“Life is too short to care about Lena Dunham,” an old professor of mine posted to Facebook as the internet went all abuzz about the season 2 premier of HBO’s Girls last month. This was the same professor who in college facilitated my relationships with Norman Mailer, and Noir, and criticism as a genre, and non-fiction beyond the memoir — essentially the antithesis of Lena Dunham. And I all too easily agree with him on the subject of Dunham. But, the reality is, I do care. I care in a frustrating, teeth grinding, asthmatic way. I can’t stand that I care about it, and I care about it because I can’t stand it.
Every week I join the heard of antibiotic fed cows tuning in to watch her nauseatingly narcissistic and inarticulate character. And every week, I get online, only to see people who I want to like, posting shit along the lines of “OMG. Girls. Obsessed.” And I scroll, and everyone is worshipping this propagation of some of the worst female stereotypes and personality-by-way-of-forced-eccentricity-ness, and I can’t help but have a Liz Lemon masterpiece eye roll. But I had resolved myself to stay out of it. And then someone said, “It’s the Sex and the City of our generation.” And as all of my feelings got tangled up in knots, the gloves came off. I pounded my head against the wall a couple of times and, decided to contribute to the mass discussion of Lena Dunham and tell you why that is not true, IMHO.
I personally love SATC (the show, not the movies, the movies don’t exist, OK). I’m perfectly aware that the show portrayed four successful women, working and living in New York City, who nonetheless let their happiness revolve around sex and relationships. But at its core, SATC was about women being brave, smart, good friends to one another, and giving haters the flying middle finger as they marched down the street. Girls in turn revolves around nervous ninnies that are constantly undermined by their own egos, despite any amalgam of talent and intelligence they might seem to possess. In SATC the poignancy came from triumph, in Girls it comes from the false poignancy people often mistake boringness for.
But perhaps then what we’re really discussing here are the discrepancies of time: both the differences in the times each show reflects, and the actual age groups each show focuses on. So maybe there is an argument for the type of manic, second-guessing, awkwardness that Dunham is trying to represent as a symptom of our current culture, populated with over assured post grads who lost their way around the same time they lost mom and dad’s financial support. But I’m pretty sure that’s just the wet dream Dunham has about herself and the show. If Dunham’s show is indicative of anything, it’s the unfortunate gentrification and quickening stamp out of the things that make New York different from Los Angeles.
If you compare Girls to anything else that is smart on television (which is a shrinking variable), it is a white wash of Dunham’s breasts and whining, polished for our viewing pleasure by HBO. (And don’t even get me started about the tasteless ineffectiveness of Dunham’s use of her own nudity). It is a whitewash that under utilizes New York as a character, while relying on the city for impact at the same time. A white wash that signifies young women as manipulative and maladjusted. A white wash that somehow beat out the performances of seasoned veterans and brilliant lady creatives Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, and the writing prowess of Modern Family, at the Golden Globes.
Which leads me to my ultimate point. Girls has an audience, and Lena Dunham has fans. They are the put-a-bird-on-its. They tell everyone that they’re going to live in New York someday, but they spent most of their last visit in, or around midtown. Their Instagrams are full of more portraits held from arms length (avoiding inserting joke about personal depth) than anything else. But they also are staples of the millennial generation. They are products of things like Tumblr, and reality television, and cupcake chains, also becoming known as “sub-urbanity.” So maybe, and in conclusion, it’s all of our faults that Girls is such a hit, because it’s all of our faults for letting checks and balances go by the wayside and pressing the “like” button so goddamned much.