Girl Pressure: Why Being the Voice of a Generation Can Be Problematic

There is probably nothing more frustrating than seeing a voice and a talent like Lena Dunham’s — maybe the coolest thing to happen to storytelling in a long while — being relegated to stories about how these girls’ lives are shaped and defined by the men they pursue. So you might be thinking, first it’s the racism thing, now it’s the sexism thing — why can’t Lena Dunham just be Lena Dunham? Why does she have to be “the voice of a generation”? Can’t she just create good material and leave it at that? And the answer to that, of course, is yes, she can. Her writing is witty enough, and the characters are interesting enough to keep this thing going through a second season and beyond. And who isn’t willing to follow Dunham throughout her growth as an artist? Who’s not curious to see where she’s headed next?

I certainly am. But I don’t know how long I can keep looking forward to Girls if every episode is going to revolve around this guy, that guy, this guy, that guy. In fact, I already know the answer: not long.

Why? Because this is the same story we women have been handed for decades now, especially BY women storytellers. The notion that a man can save you, or that you are incomplete without a man in your life is really the same ol’ same ol’. There are so many interesting voices of women out there whose lives aren’t centered solely around men. Young women, old women — it’s important to note, and to be reminded, that women have worthy narratives beyond their need for and their ability to land a man. If you watched Girls, knowing nothing about the real world, you’d think the purpose of four years at an expensive college and moving to New York is to launch a voyage of discovery narrowly mapped out to seek only one treasure — to find a man at the end of the rainbow. And if you don’t have a man, if you’re properly loved, you’re not worthy.

Take the various story lines about each character in Girls. Marnie starts out as the bored and boring girlfriend of a pretty cute and affectionate guy. We see him struggling as a musician, a singer/songwriter. But we see her complain that the sex is tame because he’s tame — and never blames herself for taming him. She’s controlling with Hannah and uptight. She calls Hannah selfish but that’s really as far as their relationship goes. The meat of her character relates only to her choice of boyfriend. Now, she’s regretting letting him go and she spends her days drabbed down, obsessing on the guy she took for granted. Is this truthful? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make for interesting storytelling? I don’t know. For a minute or two, sure. 8 episodes, no.

Then there’s Jessa, the best actress and most interesting character on the show — what does she do? She ambles around as a nanny looking for laid back diversions. Jessa is one of those people who exert a natural magnetic field for attracting fun, and she gets her kicks from whatever is caught in her orbit — pot, booze, sex. I know this person is far more interesting than the show allows her to be. Her abstract rambles and throw-away lines are brilliant. The punctuation mark on her character, though, is the same as the other three — it always rounds down to the guy who hovers over her life, in this case, her boss. Is this true to life? Absolutely. But can this be the ONLY thing going on with someone as worldly-wise, interesting and potentially fascinating as Jessa? No.

I won’t go into the fourth female friend, Shoshanna, because so far she is basically been a punch line. But finally, let’s look at Hannah. What a brilliantly conflicted character to hit television. Rarely onscreen do we see a woman outside the image of covergirl perfection chasing men, having sex and reaching orgasms. Unless an actress is centerfold material, we usually never see her undressed — much less experimenting sexually. But… is that all there is? The best episode so far has been the one Dunham wrote with Judd Apatow where she goes home to her parents’ place. It was interesting because it dared to start to reach outside the show’s usual scope — that is, filling in details about one of the girls beyond her standard interaction with a boy.

In her early twenties, Lena Dunham, fresh out of college, was making the film Tiny Furniture, which was really about a girl fumbling her way through coming of age. In its own way, that still involved sex, about defining part of a girl’s fulfillment through the spectrum of what a boy can provide. But the bigger picture beyond the film frame was the arrival of new auteur on the scene. And that simple fact, because it’s so rare, is still the driving force behind the success of Girls. It’s compelling because Lena Dunham is a fresh, new female voice on the scene. That part is nonnegotiable. She’s talented, smart, driven and miraculously successful. All of that is true. But none of that will matter if the only subject matter she chooses to pursue is bland and predictable.

So we’re back to the defense of girls. Mark Harris scolding me on Twitter for scolding Lena Dunham for her failure to be a voice of a generation. Other male tweeters angry that I would dare to criticize Dunham for having to right the wrongs of society with her show. Racism, sexism — why can’t Girls just be another fun series? It can. But it probably can’t last very long as such. Because many of us tune in hoping to see Dunham break new ground, and each week some of us wonder why we’re watching a field that’s already been plowed.

Why complain at all, people might be inclined to ask. Why must minorities and women always be held to a higher standard? Why can’t they just tell stories? This subject comes up continually with African-American filmmakers and actors. Why couldn’t Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer be judged as characters in film? Why did they have to speak for the evolution of black Americans? Why did racism have to play a part at all? Would it have mattered if it had been written and directed by a black filmmaker?

Why must Lena Dunham be the voice of the generation, why must she chart a new course for TV by showing a more ethnically diverse group of characters? Why can’t Lena Dunham just be Lena Dunham?
Fair questions, but so are these: Why are they only white people on her show? Why are the stories only about girls having relationships with guys? Why are the men on the show far more interesting than the girls? Why can’t Lena Dunham set a better example instead of reinforcing patterns we’ve seen too many times before?

I don’t know the answer, except to say that when a door is opened that has been shut for so long many people want to see trailblazers shove their way through it. It isn’t ever just about the one story — When you call your show Girls, there’s obligation the show a broader spectrum of Girls’ stories waiting to be told, those that have been sidelined for far too long, those that never get told because most of the time, here in America, and especially now, stories revolve only around white male characters.

