UK telly lovers, if like me you are getting progressively more fed up with auto-tuned X-Factor contestants and their sob-stories, you’ll be pleased to know that the brilliant and funny HBO show Girls is coming to Sky Atlantic this month. If you’ve never heard of Girls, then you’re in luck, because you’ll get to enjoy an awesome programme that perfectly portrays how shitty it is to be part of the ‘lost generation’ of unemployed, spoiled, homeless 20-something arts graduates without all the haters taking the fun out of every little thing. In fact, you should probably stop reading this blog now and just enjoy it in peace. However, if like me, you’ve got a thing for US culture blogs, you’ve probably heard enough vitriol about Girls to make you never want to even consider watching it, hear about it or admit liking it. Ever. Ever.
This would be a mistake though as it really is the best comedy to come from HBO since Flight of the Conchords. As soon as I stumbled on Girls, I was instantly hooked and ended up watching the whole series pretty much in one sitting, choking on my pop-corn in laughter and then crying silently as I realised I was almost watching my own life. Girls follows hapless arts graduate Hannah and her three equally confused friends as they try to adjust to real grown-up life in New York City. Hannah has been interning unpaid for two years, is still supported by her parents and has dreams of becoming a writer.
Well observed and at times horrendously painful to watch, we get to see her navigate the process of finding gainful employment as well as being cut-off by her parents (not to mention awkward encounters with her not-boyfriend Adam). Scenes like the one where she gets herself all egged-up to ask for a paid position from her boss but ends up losing her internship can only be watched through your hands. She desperately tries to backtrack while her boss assures her that he gets hundreds of emails a day from people who want to be where she is so he wishes her all the luck in the future. Seeing as we now have a whole lot of young people, both in the States and here, who are finding themselves either terminally unemployable or forever in unpaid internships, this scenario cuts fairly close to the bone. One of the reasons I love Girls so much is that it’s one of the first mainstream shows to explore what it’s like for a whole generation to feel like they’ve been thrown on the rubbish-heap of life and for that alone it deserves to be lauded.
Unfortunately, while I was giggling at dialogue like “I’m grown-up, my parents only pay for half of my BlackBerry,” certain other bloggers were busy getting offended and ripping the show and its creator Lena Dunham a new one. The crime? They felt absolutely disgusted that out of four main characters (and two or three peripheral boyfriends) not one of them was from a minority. Jezebel, in particular is one blog that I usually adore, but who seemed to take great pleasure in expressing massive outrage over the issue, again and again.
Now I feel tempted to say here, “I’m in no way a racist,” but as that’s an impossible assertion to prove, I think we should move on. I do agree that we need more shows and movies that represent people of minorities but I don’t think that inserting a ‘token’ character into every show is the solution. The main characters in Girls are all white, with some of the extras and smaller roles filled with actors from minority ethnic groups and this didn’t strike me as odd when I watched it. The reason for this is that we are watching a small group of over-privileged graduates, from a similar background, who were friends at uni and are struggling to branch out into the big, bad world. Part of the humour is that they are shit scared about establishing their lives and identities after university, now that everything suddenly feels really uncertain, so they cling onto each other rather than making new friends of different backgrounds. This is particularly clear in Marni’s case as she finds her long-term boyfriend more and more suffocating but is too afraid to let him go and face the possibility of being alone.
I just don’t understand why blogs like Jezebel keep attacking Lena Dunham and Girls. Although I don’t agree with their criticisms, I would respect them writing a coherent and well-argued piece to explain their views. They didn’t do this. Instead we got snarky article after snarky article with the commenters getting equally worked into a frenzy by deploring the show as THE MOST RACIST THING, LIKE EVER! Why did they pick out this particular issue in this particular show? I’m really taken aback by the hostility displayed. It’s almost as if they’ve gone looking for a fight and insisted on having one based on the most tenuous of reasons.
The weirdest part is that Girls is really good and is one of the few shows out there written by a young woman and focusing on issues facing this demographic. As a feminist blog, I would expect Jezebel to celebrate this fact in an age where women are still sidelined on TV and in films. I know being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to be all sweet and supportive of every single woman but can’t we just celebrate this one small victory? After all, if this show does well, perhaps we can have more shows that explore different view-points and hopefully some of these would include those from ethnic minorities. I don’t see how taking Girls down is going to achieve the goal of getting more diversity into mainstream pop culture. There are so many shows out there paying lip service at best to issues like gender, race and identity. Can’t we please leave the one show alone that is actually exploring at least one of these issues in an honest and funny way?