Recently, I decided to love Lena Dunham’s Girls while simultaneously deciding against a four month long relationship. The two, of course, have nothing and everything to do with each other.
Before I decided to watch the entire first season of Girls, in less than a week, I’d heard all I needed to know about it thanks to its editorial presence at Refinery29. I was not only advised that Lena Dunham was awesome and so likable and cute, sorta, in that hideous dress, maybe, but I was also kept abreast of her new haircut, that one time her show got nominated for all the awards and, most of all, her thighs (the bareness of them). On the other end of the spectrum, in a faraway land called Tumblr, there lived every feminist and their colored cousin. In this rainbow-tinted land, it was unanimously decided that Lena Dunham and anyone who supports her representation of New York for 20-somethings in 2012, is racist and anti-feminist.
Now, while I’m the type of gal who prefers to sit comfortably with indifference, particularly when the alternative is caring deeply about a TV show created by a Caucasian, North American woman I don’t particularly like, in this specific instance I allowed my indifference to flow with the angry feminist mob rather than against it. So, I mutely went along with the argument of the latter: Girls is not a legitimate voice of our generation; not when a white woman uses an all white cast set against the backdrop of the world’s thickest gumbo to illustrate the typical going-ons of the 20-something psyche and sometimes, vagina.
But then, you know, it became nominated for all the Awards at the recent 2012 Emmys, where apparently, Lena ate cake naked in a restroom stall on camera. Evidently, there had to be something special about the show, and possibly, something seriously wrong with Lena. So, even though I was tired of hearing about this Jill of All Trades who writes, directs, stars in, and manufactures the show based on her own life experiences, I decided to get closer to the source. I wanted to know Lena through something much more intimate than third party articles written by a gaggle of fan-girls posing as legitimate journalists. I decided, after much careful consideration, to follow Lena Dunham’s Twitter feed.
Now, insignificant as that decision might seem, it did prove slightly life altering. Initially I was skeptical, thinking, is she really witty or just laughable? I wasn’t sure. But some of her Twitter updates made me massage that retweet button and others made me laugh, silently, if only to maintain some distance between myself and her humor; a humor I hadn’t yet decided to like.
Hours after following her on Twitter, I must have unfollowed and re-followed her 10 times in a slowly descending cycle of mild indecisiveness specifically prominent among those in my age group. By the time I had begrudgingly decided to follow her, for good, the pilot episode of Girls‘ first season was loaded and ready to go. Not surprisingly, by the end of the pilot I hadn’t laughed once and was, according to my finer tastes, mostly unimpressed. In fact, for the duration of the first episode, I sat with my mouth agape, watching bemusedly as something just short of a train wreck occurred before me on screen. When it was over, I sat before a black screen of credits, counting off on fingers the number of times the name “Lena Dunham” appeared, all big, bold and official. As you can imagine, I ran out of fingers.
Yet, on the following day, I watched the second episode. By the end, I had maybe nodded twice in agreement with words emanating from Hannah Horvath’s mouth, and throughout the third episode, I had to convince myself that watching the show was for research purposes only and I had to be as unbiased as possible if I found myself enjoying it. At the end of the fourth episode, I found myself enjoying it. Loving it, even. I still cringed every time Hannah shoved something edible in her mouth, but I laughed at the witty jokes, I saw the burgeoning complexity in the characters, wanted to know what was going to happen next and most of all, I got it. I just got it. Without a single black face to represent my own, I still managed to find a bit of myself in each of her female characters, and when not myself, certainly people I know: most of whom aren’t white, American or living on trust fund money.
Like Marnie (Allison Williams), I have selfishly held on to a relationship with a person I don’t love, leading them on to think otherwise. I don’t know why she did this with her boyfriend of four years, she doesn’t seem to know why she did it with her boyfriend of four years and that’s okay, because I don’t know why I did it either. Hannah (Lena Dunham) and I have the same issues with our periods and panties, and worry about our vaginas equally as much. Additionally, we’re both writers who think, for some ill-conceived reason, that our writing is relevant and important to the generation that influenced us most. I am nothing like Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), but boy would I like to meet someone who is. And lastly, like Jessa (Jemima Kirke), I too aspire to travel, have spontaneous abortions and fuck an ex during the middle of an New York City day with my head out an open window. I’d also like to think that I, too, am un-smotable.
While I understand, support and sympathize with the specific plight of giving colored characters more airtime, particularly in TV shows like Girls — I can’t agree that Lena’s work is irrelevant because of the limited racial diversity of the cast. There are white people in Brooklyn who only have white friends. There are black people in Jamaica who only have white friends. I know this because Lena Dunham is a white person who lives in New York, and created a show about her life casting only white people. And, I live in Jamaica and went to school with a few of the latter. That’s Lena’s truth, and her art would be less authentic and less relevant if she compromised that truth to give Shoshanna a black face. Fiction writers are amazing because they take some of their own experiences and they create something entirely individual. Writers like Lena Dunham are amazing because they take the sum of their experiences, truthfully and sometimes wholly, and put it out there in a form that is easily consumed. In both instances, you may find something that you like, and you may find something that you don’t. But what’s usually most important to an artist is creating something honest, something they can stand by and proudly call their own. Then maybe the masses identify with it, and that’s quite nice.
For those who can’t see themselves identifying with characters in stories who don’t have similar faces, I pose to you a few legitimate questions:
1. The Cosby Show supports a predominantly black cast wherein an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn is headed by two successful parents, a doctor and a lawyer, both of whom find time most days to sit at a dining table and have dinner with their five children. How many white families do you think identify with that? And how many black ones?
2. Friends is supported by an all white cast and centers around a group of rather incestuous friends living in Manhattan. How many black people do you think identify with that? How many white people?
3. Think of some of your favorite books, particularly classics. Did white men write them, about white people? Yes? But I bet you still love little ol’ Alice in Wonderland like it’s nobody’s business, right?
If you were able to look, hopefully not too deeply, within yourself and answer those questions, then I think you would’ve realized that while it is true that there needs to be more colored representations in Hollywood, on both small and big screens, saying that a cast is only be as diverse as their racial differences is saying nothing positive about your understanding of art, and how it represents the real world.
Agree, or agree to disagree. Either way, I admire (read: envy) Lena Dunham for her multifaceted talents, and, I like Girls. Despite my skin color and my Third World nationality, I think that’s okay.