Now that the keys to the city have been handed to Lena Dunham, are we to just stand back and be happy that a young twenty-something female voice has managed to push her foot through the door? Or should we speak up to wish for more, and risk a slap-down by from the esteemed likes of Mark Harris et al for daring to complain? All I know is that for me, as a woman, feeling a duty to watch Girls and support Lena Dunham, whom I admire so much and stand fully behind as one of the filmmakers to watch, I often feel suffocated. I know that women are worth so much more than their position standing beside (or chasing behind) a man. And then I have to ask myself the harder question, did Girls only get greenlit because it promised about girls talking about sex, talking about boys? Is that the only thing that sold HBO and Judd Apatow on the series? Is the main purpose of the boys in Girls to provide the girls with lots of reasons to get naked? Surely other brilliant shows like Nurse Jackie, Veep, Mad Men reveal female characters with more going on than just their relationship to men — they are successful, ambitious, independent, so how could HBO want Girls to be a throwback to the days of girls accepting boys in all their dickishness, and adjusting their needs accordingly?

As a mother, I feel protective towards these girls and I want to fly to New York and give them all a good talking to. As a girl, I know first hand the damage that can be done to a life that depends too much on a man completing the picture. As a writer I know that Lena Dunham is not telling the truth about herself or about the girls she surely surrounds herself with in the real world. As a viewer I hunger for more. I applaud her for her accomplishments and, as I’ve said, I’m a fan for life, but that doesn’t mean I’ll keep watching Girls unless they start showing some progress toward becoming Women.

Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives

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47 Comments

  1. Dan Conley
    June 4, 2012

    Hmm … love the post, especially the last paragraph, hate the show, pretty much for the reasons you outline. So I’m curious why you like it. I think it’s a show all about the potential for a show, which never really materializes. I like the vibe, but Louie invented that vibe and pulls it off consistently. Lena Dunham is better than this crap.

  2. June 4, 2012

    Anyone who says that Girls should just be a “fun” show should realize that NO male-centric program would ever be expected to involve guys solely looking for babes to fulfill their lives. And if Lena Dunham’s as great as the hype, she would never be satisfied with just making 30 minutes of entertainment. Great talent strives for great art, brilliant art, art that fulfills in ways that a fucking guy can’t.

    Good piece, Sasha.

  3. harry
    June 4, 2012

    Kids these days. Am I right?

  4. Ken
    June 4, 2012

    I don’t understand. Lena Dunham has written or co-written every single episode so far, I’m pretty sure she’s the one who has the main say on what happens in each episode. It seems like she’s making the type of show that she wants to make. I highly doubt HBO and Judd Apatow are forcing her to make the show revolve solely around men. “Lena is better than this show”, but she’s the creator of the show. Are we crying foul because she’s not realizing her own potential or is this really a suggestion that higher powers are forcing her to make a certain type of show? I agree that she’s talented and driven, but she’s also 26. Perhaps the work she creates, as she gets older, will be more multi-dimensional, but I think it’s unfair to expect her to trailblaze through and constantly surpass our expectations of her when she’s barely even gotten started. So yes, I think you are asking for too much.

    I’m not particularly a fan of the show, but I too am interested in her career path. We should let her shape that path to wherever she wants it to go, instead of trying to force her to do it our way. If she has more to say about life, she’ll say it. She’s not going to land on the moon with this show and we shouldn’t expect her to.

  5. Ken
    June 4, 2012

    @Jesse

    Why are we assuming that this show Girls was expected to revolve solely around boys? Maybe that’s what Lena Dunham wants the show to be.

    I feel like there’s a lot of conflicting emotions here. People are happy for her, excited for her, but also disappointed in her because the show doesn’t live up to their expectations. As hard as she probably worked to get where she is at right now, she’s facing so much scrutiny from so many different sides. And now that includes those who initially supported her. No wonder it’s hard for a woman to make it as a writer-director in tv or film. When one finally manages to break through and make it, the ones who were complaining about the lack of female voices in tv or film are now criticizing that writer-director for not living up to their expectations.

  6. Lenny
    June 4, 2012

    I think Ken is on the right track here Sasha because Dunham is the creator of the show. Her response to the criticism about the lack of minorities on the show was that she was writing based on her own life experiences, meaning that all of the girls we see on the show are caricatures and representations of real moments and real encounters that have affected her particular life.

    I will give you this though Sasha that if Dunham is attempting to be the so-called “voice of a generation”, then her current method of storytelling for the show is the wrong way to approach it. If she’s basing it on her own life experiences, then that’s only one point-of-view and not necessarily a “generation’s” point-of-view. But I also agree with you on the insinuation that perhaps HBO wouldn’t have greenlit the show if Dunham didn’t over-sexualize these characters i.e. all the characters talking about sex, having sex, reaching orgasms, and discussing all the men in their lives.

    That being said, I’m a fan of the show and I like what Dunham is doing with it. You make a fair point Sasha but again, this show is a personalized account of what Dunham has experienced and I think it’s unfair to suggest that Dunham is not telling the truth about herself or the girls that surround her in this show.

  7. TB
    June 4, 2012

    Comment

  8. TB
    June 4, 2012

    I understand your criticism about the show, but i believe you are looking it through your own mindset. This is a show about twentysomethings girls in new york finding their way. Or trying to. You may look at the show and think that it is not true but maybe it is, for at least some girls in new york anyway. Not every show has to has minorities in it to be true. And to criticize that about a show, or a girl who created the show is unfair in my mind. I like the show. I don’t think it’s great but i like it. I believe what i like most about it is how intrigued i am about this Lena Dunham. The first show i watch i asked myself how this girl could have gotten the ok from HBO to do the series. I know you think she sold it because it is girls talking about boys and sex, but i don’t think that at all. How many times a day do you think people try to get their own shows made with that premise? She must be pretty special to have gotten this far this young. I guess it helped that she is really talented, even if some people don’t think so.

