It’s been about a month since Lena Dunham’s Girls premiered on HBO. Before the premiere there was a lot of hype and when the show finally premiered there was backlash. Actually, a ton of backlash.
I personally love Girls. I think it’s absolutely hysterical. The interplay between characters is great, and the awkward sex scenes are really brilliant. We’ve spent our whole lives being lied to about sex by Hollywood. Honest, raw depictions of sex is incredibly refreshing and really important. I’ve wanted to write about this show for the last month, especially since the intense backlash following the premiere, but decided I didn’t want to judge the show solely on it’s premiere. And I’m glad I waited because I think it gotten better with every episode. Girls is actually probably my favorite show on television right now (until Breaking Bad‘s final season blows up the universe). In this blog I’ll address a couple of the criticisms this show has received.
I’m going to start by talking about the biggest criticism Girls has received- how it addresses race. Let me begin by saying, I have always argued there needs to be way more films and television about people of color. How people are represented in the media is incredibly important because it truly does have an effect on how people interpret and act in our world. At least one of the main characters in this show should be a woman of color. There is absolutely no denying this show should be called White Girls, and the show deserves the criticism it has received regarding race, especially after the initial pilot (actually the whole industry deserves this criticism). But I’m going to kind of defend Girls here and trust me, I feel awkward about it… Here it goes…
A lot of people complained there were only two moments where people of color even appeared in a pilot that takes place in New York City. This wasn’t a realistic representation of the city they lived in. But here’s the thing- the vast majority of the pilot took place inside the apartments of these privileged white girls, and honestly, it is incredibly likely this is a realistic representation of their life. Maybe that idea makes you feel really uncomfortable, especially in a country that likes to pretend it’s color blind, but Hannah being friends with only white girls feels real to me.
Is this a conscious choice by Lena Dunham or is she guilty of what countless other white filmmakers do every day? There’s no way to be sure yet, but I think there’s actually a chance Dunham may address race at some point in the future. She actually kind of did in the most recent episode. As Jessa was at the park, babysitting a couple kids, she spent some time with other baby sitters (who were women of color) and began telling them she is just like them. They give her a look that says, “This white girl is clueless.” When Jessa finds out how much more money she’s making then them she tries to unionize them and even offers to take a pay cut. I felt like this was actually a pretty funny critique of the white savior complex. This is just a small example, and it definitely doesn’t excuse the fact that there should have been more people of color in Girls, but white filmmakers are consistently guilty of unconsciously assuming the norm is white. I think it’s more important to think about why this happens than attacking the individuals. So yes, Girls has issues with race, but the whole industry has issues with race, and Girls deals with some great things television never does, like women’s sexuality and the following:
A lot of people seem to miss this, but Lena Dunham is criticizing these girls and their lifestyle. I’ve heard so many people complain the characters are just stereotypes and aren’t likeable! “The show is just about selfish, entitled, upper middle class white girls who think they’re life is so tough! I’m sick of seeing shows about the 1%!” But here’s the thing- Dunham doesn’t glamorize these girls’ selfishness. She doesn’t want us to like these characters at first. She never says, “Look how great it is to live off your parents!” What she’s actually saying is, “It’s not adult life if your parents pay for your blackberry.” These characters are clueless and they have a lot to learn. They’re still in their early 20s after all. I think Dunham showed a lot of courage beginning a TV show by revealing such flawed characters. Most shows would present very likeable people before and reveal their flaws later on. It’s easier to hook an audience this way. And yeah, at first the girls do come off as stereotypical, but this is how a lot of people see others before they get to know them. It’s easier to project media stereotypes onto people than taking the time to really learn about someone. What’s so amazing about this show is how far these characters have came in only four episodes. We’re slowly getting to know these characters and beginning to love them despite their flaws. This slow burn has already had an incredible dramatic pay-off. The latest episode ended with a truly emotional scene- something I didn’t even realize the show would be capable of. It kind of broke my heart. I’m really looking forward to these dramatic moments that appear to be sprinkled throughout the show. Honestly, I really love this show. If you gave up on it after the pilot I think you should give it another chance.