New HBO show isn’t the antithesis of Sex and the City
When I first heard about Lena Dunham’s new TV series Girls, I was sure I’d love any show described as the anti-Sex and the City.
And then I watched it.
Not only is the half-hour comedy, which airs Sunday nights on HBO, not the anti-Sex and the City, it’s actually just an updated, slightly low-rent version of that modern, urban fantasy.
As such, it’s incredibly problematic in its depiction of young, self-absorbed and spoiled white women.
Girls chronicles the lives of four young post-collegiate women living in Brooklyn. At the center of this story is Hannah, an aspiring writer. In the show’s pilot episode, Hannah’s parents inform her that, because it’s been two years since she graduated college, they’ll be cutting her off financially. No more rent money, no more food money, no more anything.
Instead of realizing that her parents have been, heretofore, very generous, Hannah pouts and protests their decision—how can she become a successful writer if she has to, like you know, work? How can she gather experiences for her memoir if she has to actually live like a responsible, bill-paying adult?
“I may be the voice of my generation,” Hannah tells her parents. “Or at least the voice of a generation.”
Is she, though? Are young women really so steeped in attitudes of privilege and entitlement? Are they really so lacking in any kind of diversity? The four main characters on Girls seem to differ only by slight variations in personality (one is uptight, one is promiscuous, one is an overanxious virgin). Otherwise, they are all white, pretty and well-educated. Only Hannah—slightly overweight, slightly frumpy—seems to stand out at all.
Dunham, who created the show and plays Hannah, has become sort of the de facto poster child for a certain type of woman and her debut film Tiny Furniture, awarded Best First Screenplay at the 2010 Independent Spirit Award, mined similar plots and themes.
It wouldn’t matter as much if she weren’t trying to sell Girls as a real-life, gritty depiction of young adulthood.
Stripped of cultural context, Girls is at times wryly comical and revealing. At its very best, the show represents diversity in how women view sex and relationships. Its depiction of one character’s reaction to getting an abortion, for example, is at once a startlingly funny and eye-opening glimpse into generational mores.
But once you move past such scenes, Girls is hardly groundbreaking. Rather, the show depicts a pop-culture standard: relatively affluent, attractive women who, thanks to their upbringing, educational options and the sheer luck of being born white, are offered abundant career opportunities.
Such shows already exist ad nauseum: New Girl, Whitney, Gossip Girl.
Where are the TV shows about women who are cash-strapped and desperate (and, no, 2 Broke Girls doesn’t count)? Where are the shows about minority women trying to navigate a white-centric landscape?
It’s difficult to feel any empathy for Hannah when she begs her parents to front her $1,100 a month for two more years. It’s tough to care when Hannah bombs a job interview because she’s so narcissistic. It’s virtually impossible not to intensely dislike the character after she flippantly jokes that she might want to contract HIV.
Yeah, tell that to the thousands of African-American women currently living with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 32 black women can expect to be diagnosed with an HIV infection during their lifetime. That’s no laughing matter.
Ultimately, Girls is just entertainment—another fictional fantasy world devoid of minorities, gays and lesbians or people living in poverty—and Dunham really has no responsibility to create anything other than what she knows.
It’s just too bad that, given the power of her platform, that Dunham’s world is so shallow, self-absorbed and, ultimately, uninteresting.