  9. Tyler
    June 4, 2012

    We must remember, Lena has continuously stated in interviews that the show is representative of her experiences and what she’s been through. Given that, and her age, and the position the characters are in as NY transplants (to a degree) after college is totally spot on. I’m around the same age (regardless, a different gender), but recognize and can relate to all of the stories. Whether it’s my own, or someone i know.

    I laugh at all the criticism that gets thrown at the show, whether it is about racism, or lack of a feminist ideal, or her over-sexualization of situations and herself, and so forth. Who cares? It’s her story, let her develop and tell it as she wants. It would be disingenuous to otherwise force her to alter her experiences and story development. I appreciate the authenticity of the generation (mine) she is speaking and writing about. You can’t expect her to project ideals, lessons, or awareness that an adult has on someone who is writing / projecting characters who are 22/23. Of course they chase relationships. Of course they lack balance with their life. They figure it out as they go along. It’s spot on.

  10. CoolPillow
    June 4, 2012

    Honestly, I don’t see how a lot of this blame doesn’t rest on Lena Dunham’s shoulders. She created the show, stars in the show, and is easily the driving force behind the writing, narrative, framework, and progression of the show. HBO is a network that doesn’t intrude into the writing or story of any of their shows outside of cancelling them or shaving the length of their season. How Dunham sold to the show to HBO, or what HBO thought it was going to be is completely irrelevant to how the show turned out.

    As far as the “voice of a generation” tagline that this show will most likely never be able to disassociate from, it wasn’t helped by the fact that Lena Dunham’s character literally self-proclaims herself as such in the show while Lena Dunham (the person) made the rounds talking about how Girls is meant to be a real representation of herself and her friends which film and television apparently failed to accurately represent otherwise.

    Now it would be unfair for met to say that Dunham deserves this kind of perpetual backlash for not having yet lived up to being the “voice of her generation,” but at the same time I don’t think this show deserves most of the amount of attention and praise that it got from the get-go. Which, I believe, is part of the reason why this backlash seems to only be growing. Right out of the gate Girls was showered with praise, and I think that after the dust settled a lot of critics and tv fanatics alike were puzzled as to why the show was so undeservedly lauded. Not saying that they’re right or wrong, but with more attention always comes more scrutiny.

    I also think the racism accusations were also completely unfair, but it didn’t help that one of the writers of the show comes out and tweets a bitter, sarcastic, and at least a casually racist response to these attacks which only gave it more notoriety and traction for writers and critics to run away with and subsequently promote as a validation of their evaluations of the show.

    But I have to say again that, for the most part, the attentions Girls has gotten seems undeserved. I don’t like the show, although I will admit I only got through the half of the season. But from what I’ve read/heard the same problems that plagued the first season only continued until the end. The show has potential and only the harshest of critics would accuse Dunham of being talentless. But there are a lot of shows/ideas/stories with lots of potential, and lots of marginally talented people who think them up. It takes a great/above average talent to make a good idea blossom into a great/above average show, and that remains to be seen with Dunham and Girls.

    To me, the show is currently just a gimmick. Ironically (and perhaps hypocritically), it uses the entertainment industry’s cliche representation of what young women should look and act like to its own advantage in order to give the illusion of unique and quality story-telling (IE: by highlighting Dunham’s own sexuality and exploration of love) that runs contrary to media stereotypes. But none of what I’ve seen so far rings true to me, from the characters to their relationships and their experiences. So right now criticism of the show is completely warranted, although perhaps not to the extent of what some writers/critics have accused the show of doing/being/representing.

  11. James
    June 4, 2012

    “There is probably nothing more frustrating than seeing a voice and a talent like Lena Dunham’s — maybe the coolest thing to happen to storytelling in a long while”

    What are you smoking?

  12. filmboymichael
    June 4, 2012

    Let’s not forget the self correction Dunham made during the premiere episode: “I am a voice of a generation….”

    I think the show is brilliant – I had no use for the Shoshanna character in the beginning, but I started to like her during the crack spirit guide episode…..

    I am a boy, but have been able to relate to a lot of what has happened so far….

  13. Other mike
    June 4, 2012

    Donald glover will be on the show. Looks like they bowed to the pressure about race. It’s a shame cause as a minority I was not offended by the shows whiteness. Get ready for some tokens next season which will just bring more criticism. Poor lena. Still in two minds on the shows quality though. Sometimes I like it others it’s kinda boring girl stuff. No disrespect to women by the way.

  14. chrisw
    June 4, 2012

    Voice of a generation? Pump those brakes hard, kid.

  15. Christopher
    June 4, 2012

    Hurrah to Lena and the entire cast. While the show doesn’t exactly represent my demo-I work with 20-somethings all day everyday in NYC-and her portraits are amazingly accurate. Yes, they are constantly obsessed with relationships and who is going to hook up with who-that is called being in your 20′s and I don’t think anything is going to change that. I am optimistic that in the future we will see a deeper look at the internal struggles of these young women.
    I adore the show! My favorite is actually Becky Smith who plays her mother. What a talent! I’ve seen her a few other things, but she really shines here.
    The fact that we are discussing this and it’s causing a discussion, only cements the fact that what she is doing is relevant and timely. If only all of our artistic endeavors ended up being analyzed like this-we would know that we struck a real nerve-and that is what art is suppose to do. Keep it up Lena-this 40-something will keep watching!

