Thursday 6 February 2014

Girls: I see what you're doing here (sorta)

Girls is one of those programmes that seems to have been written about almost more than it's been watched. It seems like everyone* has to have an opinion on it, and I've read so many things about whether or not it's racist, or not aware enough of white privilege, or any of those extremely important things that somehow aren't ever talked about with say The Sopranos, or Breaking Bad, or any show that features predominately white men, but there you go. I think that the fact that these conversations are being had is actually a really good thing (20 years ago, when Friends came out, I can guarantee that no one was saying 'but why are they all white? This isn't representative of New York') but it annoys me that they're all targeted at Girls when so many other shows also fail in inclusivity.

But. This isn't even what I want to talk about, so I'm going to move on.

I've been thinking a lot about Girls since I read this recap after the most recent episode. Girls gives us four, mostly unlikeable characters to think about and talk about** but of these, Hannah is the most developed, and probably the most interesting to me. I feel like I should give a little summary of her character, but you're not really going to be reading this unless you watch Girls, are you? But ok, just in case: Hannah is an aspiring writer, sometimes OCD sufferer, who has trouble expressing the things she wants from other people and is usually the most self-centred person anyone has ever come across. Apart from Jessa, probably, but that's another issue.

So, in this most recent episode, Hannah goes to her book editor's funeral, where, you know, people are sad and things, and all she can talk about is the future of her as yet unpublished book. It's possibly fair enough to be concerned about this, but to constantly bring it up at a funeral? DOES SHE HAVE NO SHAME?***This has all really served to further reinforce Hannah's selfishness and her complete inability to act appropriately in any situation, and it was really annoying. The other thing we really learnt about her this week was that her book is literally just things that have happened to her in her life, and she believes that, without more experiences that have probably damaged her a fair amount, she'll be ruined as a writer because apparently she can't make things up? I don't know. But the point is, I think this tallies with a lot of things we already know about Hannah, and so I think we've come to an interesting point in the series.

Here's what I'm getting at: At the start, Hannah likes this guy (Adam) and he doesn't really seem to be that into her, and she keeps going back to him and it's really really difficult for us to see why. Then, later in the first season, things switch a little, and we see that, actually, Hannah has been at fault in their relationship by never ever asking for anything of him, and that Adam isn't as bad of a guy as we maybe thought. I feel like what we've learnt now is, the reason Hannah kept going back was for the experience. Here's this guy who doesn't treat her well at all, but he's kind of weird and could do strange things at any time, so she might as well keep seeing him. I think I'm probably over-simplifying things slightly (I think she genuinely liked him too, but that's not all that was going on) but that's definitely a thing I think about.

And then there are all the other things she does that seem exciting and interesting, but it's like, she does them to say that she's done them, rather than because she actually wants to. Which, I suppose, is fine for her to do if she thinks it's going to help her as a writer, but wouldn't it actually be more honest for Hannah to sit down and listen to herself and actually think about the things that she wants to do, and things which might make her happy, instead of searching for the next thing that might give her material.  I'm actually only just realising how awesome this is of Lena Dunham because in a way, isn't this what so many people do now? Because Facebook and Twitter and Instagram all exist, there's a certain amount of pressure to at least look like you're living a certain way, so even if you don't necessarily want to do something, you might do it anyway because it 'looks cool.'

A giant rave looks cooler on Instagram than reading a book, is what I'm saying, but only one of them is going to make you smarter. (Why yes, I am 80 years old.)

And then there's the lack of empathy thing. I don't know if I want to say that Hannah has always lacked empathy, and she's definitely not the only character you can charge with it, but there's a definite lack in her relationships with others because she doesn't really seem to care how they feel. I'm not even sure that the problem is a lack of caring, so much as caring SO MUCH about herself that the thoughts and feelings and actions of others that aren't about her are just like white noise that doesn't really get through. Hannah is the centre of the Universe, and that's the way she likes it, and that's that.

There are so many examples of this self-absorption, but this week's phone call with her dad, where he mentions he's had a procedure and she doesn't really seem to hear him kind of beat everything else in the selfishness stakes for me. But then, I guess I'm forgetting the time her editor died and she only thought about herself, and the time her friend had sex with her gay ex-boyfriend and she only thought about herself (rather than her friend's implosion) and the time she thought collecting her friend from rehab would be a good experience to write about.

