Okay, listen. I know everyone and their mother has been talking about Lena Dunham’s new show, Girls, on HBO. Nary a day goes by without having to read some outraged or heartwarming op-ed on some blog. (Add this one to the list.) The attention is not just limited to the Internet either. This past weekend I went to a friend’s housewarming party and got into four different conversations about Girls and what it meant and why it was being criticized and blah blah blah. (Granted, this was a party full of New York media types, so our antennas were naturally up.) So look, let me just say a few words on it and then I’ll be done. Promise.
To my understanding, there are 3 major reasons why Girls is attracting such intense media coverage.
1. It’s a show starring a bunch of vaginas
Anytime something comes out that’s centered around the female experience (Sex and the City, Bridesmaids), it naturally garners a bunch of attention because, well gee, I don’t know. Maybe because Hollywood is still just a giant boys club and it’s a freaking victory when something that doesn’t involve explosions and poop jokes manages to make it through. (And let’s face it, Girls probably gained major traction when Judd Apatow signed on. Who knows if it would’ve made it through without his endorsement. I feel like even now you need the help of a man to get something female-driven up and running which is infinitely depressing.) And not only is Girls a show about, well, girls, it’s created by and starring a woman who doesn’t fit the Hollywood mold. I remember first seeing Tiny Furniture in the theaters and almost gasping when I saw Lena Dunham’s naked body. And it wasn’t because it was hideous and terrifying. It’s because it was a body that looked like mine. It was a body that I’ve seen numerous times before and even slept with (well minus the lady parts). I just had never seen it before on the big screen. It was then that I realized what a little asshole Hollywood had been to me. The fact that I was so shocked at the mere sight of seeing a real body made me realize just how long I had been force fed BS images of unrealistic ones. So not only is Girls a show about women (during a time when many execs still believe that women don’t go to the movies or watch TV), it’s by a REAL feminist woman with a real body. (And let’s not kid ourselves here. As quirky and brilliant as Kristen Wiig is, she still had to be very thin in Bridesmaids.) I guarantee you if someone like Harrison Ford’s son made a show called Boys about he and all of his privileged friends, it would not be under the same scrutiny Girls is. Since so few (read: almost none) progressive female shows actually make it on the air, the ones that do are put under a magnifying glass. They need to speak for all the voices that didn’t make it through, which is a totally unfair and unrealistic expectation to put on something that’s just one person’s voice.
2. The issue of privilege
People seem to take issue with the fact that Lena Dunham was born into a well-to-do family, went to an expensive liberal arts college, and has chosen to capture this kind of #whitegirlproblems brand of entitlement in her work. And OMG, the people she casted are all spawns of wealthy parents. I couldn’t possibly watch these women pretend to struggle knowing that they came from cushy backgrounds! Um, but hi, it’s called ACTING?! People seem to have confused Girls with being a reality show when it’s actually scripted television. I don’t care if Allison Williams was riding a golden camel in Dubai and eating duck before she got casted as a down-and-out twentysomething. All I care about is if she does a good job. And guess what?! She does. They all do! When Charlize Theron was casted as a serial killer in Monster, were we not able to have a suspension of disbelief? We weren’t watching her live in destitute poverty and murdering people being like “Um, LOL. Yeah right. This isn’t believable because IRL Charlize Theron is rich and totes doesn’t kill people!” That’s what acting’s all about: playing someone different than who you are. What was Dunham supposed to do? Cast starving artists in a bid for authenticity? Give me a break. This is what filmmaking and TV is all about. People write about the world they know and/or inhabit and make something from it. Filmmakers like Woody Allen and Spike Lee make films on some variations of the same topics over and over. It’s what they know and they do a good job of it. But they’ve never been under the scrutiny that Lena’s been under. No one’s telling Woody Allen to make a movie about the orphans in Nigeria or asking Spike Lee to make a movie about housewives in Brentwood. They exist in very specific realms, just like most artists do. Lena is just writing what she knows. All she should be judged on is whether or not she’s doing it well. (And most criticisms of Girls don’t dispute the fact that Lena is funny and talented. They just take issue with the privilege which is just foolish, in my opinion.) People have scapegoated her as being a part of this larger issue about a lack of diversity in TV and film. But don’t blame Lena for writing about her experiences and getting a TV show out of it. Blame the networks for being too fearful to air a show about real poverty or a show that doesn’t star exclusively white people. They believe that people just won’t want to watch stuff like that so they never greenlight the projects. It’s disgusting and sad, but it really has nothing to do with Dunham.
3. Bitches be jealous
A lot of this criticism is rooted in envy. People are jealous that, at the tender age of 25, she’s already made two movies and a TV show while most people her age are still struggling. Yes, Lena did have a leg up on a lot of twentysomethings because of her privileged background. She had the luxury of moving back into her parents house and working on her scripts. I’m assuming that she didn’t have to get a barista job. But you know what? She worked her ass off. She made two web series, Delusional Downtown Divas and Tight Shots, and wrote two movies, Tiny Furniture and Creative Nonfiction, all while basically still in college. You know what I was doing in college? Coke and Bravo marathons. Lena saw her good fortune and took advantage of it. How could you penalize her for that? There are so many privileged kids who don’t do anything. That’s the real shame. So my advice? Use Lena’s success as a motivator. MAKE SOMETHING instead of sitting idly by, feeling pissed that everyone is eclipsing you. Make your mark. Jealousy is the most useless emotion ever. It won’t get you anywhere besides writing a mean post on your personal blog about how much Girls sucks. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, make something you would want to see.
ANNNNNDDD I’m done. This has been your obligatory Girls blog post for the day.