  16. June 4, 2012

    I think it’s unfair to suggest that Dunham is not telling the truth about herself or the girls that surround her in this show.

    I think the point is, Hannah isn’t Lena. At age 24, Lena Dunham had a smash hit at the Sundance Film Festival. I don’t see that happening for Hannah.

    So it’s fine for Lena Dunham to say she’s writing from her own experience — heck, what good writer doesn’t? But by directing herself playing the role she herself has written, it’s not surprising that there’s a tendency to conflate Lena and Hannah. I have to constantly remind myself to avoid that.

    I don’t think Girls is autobiographical. In fact, it’s obviously not, right?

    When I read what Sasha says about Lena Dunham playing loose with the truth — the way I take it is the very clear fact that Lena Dunham DID NOT entirely act like Hannah when she was 24. And it’s not likely that the other women Lena Dunham knew at age 24 are very much like Shoshanna, Jessa, or Marnie.

    I do believe it’s probable Lena Dunham knows SOME girls like Shoshanna, Jessa and Marnie. I find that believable because I’ve known girls who resemble them too.

    The slippery lack of truth — I think — is that these 4 girls do not represent THE WHOLE TRUTH of Lena Dunham’s experience.

    So she’s giving us a deliberately slanted imbalanced view of PART of her experience. ok, she’s entitled to do that. But she’s leaving out all the great smart ambitious and successful girls that We Know Lena Dunham must surely hang out with.

    Hannah only knows a small group of underemployed girls. Lena Dunham knows fimmakers and hugely successful women. I wish some of those less needy female characters had roles in Girls.

    It’s just unfair that we only get to see the pathetic truths and none of the more inspiring truths.

    You know what else sucks? Adrian Grenier is a mediocre actor in real life. But in Entourage he was a world famous superstar of summer blockbusters. That’s false too.

    Grenier’s character comes off looking like a big deal. And Dunham’s character comes off as a schlub. That’s rotten. It disappoints me somewhat.

    Sorry, but if Lena wants us to see Hannah as a reflection of her own experience, then portraying Hannah so adrift feels untruthful to the life we know Lena has led.

    That bothers me as much as it bothers Sasha (even if the two of us don’t agree 100% about how crucial this disappointing dependency may be to the enjoyment of watching Girls.)

  17. HahaLives
    June 4, 2012

    Not enough people want what you want out of this show, Sasha. The biggest enemy to TV shows about women are women, not men. This is what the majority of women want.

  18. HahaLives
    June 4, 2012

    Jeesh, reading Ryan’s comment sounds like he has been stalking Lena Dunham for the past 5 years. You know all of this how? Why are you putting her on a pedestal? Why can’t Girls be autobiographical?

  19. Duck Soup
    June 4, 2012

    “But she’s leaving out all the great smart ambitious and successful girls that We Know Lena Dunham must surely hang out with.”

    ???

    “Sorry, but if Lena wants us to see Hannah as a reflection of her own experience, then portraying Hanna so adrift feels untruthful to the life we know Lena has led.”

    ??????????????

    “The slippery lack of truth — I think — is that these 4 girls do not represent THE WHOLE TRUTH of Lena Dunham’s experience.”

    I forgot that this show was called “THE WHOLE TRUTH OF LENA DUNHAM’S EXPERIENCE”. I mean, what the hell? She has probably met a ton of STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS in her life, but the reason I love Girls so much is that it shows a bunch of women making mistake after mistake after mistake and we so rarely see that in TV shows (it’s usually just clumsiness that doubles as slapstick humor!) or the I’m-so-career-successful-but-I-can’t-manage-my-personal-life protagonists of romantic comedies. These characters are ridiculously flawed and a product of their own generation. Strong female characters aren’t interesting at all anyway. Complex female characters are. While I hear some of the complaints of the show, I just have to respond – give it time? The show needs viewers and viewers won’t come without this brand of hokiness. Women like sex, women like men, this isn’t anything new.

    I just don’t understand what you guys expect from this show. To be quite honest, it sounds like you want a distortion of reality than reality itself. It is always more difficult to accept the truth of life than the fictionalized re-imagination of it.

  20. Bharat
    June 4, 2012

    Earlier networks/studios forced an artist to change their vision. Now, the internet does that for them.

  21. Branko Burcksen
    June 4, 2012

    It might surprise you to learn there is a show on television about girls who are actually successful, ambitious, intelligent, at odds with each other and nary a man is ever brought up in conversation though when one is, it is never in a romantic sense. It will surprise you to know that the name of this series is “Bodacious Space Pirates”, which may be the most misleading title ever. I mean the “Bodacious” part. It is not interested in the best camera angles to shoot the characters’ anatomy. It is, however, an anime space opera about a girl who learns she is the successor to a spaceship.

    Yes, the show is a complete 180 from “Girls” in terms realism, but it addresses the issues you brought up here. A large portion of the cast include women and high school girls though several male characters play important roles, and they also, like the women, are not short changed. It’s space adventure done believably. The writers devote plenty of time to establishing the characters, who they are, how they think, what they want and what they expect from themselves and each other. On top of all that, it handles the physics of space, as well as the politics, policies and procedures of a future society in space in a very believable way.

    The story takes far more interest in these young women coming into their own than worrying about romantic relationships though some romance occurs within the show.