I just... It's becoming really really difficult to like Hannah, and I think that's kind of the point- you're not supposed to like her, maybe you're just supposed to pity her for being 25 and not having a clue what she's doing, or maybe you're supposed to look at her and go 'daaaamn, am I like that? I MUST CHANGE MY WAYS' because 20-something girls? Sort. It. Out. Something which the above article really got me thinking about though was the idea that actually, by only thinking about herself, Hannah is missing out so so much on the experiences and lives of others. Not only would paying attention to this make Hannah a better person, it would also make her a better writer because only writing from your own perspective? Not necessarily all that interesting. Or at least not after the first book.

Basically, I don't really have a basically to sum all this up with. This is more just a 'look at these things I've observed from Girls, at least Hannah's character is consistent!' kind of thing. I'd love to speculate on where the rest of this season might be going, but I honestly don't know- if Hannah could grow and learn to listen to others then that would be awesome, but I don't know if she might be going the other way and be about to stab someone or something 'for the experience'. (Probably not that, it's not really that kind of show) Either way, I know I'll be there watching it, you know. For the experience.

Have you been watching Girls? TELL ME THE THINGS YOU THINK AND FEEL.

*'Everyone' in internet terms, of course. I think I know maybe one person in real life who's actually watched it.
**And and they all have alliterative names and I only realised that the other day and it's very exciting to me!
***She does not. I think that's most of the point.


  1. The first paragraph sums up the reason I love your blog so much. YES! To all those things. I, however, have not seen Girls because I don't have HBO and don't want to pay for it. I've seen mostly negative reviews on pretty much every website (but you summed up that explanation rather well in the first paragraph). I really have only wanted to watch it because people are apparently pissed off that the nudity isn't sexy SO I definitely it deserves a watch if you can offend people that bad. The nerve?!? Haha. Anyway, I'll have much more to say once I actually watch the show.

    1. Awww, thank you! But yeah, I really just think that Girls shouldn't have to take the blame for an issue that's literally an epidemic in the media, basically because it's written by a young, successful woman (I think. It's like 'HOW DARE SHE HAVE A HIT SHOW AND BE YOUNG AND HAVE A VAGINA? We must show everyone that she's actually evil.')

      But anyway! It's definitely, definitely worth a watch, and OMG yes the nudity thing. Moaning about which is also sort of sexist- 'how dare this woman have a body that isn't what we've all apparently agreed is 'perfect' and show it on TV? THE NERVE.' But yeah- I genuinely really love Girls, even when I hate everything they do hahaha.

  2. I love Girls but, apparently more controversially, I actually love Hannah. I don't have any problems with it not being representative of anything other than young, white, privileged-even-if-they-don't-think-they-are women because it really only features a handful of characters anyway. If there was a cast of hundreds and there was NOBODY that wasn't white/female or whatever, I'd get it but there are a handful of regular characters and I think that trivialising everything that the programme does right by focussing on race or other issues that it doesn't address is probably a sign that some people have not enough to worry about.

    I don't hate any of the characters either, really. I love Hannah because she is selfish and disorganised and makes decisions for the wrong reasons but she tries really hard, is adorable with Adam and his sister in the third series and I think she's actually pretty representative of the majority of 24 year old women. I'd like to think that I'm not self-centred but could I honestly say that I've never done something just so that I can experience it or do something different that I probably shouldn't do or that I haven't for a second thought about how someone else's life crisis might affect me? Nope. And I figure that the same is probably true for most people and that Lena Dunham might be quite clever for admitting that. Plus, even though she does in part go to collect Jessa to experience something, she does go to collect her, which is more than some people would do for their friends so...I don't know. I just like her. A lot.

    It also bugs me that people fell all over Sex and the City and never really mentioned that they were in no way representative of the vast majority of the people watching it and applauded the sex and nudity because it was "real" (and happened to have the advantage of featuring super attractive, designer underwear wearing skinny women) but nobody is patting Girls on the back for doing something very similar but without the apparent glamour?

