Sunday, April 29, 2012

On deciding whether I am a Shoshana or a Marnie or a Hannah, Jessa being obviously not an option

So I have watched the first two episodes of much-talked about HBO's Girls, which looks at the lives of four twenty-something women in Brooklyn. As I said in another recent post, apparently it must be compared to Sex in the City because everything must be, although Lena Dunham's decision to center the story around the lives of four female characters rather than, say, three or five is probably not helping matters on that front. It is not perhaps the deepest thing ever; I hesitate to say just yet that Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation or even a voice of a generation.

But it is well-written and enjoyable, and the characters are often neurotic in very familiar ways. Enough so that I plan to watch the next couple episodes once they land on the internet. I once had a conversation with an undergrad roommate about how our parents were really lucky that,  despite our shared nutty interests in writing and literature Ph.Ds and piles of clothes on the floor, at least we weren't drug addicts or pregnant. This was uncannily similar to Hannah's conversation with her parents in the pilot episode. I also fear that there is a faint physical resemblance between Lena Dunham and me, particularly to a couple of particularly bad Facebook photos that make me wish it were technologically possible to char pixels to ashes, though maybe I flatter myself. At the same time, Hannah is an anti-heroine... we are clearly meant to cringe at the scene near the end of the pilot in which she picks up both the envelope of cash addressed to her and the one addressed to the maid. But although I know I am not supposed to like her world or my world, I find myself doing so anyway, because hating the familiar seems both too complicated and too cruel.

The show's perhaps gotten the most press for its lack of racial and ethnic minority characters, spawning an entire eight entry Room for Debate series in The New York Times. As several of my Facebook friends sardonically pointed out, the Room for Debate contributors are themselves not as diverse as the country. In some ways, the rush to judgment based on just two half-hour episodes is oddly perplexing; the viewer's barely had time to get a feel for the contours of Hannah's character and those of a couple of her friends. We've barely scratched the surface of Hannah's world; most people have more than three close friends and more than one co-worker.  I suspect that it is precisely because there's so much in the show to appeal to the politically progressive... the four major characters are all some stripe of pro-choice who are in general agreement with Jessa's choice to abort her baby, all appear fairly comfortable with frank discussions about sex and so forth.... that the lack of racial diversity rubs one the wrong way more than it would on a campy latter-day Full-House-like sitcom with no voice-of-a-generation pretensions. About the most sensitive and intelligent pieces I've read on the topic come from Alyssa Rosenberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates. For my thoughts on this topic, see generally also the second paragraph of this old post.

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