    I know you meant to discuss how “Girls” cuts off the possibilities open to it, but the same could be said of this show. As both a series and a work of science fiction, it dares to not only do what American television never dreamed of (an adult skewed animated series about a girl who becomes the captain of a spaceship without a male romantic lead hanging around), but rises above the drudge of countless other anime that would turn this premise into an excuse to show half clothed women every other scene.

    Judge it for yourself. It’s streaming on crunchyroll.com. Don’t let the title and the ridiculous opening song fool you.

  22. Ryan D
    June 4, 2012

    This isn’t a show that revolves around guys. In interviews she talks about sex and relationships being a means to an end. These girls use sex and relationships to figure out who they are. This show is about the aimless youth in post recession trying ot figure out their place in the world. Most young people in their 20s use sex and relationhsips and “boys” as a way to figure out what they want and who they are. And no it isn’t everyone’s perspective, but it is a perspective that hasn’t really been discussed yet on television. When she says she is the “voice of her generation” she is high on OPIUM. This is clearly a response to how people treated her after tiny furniture. She is making fun of a herself.
    I go to Kenyon College (same as oberlin in academics, 2 hours away from it, and similar people though Oberlin isa bit more out there), and it is common to have mostly white friends because the schools are 90% white. You also feel like you put the effort in to get into a prestigious liberal arts college and now you should feel the benefits that after the recession aren’t happening. You majored in comp lit, but how does that apply to the real world? This aimlessness resonantes with a population that is growing in liberal arts college students.
    And Either way, the fact that this 25 year old girl can write a series that is discussed about more than any other show i’ve ever heard about, is something to laud. I’ve been living in new york for the last week and every single day multiple people whether in the office or at a bar have tried to talk to me about Girls. It is a show that is debating topics that haven’t really been discussed and whether you hate it or you love it, it is something worth talking about. And yes certain scenes don’t really work, but it is something to talk about and it is getting better with every episode. And for that reason alone, people really need to chill out.

  23. Ryan D
    June 4, 2012

    also, yes Lena Dunham is successful but considering she graduated from Oberlin, she probably has a lot of close friends that are having this experience. She is observant enough to articulate what is going on around her. It isn’t like she grew up in hollywood since 14 and never went to school. She knows real people that deal with these types of things and I know so many people that relate to it closely enough that I think it is silly to count her young success as a reason for how she isn’t writing from experiences of herself and friends.

  24. Mel
    June 4, 2012

    I’ve only seen the first episode and didn’t care for it. Just watched Tiny Furniture and didn’t care for it. It *is* exciting that a young woman is having so much success….but it worries me that most of the people I see defending the show are men…..still trying to figure out what that means and why, but I reckon men just like seeing it reinforced that girls are a hot fucking mess whose main concern is men.

    This show is honestly NOTHING new….it just removes some of the gloss from the same old shit. I think we are mostly mesmerized and interested in Dunham herself and how she got where she is so soon.

  25. June 4, 2012

    Jeesh, reading Ryan’s comment sounds like he has been stalking Lena Dunham for the past 5 years. You know all of this how? …Why can’t Girls be autobiographical?

    HahaLives, Get a grip on yourself.

    I know that Lena Dunham has been an actress since the age of 20 — even before she graduated from Oberlin she was acting in films and TV pilots. I know that Lena Dunham was already directing short films when she was 20. I know that she directed her first feature when she was 23. I know these things the same way 100,000 other people know them. I read.

    I know that Lena Dunham won an Indie Spirit award when she was 24. I know that she was nominated for Gotham and LA Film Critics awards when she was 24. I know these things because there’s a site called IMDb. I don’t have to stalk Lena Dunham. I have a laptop.

    I know that Hannah in the fictional world of Girls is not a successful writer/director/actress. I know that fictional Hannah was still expecting her parents to support her financially when she was 24.

    The well-known facts of Lena Dunham’s life are not the same as the facts of Hannah’s life. I know this because I watch the show. That’s how I know Girls is not a biopic. It is not autobiographical.

    How am I putting Lena Dunham on a pedestal by saying that she knew a lot of successful industry people at age 24? I’m saying that she she’s been actress since age 20 and knows enough about the film industry to win major awards when she was 2 years out of college. Because these are facts. They are facts that fictional Hannah doesn’t share.

    At age 23 Lena Dunham was shooting scenes with Kate Winslet.
    At age 23, Hannah was unemployed.

    Putting Lena Dunham on a pedestal? No. Is Girls autobiographical? No.

  26. June 4, 2012

    I reckon men just like seeing it reinforced that girls are a hot fucking mess

    None of the girls in Girls is a hot fucking mess. None of them.

    As interesting as some of the guys in Girls have turned out to be, no man in his right mind would want to identify with any of them.

    I see as many girls as guys who like Girls. I can almost assure you that more girls than guys watch Girls. I don’t have any numbers to back that up. I just know what most guys watch, and they’re not salivating to see a heavy girl wiggle into her pantyhose.

    You don’t like the show, Mel. That’s fine. Watching one episode doesn’t qualify you to know how the characters are developing.

  27. Mel
    June 5, 2012

    They all seemed like a mess in the pilot and reading Sasha’s account it doesn’t seem like it got any better and they haven’t broadened the focus of the characters at all and tend to just keep focus on their failures and faults.

  28. June 5, 2012

    They didn’t seem like a mess in the pilot to me. They seemed very much like real people I knew in my mid-twenties. Normal people learning how to get their shit together.

    Failures and faults? What kind of failure? Faults? Oh fock! No way! A fictional character with faults!

    No, they’re not Charlie’s Angels.