    Let's sum up because this is super long already (I have many feelings about this programme and all of them are good): That wasn't a rant, just a consequence of the fact that you're the first person that I've seen post about it in the three weeks or so that I've been binge-watching all of the episodes I can. I totally love it and I actually don't have any complaints at all :)

    1. See above: re sexism and race and all those other lovely things. Because I really genuinely believe it comes down to, 'this girl gets a tv show all of her own? Let's bring her down a peg or two.' What especially annoyed me about the whole race thing is that after ONE episode they were going 'it's totally too white.' ANYTHING COULD HAVE HAPPENED. And yes, there's the whole privilege thing happening too! Damn, I hate everything.

      I like Hannah in certain ways, but there are just ways in which she's just so clueless and self-absorbed and it's like ughhhh, just look outside yourself for ONE SECOND, please! But then when she had the whole OCD thing, I was totally worried about her like she was my actual friend, so there's that.

      I think that, stuff like SATC and Friends and things all came along in a really really different time to now (i.e. pre-internet) so there weren't really things like episode recaps and over analysing and all that lovely hyper-over-aware stuff there is now, so whilst it was just like magazines going 'ooh, SATC, you so daring!' now it's more like 'Girls, I suppose you're daring, but these are all the minutiae of what you're doing wrong, too.' Things like unexamined privilege and race and stuff didn't even really come into it when SATC was around, and like I said, I AM glad we're talking about it now, I'm just not glad that it's aimed at ONE actually really good tv show when so many others just don't even try to do anything interesting or real or anything (shit like Two And A Half Men, you know).

      I'm so glad I could fulfil your Girls-rambling based needs!

  3. So I sort of skimmed this since I have not seen Girls. But I've heard of it cos, you know, internet. I hear some people talk about how great it is, but more often I feel like I hear about all the problems you mentioned (the characters are terrible people, the show is super white). I dunno, I don't think I'm going to bother with this show. Not when there are a billion other things I should watch.

    that said, I did enjoy the SNL sketch with Tina Fey about the show, when they get a new roommate from Albania. That was fun. And makes up the majority of what I know about the show.

    1. Noooooo but it's so good Alley! And did you not see the thing where the super-whiteness isn't actually a Girls-specific trait (plus, there are like 4 characters. And really only one of them is actually important, at least according to herself...) I might have forgotten to mention that I really really like Girls?

      I have seen that sketch and it was really really funny. And not really inaccurate!

  4. I'm echoing what Alley said: skimmed due to flaming out on Girls halfway through the first episode. Please do not draw parallels between that and the horrible BleakAlong person from week 1.

    However, I have to comment on this: A giant rave looks cooler on Instagram than reading a book, is what I'm saying, but only one of them is going to make you smarter.

    because it made me LAUGH in my office. YES THIS. I'm going to quote you. Probably on Instagram.

    1. It would be totally awesome if you quoted me on instagram using some awesome typography and whatnot. But but you flamed out during the first episode?! I wasn't in love with the first episode, but it just kept improving from that point onwards!

  5. I think there is certainly a certain double standard when it comes to Girls and other, more male-centric, shows but I think a lot of the backlash actually comes from the anti-millennial garbage going around at the moment. People are so busy labeling anyone under 30 as lazy and incompetent and wanting things they don't work for etc etc and Girls kinda reinforces those stereotypes. At least on the surface. I have a pretty love-hate relationship with Girls myself, but I think the first season did a pretty terrible job of showing Hannah and co as anything other than middle/upper class whiners who don't really seem to ever be doing anything. The latest season is a lot better, like the last episode where Hannah got a job in advertorial and realised a stable job could mean the end of her creative output. It really encapsulates that complicated idea of creative and poor or successful sell-out that seems to be on everyone our age's minds.

    So what I'm saying is, basically, Girls kinda shot itself in the foot by not really knowing what the show was going to be about when it started (and seriously, most shows don't but they aren't also dealing with the 25 year old rich daughter of people in the biz backlash at the same time). And also making a show about white privileged young adults when everyone's stressing out about the economy gurgling down the drain. I don't know, I think it's far more complicated than simply 'we hold different standards to male vs female dominated shows' because the same year that Girls debuted The Hour debuted* which was written by a woman and featured very strong female characters. And NO ONE criticised it for being too white or too privileged.

    Ah, did any of that make sense? It got really, really rambly.

    *different genres/types of shows I know.