lena and her girls

image by celeste via flickr

I have two of them. One is still little, just nine. She is still full of innocence and brightness. The darker realities of life and love have yet to rear their ugly heads in her universe, although she announced to me today in CVS that when she’s ten she’ll need to wear pads and she’ll get headaches, “puberty,” she said nonchalantly, by way of explanation. Le sigh.

The other is talented and confident, at sixteen remarkably poised and independent, smart with her choices. She is a mix of innocence and worldliness and is growing up in times when navigating adolescence and adulthood is more complex than ever.

Naturally I thought of them when I watched Lena Dunham’s Girls.

I was also, I admit, relieved when I realized that to watch it one had to put in that secret parental code we’d set up, which is actually entirely ineffective for it’s only set on one tv and the series is easily accessible via computer anyway.

For some reason at first I didn’t connect Lena Dunham, who I imagined to be the American equivalent of say, Catherine Breillat, with the girl Rebecca Mead wrote about in The New Yorker a couple of years ago, “Downtown’s Daughter.” I remember the piece well, having loved the portrait of a girl at once so brave and so unpretentious, not afraid to expose herself or her flaws (or what others might take as flaws) at an age when most strive to appear original while trying desperately to be just like everyone else.

I was certain that because the writing was so very smart it had to have been written by a woman either my age or a bit younger, but certainly not 25 (well ok, she’ll be 26 in a week or so). Suffice it to say Ms. Dunham is incredibly inordinately talented and the show is brilliant. (I will not get into the flurry of criticisms about racial diversity, etc. here.) It is at times difficult and disturbing to watch, but is raw and beautiful and important in its portrayal of these girls.

I was naturally a bit horrified to think that the life portrayed is really the norm. Is Girls the parallel to those shows popular during my single-woman-in-the-city days which mirrored, even partially, my life?— Ally McBeal and Elaine on Seinfeld (who I especially related to as I wore my hair the same way, dressed with the same shoulder-padded look, and copy-edited the J. Peterman catalogue). They struggled with many of the same issues, but my oh my how things have changed. Or have they?

There’s lots of sex in the show, I explained to my daughter, hoping to dissuade her from watching it just yet, and it’s really sad, dark, unsatisfactory. I hated imagining her or her friends, or any young woman (or man for that matter) watching this and thinking this is what it will be like, being used, being discarded, not feeling loved or wanted or satisfied. The sex here, while cloaked in kink, is actually pedestrian and a fancy way of going through the motions in a mood of anxiety and dissatisfaction, coldness and danger (std’s, aids, pregnancy). This is not kink for exploration or fun, but a rather desperate expression of people desperate to express themselves in all the wrong ways.

I found a response Lena herself had to this very question, in an interview she did in GQ…

Not to blame pornography but I feel like the stuff people have access to is dirtier and dirtier. What used to be illicit, Playboy, is like Kindergarten reading material now. I think that contributes and also the idea that people in their twenties are trying to be unique in every way. “I don’t listen to the same records as you! My earrings are vintage you can’t buy them anywhere! When I have sex I just don’t do it like a regular person, I do it like a freak!”You know what I mean? So that’s a big part of it too. Because you can kind of feel that Adam’s character—and Adam Driver brought a lot of this with his performance—is play-acting a lot. It’s not like he’s so massively skilled in these departments. He’s fulfilling a role. And there’s something really sad about it, and also really sweet.

She nailed it, well perhaps that’s a really bad choice of words… kids today are exposed to the craziest things way before they are ready to absorb them and put them into their proper context, and they mimic them, roleplay them, act them out to appear more experienced, cooler, more cutting edge. The character Adam is fulfilling a role which I find far more sad than sweet, and Hannah is going right along with it to please him in an act that in effect brings little if any pleasure to either.

It will be interesting to see how the story develops and where these characters end up. Surely they can’t continue along this dreadfully bleak path of disappointment and dissatisfaction, and I hope there will be more moments of joy (the girls dancing scene was classic). The characters are, in their screwed up ways, incredibly compelling and endearing. They may well be a reflection of the times, and Dunham the voice of her generation, but if anyone is capable of not only surviving but finding purchase during these slippery times when ambition and success and satisfaction are so severely challenged and compromised, it may be girls, brave smart girls like their creator.

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2 thoughts on “lena and her girls

  1. I’m doing a bit of blog catch- up…. I just renewed my New Yorker last week, so I must go find that article. So much hullabaloo on blogs/twitter that I watched the pilot for free on HBO to figure it all out. Agreed, LD is a clever, young writer. Not certain if I get a feeling of empowerment from these young women; though, at least they are not as vapid as Carrie and her ilk. ~

    1. Hmm. I didn’t intend to say that the characters in “Girls” are empowered. Compelling and endearing, yes and without a doubt screwed up. I think I was just being a bit hopeful that somehow as the series develops they will find their way out of the miasma of modern life.

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