  29. Bennett
    June 5, 2012

    Lena Dunham and Hannah are incredibly self-absorbed. The constant self-deprecating one-liners are unbearable. ME would be a better title.

  30. Mel
    June 5, 2012

    We are more than just a collection of our faults, though. Which I think was Sasha’s point. I didn’t say they could not or should not have faults. No need to get sarcastic with me. I’m just replying to what Sasha wrote with my thoughts based on her assessment of the show so far, which seems to confirm my fears after seeing the pilot. I do find Dunham fascinating, just not her show, which I’m sure I will give another shot when it hits Netflix.

    I also don’t know why men would not want to watch a chubby girl squeeze into hose or anything else they do on this show since it’s being lauded as a hyper-real view into the life of girls. Why wouldn’t men want to get in on that? Though I have noticed Dunham has dropped quite a bit of weight recently so maybe that will stereotypically bring more boys to the yard, though I hate to think in those generalizations. Still seriously trying to work out why most of the fights I see about it are between men and women, with the women criticizing and the men defending. Though I too have seen plenty of women who do like it as well. Though I don’t have anyone in my actual circle of friends who watches it right now, so it’s all been witnessing online banter.

  31. June 5, 2012

    Maybe the critics are projecting their own jealousies onto the project because Girls is so low-fi that it looks easy. As in, “Jeez, this Dunham chick can’t write for shit. I can totally do this better!” But she’s the one doing it and the critics ain’t.

    I dunno, I’m not a fan and turning toward relationship comedy continuously seems like aiming low, but she’s got a show, she’s got Very Smart People talking about it, and she’s probably making serious bank in the process. Sasha’s right to talk about it, but if it connects with people…the rest of us have Louie coming back this month.

  32. June 5, 2012

    I’m just saying, Mel, I don’t usually give up on a movie if the first 30 minutes don’t suit. I know lots of people do, and that’s fine with me. But then those people have given up the right to speak with any authority about how the movie turned out.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t have given up after 30 minutes of Girls because I though the first 30 minutes were great.

    I’m not being sarcastic. I’m saying if your complaint is that the series shows the girls have faults, then how can you stand to watch Taxi Driver or All About Eve? Or anything.

    How come you don’t know that all the girls (and turns out many of the guys) have a lot of warm wonderful qualities..? Because you didn’t have the patience to stick around and find out.

    most of the fights I see about it are between men and women, with the women criticizing and the men defending.

    I don’t see that. But I don’t get out much.

    I see what’s happening on this page. I see Sasha writing about a show that I know she likes very much, because I’ve seen her say many many nice things about it. I see myself agreeing with Sasha that this week’s episode was the weakest of the season. I agree most of the guys on the fringe on the storylines annoy me to some extent. I agree that I prefer the scenes where it’s just the girls, and wish we saw more like that (but not all the time. how weird would that be? 4 girls in the big city, who never have relationships with any guys? )

    Sasha is writing about a series that she watches faithfully (so far) and respects (with reservations) and I think she wrote this because she would like to see Girls moving in different directions. Sasha isn’t trying to bash Girls and I’m not trying to defend it. I’m saying I like it. Almost everyone on this page likes it.

    I’m glad other people like it. Doesn’t matter to me that not everybody likes it.

    But I have the same attitude with any reader who says they hate a movie they haven’t seen. Based on the trailer or based on a walkout. Just pointing out that it’s meaningless for somebody to hate something that they don’t make an effort to watch.

    It doesn’t even bother me much that Girls shows New York is full of dickwad guys who do nothing but complicate and impede the lives of anybody — male or female — they come in contact with. yep, that’s the New York I know. That’s the America I know. That’s the world I know. A world with a handful of people I can stand to be around and millions of other people I wish would stay out of my life and go away.

    We usually have movies with a lot of pure-hearted pals and innocent bystanders and one villainous asshole. In my experience, the real-life ratio of assholes to cool people is nothing like what we see onscreen. TV and movies don’t show that actual ratio very often. VEEP does. Girls does.

  33. Mel
    June 5, 2012

    I’ve never once given up on a movie. And as I said, I’m sure I will try to watch this once it comes to Netflix just b/c it’s gotten so much talk. I didn’t say I hated it. I said I did not care for the pilot. I was not sure I cared for what she was doing or where she was going so I was curious to read this and see how it’s been moving. Especially after watching Tiny Furniture this weekend and thinking that the Girls pilot seemed like an expansion on the same themes of TF.

    It’s fun and interesting to see TV and movies that are more “reality based” and of course I love those types of movies as well. I love Taxi Driver. I don’t know if I’d want to watch a weekly series of Taxi Driver if it wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, I’m guessing Lena Dunham is only served by some of these opinions or concerns. One thing I have seen very little of is actual criticism for her, her ambition or her talent. To the contrary she received enormous support and ovations for doing something new and different, even though I don’t particularly think it is new or different just b/c she doesn’t look like a supermodel though it is exciting to see other types of bodies represented for a change. I liked that the sex scene in the pilot was awful (and not much different than her sex scene in Tiny Furniture).

    I’m really hoping she is more than a one-trick pony and has a lot of success b/c it will open a lot of doors for all women and make more men willing to give them opportunities if this is a success. It is beyond exciting to have such a young female auteur. As Sasha said, she has a lot to live up to and a burden to carry that is probably unfair, but it’s also the reason everyone is watching.

