“We don’t even know if her writing is any good. And what if she wakes up, and she’s 30, and what does she know how to do?”
“She knows how to have fun. She does what she wants to do, when she wants to do it, and she has fun–and then she thinks about that fun and she learns from that fun.
Thanks to Xfinity and the promotion they have going on that seems geared to target people who get obsessive about things they really like, but only for a short period of time, I managed to watch two entire series of the much-buzzed-about HBO show “Girls”. I haven’t watched the show for a number of reasons, but the main one is the fact that I don’t have HBO. I also no longer have Blockbuster Online, since their service turned to absolute crap, so really, there are few ways of seeing the show.
After 20 episodes plus commentary with Lena Dunham, I can say that I do indeed like the show. I was prepared not to. In fact, over the past 36 hours, I’ve seen Lena Dunham naked so many times that I think I might be in a relationship with her. I feel like I should be buying her dinner or something, because I probably know more about her character’s sex life than my own. I don’t really think we should keep seeing each other. There is no physical attraction whatsoever, and she seems remarkably self-involved. Yet, I keep watching.
And, strangely enough, that kind of defines the phenomenon that is “Girls”.
One of the reasons I stayed away from this show is because of all the media buzz surrounding it. From haters who summarize it as “over-privileged twenty-something white girls whining about imaginary problems” to pro-feminist bloggers who write about “rape scenes” and “lack of female sexual empowerment” in a show that’s supposed to be about young women *becoming* independent and empowered, there was enough to make me think I was better off not watching it. Not to mention the fact that, plot-wise, it seemed like a younger, poorer “Sex And The City” (you’ve got the quirky writer, the prudish skinny brunette, the wild child, and no Miranda—she’s been replaced by a somewhat manic 21-year-old virgin. Redheads were not popular in casting, apparently. )
Many of my friends loved the show, assured me I would love the show, and as a female creative person who is vocally supportive of other female creative people getting out there and being “real”, I would love Lena Dunham.
However, all the interviews and publicity I saw about Lena Dunham seemed to reference her looks and her weight and her nude scenes, and how being an “average” woman on TV was groundbreaking. Something about all this just made me feel uncomfortable rather than interested. Perhaps it’s because of the 145-pound actress making self-deprecatory comments about her weight and her appearance through her character, while simultaneously sending out the message that it’s cool to be comfortable with yourself—-and by the way, this is what the average “real” woman looks like, so we should get more comfortable with that, too—and the fact that the mixed messages made me uncomfortable. Since gaining some weight two years ago, I’m about the same size she is (although we’re clearly shaped differently) and her show is littered with references about how her character is “plain” and “fat”. Does this make me “plain” and “fat”, and even if I happen to be those things, do I want to see a reflection of them on TV? Or is the point that her character is NOT “plain” and “fat” and “weird”, it’s just how she sees herself?
In any case, something about the whole thing made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, and I figured this was either a show that I couldn’t relate to at all, or would be a good way for an insecure person to reinforce insecurities by seeing some sort of reflection of herself in a character that was described with not particularly positive attributes. Thus,about a month ago, when I was approached by what turned out to be a guy far too young for me who compared me to Lena Dunham, I didn’t necessarily take it as a compliment, although he obviously meant it as one.
The idea of watching this show scared me, in a way, because it’s not often on television you see a brutally honest depiction of someone who in some way reminds you of yourself. In a way, this is a type of scripted television that’s way more real than any “reality TV” or “true life story” you’ll see, and I can see why it would be uncomfortable and intimidating. While not all the characters on the show are as real and brutally uncomfortable as Hannah (the character based on Dunham’s own life experience), some are. Almost all have moments that make you cringe, while at the same time, you recognise these things have happened to you or someone you know.
“Girls” entertains, but unlike “Sex And The City”, it makes you feel uncomfortable and doesn’t apologise for that. It shows people at their best, and at their worst. Surprisingly enough, the scene that made me feel the most uncomfortable wasn’t one with Lena Dunham present at all. One of the characters is a very experienced, likeable, and totally irresponsible hippie type who ends up in a screaming match with someone she believes loves her. Instead, he ends the relationship by tearing her down in the most vicious ways possible, and she doesn’t even flinch. When he says, rather than loving her, he considers her a mistake and a “whore with a terrible work ethic”, she hits him. At the same time, you barely see her react to being verbally abused, making it obvious that this seemingly confident character has never actually been loved by anyone, despite her greater experience with the world. It made me terribly uncomfortable to watch, and I actually felt somewhat damaged after seeing that scene, to which I could relate a little too much.
I think that’s what the show does, and it is why Lena Dunham isn’t just the overrated, controversial twenty-something of the moment. She (along with Judd Apatow) take what should be one-dimensional characters we’ve all seen before, and put them in situations of such vulnerable honesty that there are moments that are tremendously emotionally affecting. While I’m pretty vocal about my feminist viewpoints, I honestly didn’t see anything in the show that made me angry enough to not watch the show. Sometimes, the girls on the show are in situations where they are not treated nicely by men, and by each other. Again, there are things that are hard to watch. But they’re also things that anyone who has made it through their twenties living a relatively unsheltered, adventurous lifestyle has probably experienced (the funniest episode is undoubtedly the one where Dunham’s character does cocaine with her gay ex-boyfriend as “research” for a story).
I don’t necessarily feel the need to see Lena Dunham naked more frequently, and the character she portrays on the show is far from stable (not that any of them are), but it’s really difficult to listen to her talk about her creation and not like where she’s coming from. She’s definitely a cool, creative person, and I wish the press had focused more on the positive aspects of her show and her persona. In this day and age, almost anyone can be a blogger, an aspiring filmmaker, an artist whose favourite subject is “Telling the story of my life”. That’s often mistaken for shallow self-absorption or shameless attention whoring (we can all thank the cast of “Jersey Shore” and anyone in the Kardashian family for that.). However, it’s downright ballsy to do it in a way that not only doesn’t idealise or glamourise those you know and the situations around you, but is willing to show you at your lowest and most “unbeautiful”.
That’s reality, and while I may have avoided the show out of an instinct that it would make me uncomfortable, that’s also precisely why I needed to watch it. It’s why most women in their early 20′s to early 30′s could benefit from watching it. Sometimes, life isn’t pretty, and no matter how time you invest in the right manners, the right job, the right makeup, the right clothes, and the right friends, you’re not always going to be so pretty, either.
Yet, most of the time, if you’re lucky, you’ll have people around who love you anyway. They may never understand you, they may get mad at you and think you’re not worth the trouble until it occurs to them that everyone is insufferable sometimes, and some may walk away when you need them. But, in the end, there are always people who love you, and they’ll come back for you anyway…even when you don’t deserve it.
I consider my 36-hour fling with Lena Dunham and her colourful cast of characters to be one of the most rewarding I’ve had in some time. I’d highly recommend.