I am a reverse hipster. I watch shows and read books long after everybody knows about them. Long after everybody tells me they’re cool. I look at reviews first. I date boys who say bullshit like, “You haven’t seen 12 Angry Men? We’ll fix that soon enough.” I’m picky, and I’m generally bad at media, and people tell me so.
That said, my reaction to HBO’s Girls is long overdue. I overheard my roommate talking about it the other day, and I asked if I should watch it. “I wouldn’t say you should watch it,” she said. “But I also wouldn’t say you shouldn’t watch it.” She then added: “The first season is so real!”
“But what if it’s too real!” I cried. I’ve stopped using question marks IRL, and in most forms of social media. My questions all end in hysterical exclamations or sarcastic periods. But really, isn’t there a subset of 70-something year old women who hate watching Mad Men because the old-timey misogyny is just too real? What if that’s me and Girls? What if this dredges up my post-grad PTSD? I, too, remember the days of trying to find work and finding nothing except unpaid internship after unpaid internship. I, too, am living with two other young, female, twentysomethings, in such a nice part of Oakland that we feel like imposters. I, too, remember the dreaded feeling of graduating with a diploma in literature and creative writing and wondering why the fuck this matters.
Okay…Girls is good. The writing is good. Lena Dunham did a good job. And as it turns out, it maybe is too real. I watched the first two episodes and in the end, it wasn’t the post-grad stuff that grossed me out. It was all the relationship scenes (which I’ll get to now) and the chosen perspective, which it appears I secretly despise (I’ll get to this later).
On the relationships, first let me say: RED FLAGS! RED FLAGS FUCKING EVERYWHERE! Who is this Adam dude? Why does he not discuss things first before putting his hand around Hannah’s throat during sex? Every interaction with him makes me supremely uncomfortable. His character is all grossed out by Hannah’s tattoos, like it’s any of his goddamn business, and explains “I was fat in high school too. You don’t see me drawing all over my body.” I dunno dude, you kind of look like you were made out of Play-Doh®, so maybe Hannah should find herself a real boy.
I haven’t had any relationships that hugely resemble the ones I’ve so far seen in Girls. But there are bits and pieces such as this one that jumped out at me, reminding me of times like when I tried to show my then-boyfriend that I could do twenty pushups and he said something about how that was a really “manly and gross” thing for me to do. And from then on, right up until I broke up with him, I felt “manly and gross” every time I also felt physically strong. Conversations with my roommate and coworkers revealed that Adam is in it for the long haul, and actually sticks around for later seasons. I’ve heard differing opinions on whether or not he’s still lame.
The other thing that I have trouble getting past is the perspective, which I know has gotten criticism before. Usually this isn’t an issue for me, but this time I couldn’t ignore it. When I first saw Hannah Horvath, all I could think was, “I know this lady.” And I do. I grew up in a pretty affluent town, and I see examples of Hannah all the time. When she says to her parents, “All I need for you is $2100 a month for the next two years” (a figure my monthly salary doesn’t even meet), it feels like a punch to the gut. I’m reminded of the friends whose parents pay their rent in the Mission while they volunteer, intern, and no doubt do good things—but don’t make money.
One minute, Hannah is overly paranoid about having an STD, repeating, over and over, “Yeah, well what about the stuff that gets up the sides of condoms, okay? What about that stuff?” But when she puts her feet in the stirrups at the doctor’s office and begins thinking aloud about her endless first world problems, she starts to change her mind ever so slightly. Meanwhile, the doctor is swabbing her cervix and probably thinking, “WTF, lady, are you fucking nuts?” And for good reason. This quote my be paraphrased slightly, but I think she said something like this:
Second, when Hannah is so sure that she is the “voice of her generation,” so much so that she says it aloud without even blushing, I’m there wondering who in the world says that. No, really, WHO SAYS THAT? I have trouble navigating Hannah’s partially-delusional attitude because I already have trouble navigating it when I encounter it in the real world. I’m not even exempt from some of this delusion. I mean, growing up I used to think that every house had a piano because up until the 6th grade, literally EVERY house I ever entered had a piano. Like, I was stupid enough to think a piano was akin to a sofa—a piece of furniture that you either used or didn’t use. This is, of course, bullshit, and says more about my class and ethnic background (Asian, upper-middle class) than it does about pianos and furniture. Whether or not Hannah is the voice of my generation, she certainly is an accurate reflection of some of my generation. This makes me a little ill.
I don’t know what to do. I can see how I can get into this show, and I have no complaints about the quality of the writing, or the acting, or the character development. And to be fair, I think the last few issues I mentioned are Lena Dunham being a smart writer, writing a painfully naive character who perhaps grows and changes as the season progresses. I’m just complaining about the yucky feeling on the inside. Which makes me wonder, am I so uncomfortable with Girls because Lena Dunham writes such an accurate portrait? And because it happens to be a hybrid between a self-portrait and a portrait of people I already don’t care for? And because the self-portrait in question happens to be things I am both hyper-aware and hyper-critical of? These are terribly leading questions, and I feel like the answer is yes, yes, yes.