    I know it’s bugging you that I want to talk about this and have only seen the pilot. It would bug me too if it was someone trying to criticize something I loved. This is a really long piece by Sasha though and I’d hope she’d want more people than just fans of the show to read it, talk about it, think about it, ect. I won’t post on it further though b/c you keep letting me know I am not qualified, but I do feel what Sasha wrote was very detailed and broad enough that is could certainly be open to comment or discussion even from someone who hasn’t seen a single minute of the show.

  34. June 5, 2012

    I know it’s bugging you that I want to talk about this and have only seen the pilot… I won’t post on it further…

    You’re absolutely welcome to talk about anything you want. Please don’t stop.

    What bothered me a little is your theory that the main reason any guy would want to watch Girls is because guys love seeing how much girls have nothing more on their minds than guys.

    I don’t think that’s correct, so I wanted to speak up. That’s not why I watch. I can’t imagine any guy, gay or straight, who would find satisfying reinforcement from the series of disastrous gaffes the guys on Girls are always making.

    Honestly though, I don’t need a whole lot of character arc in ten 30-minute episodes. Where are the character arcs in VEEP? Everybody in VEEP is a bundle of neurotic self-obsessed petty nonsense. They’re all exactly the same absurd goofballs in episode 10 that they were in episode 1. Nobody in VEEP is growing or learning anything from their failures or faults.

    We are given not the slightest clue how somebody like Selina Meyer ever rose to the 2nd highest office in the country. We see their days as an endless waste of time and bureaucratic backstabbing wankery presided over by a bungling insecure boss. Ground breaking? Hardly. It’s The Office with nicer desks.

    What it is, is drop dead funny. I don’t care about Selena’s past, I don’t care about her future. I don’t need to see any of her staff change or evolve one iota. I watch them to listen to the verbal cleverness. Not because I’m expecting them to fix the economy in the season finale.

    That’s the main reason I watch Girls too. The dialogue tickles me and makes me smile a lot. I’m not invested in the story to seek role models and I don’t need for the show to be any sort of seismic cultural milestone.

    It’s funny. That’s all I need. The writing is sharp, real, blunt, incisive. I enjoy spending time with almost all the characters. (I recognize them. They’re very much like people I used to know, involved in frustrations and foibles that used to loom large in my own life, starting out.) I do like having my preconceived notions about who’s a jerk and who’s innocent turned upside down.

    But mainly I look forward to Sunday night every week because there’s precious little “comedy” ever written that doesn’t depress me by how flat and unfunny it is. So I’m loving Girls and VEEP because they cheer me up.

    I don’t care whether Hannah ends up running for Vice President or Selena Meyer gains 50 lbs and gets peed on. I’m not watching either of these shows because I hope the characters become enlightened, get their comeuppance, or discover their superpowers. I watch them because they make me laugh.

  35. Mattoc
    June 5, 2012

    I don’t watch television. But I am aware of the invention called television, and with this invention they make shows. And before shows become shows they make a thing called pilots. And on this pilot Selena gains 50 pounds and gets peed on…

  36. Fivus Viener
    June 5, 2012

    I think Dunham’s average body/looks actually have made the show more popular. If all the girls on the show were models, it would easily be dismissed as some crap worthy of the WB or late night Cinemax.

  37. Branko Burcksen
    June 5, 2012

    I’m sorry, but I thought I might be disingenuous if I didn’t mention two other series. I held off on mentioning them before because they don’t have the same level of skirting male-centric discussion amongst women as “Bodacious Space Pirates.” However, unlike that show, “NANA” and “Princess Jellyfish” are far more down to earth (literally) and resembles “Girls” in a lot more respects.

    In “NANA” you see girls of a similar age and circumstance as the ones in “Girls” living in a big city, one a college drop out and the other a musician. A lot of the plot and situations does revolve around their relationship to guys, but the primary and driving relationship in the series is the friendship between two girls with polar opposite personalities who end up living together. Their relationship to the men in their lives is just meant to frame and reinforce their friendship. The series is also very frank about sex. This is definitely a mature adult show with a lot of humor mixed in with its drama.

    The girls in “Princess Jellyfish” live in the same city as the characters in “NANA”, but might as well exist on different planets. I held off on mentioning this one because the main character’s primary relationship is with a guy, but amongst her nerdy girlfriends, they shy away from conversation about men because of their social awkwardness. This show is also very funny and heartwarming, and hits the same demographic as “Girls.”

    To be fair, a lot of anime objectifies women and can be down right misogynist. However, series like these fly in the face of expectations much the same as “Girls” and try to put up a microphone for voices that often don’t get heard on television.

    Opening to “NANA”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYjsncOdtDQ

    “Princess Jellyfish”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOs69BcMH_0

    It makes me wish HBO would green light an animated version of “Girls”. Both “NANA” and “Princess Jellyfish” are streaming on Hulu.

  38. harry
    June 5, 2012

    Why do all Woody Allen’s movies have to center on women? Haven’t men come far enough that he can write stories about how we function apart from women? Why should such a one of a kind talent like Woody Allen only write male characters whose universes seem to revolve around women? And why doesn’t he write more black characters into his show!?

  39. JJ Jones
    June 5, 2012

    Look at the picture of her with that guy.

    When I see her face, I imagine what is going through her mind. “Do you think he likes this shirt?”, “I wonder what his parents are like?”, “Should I invite him up to my apartment”.

    When I see his face, I imagine what is going through his mind. “I gotta remember to do laundry tonight”, “I wonder what time the Devils game is on tonight?”, “I really haven’t had a good cheeseburger in a while”.

  40. June 5, 2012

    We didn’t chose that shot by accident, JJ.

    I’ll say that this expression on Hannah’s face isn’t typical of the looks she gives Adam, but it illustrates the aspect some of us find bothersome.

