwise?
Walter White has “real” problems. He’s an accidental drug kingpin. He might not be as “vapid” as Girls’ Shoshanna, the 21 year-old virgin who can’t seem to catch a break, but I’d rather know Shoshanna, who was mortified that she accidentally smoked crack once, rather than someone who destroys their family with a meth empire. Walter White, a complex character, kills people. Shoshanna doesn’t really love one of her grandmothers. Walt might have more depth, but who’s actually shallower?
Also, if that’s our definition of “complex,” then most of us are decidedly not which helps us segue into the question of why people hate it so much that they not only watch, but spend time writing essays dissecting the problems with the show. Why is Dunham’s brand of vapidity and self-involvement offending so many? Why are people so fast to proclaim that “the girls” in no way, shape or form define their generation?
Is it because it’s hitting too close to home?
That’s what I think.
I was able to relate to these girls (and guys) Dunham created more than I thought, especially after hearing about how awful they were. I was able to actually relate to them more than I wanted and that’s what I think has some so incensed. Whether we want to admit it or not, Girls has taken the parts of us we don’t like and magnified them, forcing a lot of us to realize that we might be more “vapid” and “shallow” and “ignorant” and“self-centered” then we’re comfortable admitting.
There’s a realism to Girls that makes it jarring. These characters’ problems are not monumental or particularly groundbreaking (and if you find abortion groundbreaking, maybe it’s time to join this century). They don’t have good jobs, they aren’t married and they don’t have children. They’re insecure. They think they’re worldlier then they are. They think their problems are really hard. How many people reading this can say “me too” to at least one of those things?
The “girls” might not be setting the world on fire, but they have time. These characters are 23 and 24. They still have the luxury of being a mess. Critics like to throw around big claims like “when I was that age, I worked three jobs and maintained a healthy relationship. I had a family that I supported.” Did you also walk uphill to school in a snow storm both ways? Times have changed. We grow up later. And who’s to say they wouldn’t step up to the plate if shit really hit the fan? You have some leeway to be self-centered and vapid in your twenties when you don’t have any kids or family to take care of. You have the luxury to party and drink and sleep around.
I mean, you could be out there volunteering at a Ugandan orphanage or soup kitchen or joining the Peace Corps, but I somehow doubt that these people taking the time to criticize Girls are the ones doing any of those things. And that’s what’s upsetting. Let’s face it. We’re a self-absorbed country. We love to talk about our problems and our opinions and hell, “selfie” was added to the dictionary this year. How many posts on this site specifically deal with fixing oneself? But we fool ourselves into thinking it’s not that. We call it self-reflection and we call it self-growth. Girls shows it in its purest and most unabashed form and instead of using it as a reflective tool, we deflect. They’re the terrible ones.
When you look at, it most of the characters we deal with on television are very self-involved. So are we. Most of the characters on television are secular. A lot of us are as well. Most characters on television have a vapid side. So do we. I’m not even going to touch on the “ignorant” argument. We’re all ignorant in some facets of life. And if you wondered where Uganda was when reading this, then you definitely don’t have a leg to stand on.
I think Girls , is just more honest with itself. It embraces the vapidity and self-involvement and ignorance that maybe the rest of us aren’t ready for yet.
Also, let’s be honest. Guys don’t want to relate to these girls, because they are girls, even though a lot of their problems are that of the non-gender-specific variety.
Do any of you out there watch Girls? Do you also find it uncomfortably relatable or do you think I’m just another entitled millennial? I’m curious to find out.