  41. June 5, 2012

    Can we agree that naming your series GIRLS is asking for trouble?

    Imagine if Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David called their series JEWS.

  42. Fivus Viener
    June 5, 2012

    “Imagine if Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David called their series JEWS.”

    Excellent!

  43. harry
    June 5, 2012

    “Can we agree that naming your series GIRLS is asking for trouble?”

    I feel similarly about the way House failed to accurately depict my impression of either doctors who are named House OR houses in general.

  44. Alboone
    June 5, 2012

    I have a question for you Sasha? What makes you think that she’s not telling the truth about herself?

  45. June 5, 2012

    Alboone,

    Sometimes Sasha doesn’t check comments to defend her posts point by point. I can’t answer for Sasha, but I’ve tried to say how I read the statement she makes.

    “As a writer I know that Lena Dunham is not telling the truth about herself or about the girls she surrounds herself with.”

    Alboone, the facts of Lena Dunham’s life are well-known. She’s been involved in the film industry since age 20. She was an actress in TV pilots and short films before she even graduated from college. She won an Indie Spirit Award when she was 24 years old.

    Hannah is 24. She has no idea where her life is going, she’s never held a job, she was dependent on her parents to support her for 2 years after graduating.

    Lena Dunham was co-starring with Kate Winslet when she was 23 and must surely hang out with important people on the fast-track in Hollywood. In contrast, at age 23, Hannah’s best friends are adrift and their lives are formless just like Hannah’s is adrift and her life is formless.

    On a purely factual level, nothing about Hannah’s life seems to match up with Lena Dunham’s own success. Hannah is a only child. Lena Dunham had the clout to cast her own sister in a film she wrote and directed at age 23.

    Nobody expects GIRLS to be a biopic. But it’s disappointing that Lena doesn’t allow any of her characters to enjoy the fulfillment of a career or even hint that Hannah has any real talent whatsoever.

    Semi-autobiographical stories are allowed to mine any vein of an author’s life that she chooses to highlight. But there is no doubt that Lena Dunham is making her characters suffer more despair with none of the personal satisfaction that Lena herself has found in real life.

    This kind of thing isn’t new. Lucille Ball was an incredibly savvy businesswoman. But onscreen, Lucy Ricardo was a hapless screw-up.

    Cute for 1955? Maybe. Not so cute in 2012.

    I’d say it was already pretty weird for a brilliant woman to demean and belittle herself in the 1950s. But whether or not ‘I Love Lucy’ reinforced poor stereotypes in 1955 is not the question. It’s just strange and frustrating to see it still happening 60 years later.

    As a writer, I think Sasha sees that as less than truthful. I know I do.

  46. Branko Burcksen
    June 5, 2012

    I hope my chiming in on this subject isn’t causing the discussion to go adrift.

    From a dramatic angle, I understand why Dunham wants to focus on a screw up since such a character feels more relatable and easier to root for. After a certain point though, like Lucile Ball, if there isn’t any significant development or hints that Hannah has some real prospects for herself, the story diminishes into a caricature.

    Going back to the two series I mentioned earlier, “NANA” and “Princess Jellyfish”, the characters in those series resemble Hannah and her friends in several ways while breaking off to give further development that compliments the life of the original artists a little more.

    Both shows are based on comic books written by two women. The creator of “NANA” started out working in the fashion industry then turned to comics and even wrote a successful story set in that world. In “NANA” one of the girls is a struggling musician putting together a punk band. She gets a miniel part time job then auditions members and rehearses in a rented studio. The author depicts the struggle to make a living as an indy artist while also showing the new bands potential as they play gigs. It comes to a point where they sign a deal with a record label, yet even here she doesn’t skimp on the pitfalls, compromises, life style change, tabloids and other realities of the business when you do actually make it.

    The other principal girl also struggles to find and then hold a job throughout the series as well as the ups and downs of renting and sharing an apartment. To draw another parallel to “Girls”, she is forced at one point to get money from her mother, but even after that, she continues to try out several different jobs.

    In “Princess Jellyfish”, the main character, Tsukimi, relies on a monthly allowance from her father. She comes to Tokyo to be a graphic designer but can’t even muster the courage to check out an exhibit in the fashion district. However, with the help of her friend Kuranosuke, she learns she has a good eye for designing a new line of fashion brands. She’s still awkward around people, but she feels more confidence in herself for the first time.

    The creator of “Princess Jellyfish” wrote several successful comics that have nominated for several awards. Like the creator of “NANA” she also must’ve had her ups and downs, and she lets her characters experience both sides.

    I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m tooting this horn too much, but when I hear about great shows like these and their shortcomings, I cannot help raising my hand to say, “Here’s something you should consider since this topic is such an issue!”

  47. Caroline
    June 7, 2012

    Thank you for writing!. I really enjoyed reading. I will say one thing (without having read any of the other comments) – Lena Dunham herself might not be obsessed w/ the men in her life but her character, Hannah, sure is. And I find that to be completely accurate in storytelling of women in this generation (I am 25, white, college educated and recently lived in NY for 2+ years). I have this conversation with my girlfriends constantly. Why do young, ambitious, accomplished women (like us) always let men be the #1 priority? I don’t have an answer. But what I do know is it’s true in so many cases. And GIRLS is portraying that fact so true to form. Yes, it’s incredibly sad. And yes, I’m disgusted with myself when the thoughts of who my next boyfriend creep into my thoughts more than what my next career move will be. But the point is, it’s true. I wasn’t sold on GIRLS initially, but I am now loving it. Thanks again for writing.

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