HBO (Home Box Office) is a Time Warner owned premium cable and satellite television network. Its programming consists mostly of original television shows and movies or documentaries that have been made specifically for cable. One of HBO’s original television shows is Girls, which was created, directed and starred in by Lena Dunham. The show’s premise and many other factors came from aspects of Dunham’s personal life. Throughout its five seasons (the sixth and final season comes out this spring), the show has received a lot of backlash for the characters and overall themes. However, it is because of the conflicts in and around the show that make it a great show for this generation.
Girls is a satirical sitcom about five girls trying to “make it” in New York post-collegiate. It is a social commentary on white privilege that exists so prominently in America today. The show begins with Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, an aspiring writer who was cut off financially from her parents so she is forced to find a real job in order to keep living in New York. All of the characters seem shallow and two-dimensional on a first impression, but as the show progresses so do their developments. The show faced many criticisms, mostly for Dunham’s constant and unabashed nudity as well as its all-white cast. The lack of diversity is very significant to the story that Dunham is telling throughout the series. That a story could even be told in New York with an all-white cast is comical, but because the show overdramatizes everything, many viewers find the show to be narrow-minded.
Girls is supposed to make its viewers feel enraged or uncomfortable. It opens dialogue about race, feminism, and overall ignorance. The main characters are infuriating because there are people in this country who act and think like them. Hannah is a self-involved, Rosie the Riveter wannabe who walks through her life as if the world revolves around her. Her on-and-off-again love interest, Adam Sackler, is described by Dunham as a rhinoceros that runs full force at something repeatedly until he is tired and moves onto something else. Unlike some television romances, theirs is not a relationship that most long for. It is an example of the kind of relationships that exist today among young adults. Girls does something that other shows do not, which is show the raw, honest truth of life in your twenties. Hannah’s best friends are equally as naïve and the men they surround themselves with are no better.
Dunham’s portrayal is an exaggerated version of everyday life for many people, but that does not mean it is any less real. Just because Girls depicts a group of all-white friends in New York doesn’t mean that the show is culturally insensitive or that it is inaccurate. For those characters in that time frame, it is their truth. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating, but again, that is what makes the show work. It portrays the prevalent privilege in America and how privileged people take their status for granted. The characters on the show seem to be in their own bubble with hardly any regard to what is happening around them. Unfortunately that directly correlates to how many people live their lives.
In a New York Times article by Wesley Morris, it goes through the latest season and comments on how brilliant the show actually is once you dig a little deeper. When the show started, it “was received as an anthem for entitled white women,” Morris said. “Detractors had a field day with Ms. Dunham…for privileging privilege.” However, as the seasons progressed and the characters developed, viewers were able to see past the superficial layer that hovers over the show.
In addition to the show’s commentary on privilege, it also addresses mental illness, wayward relationships, and social injustice. Drawn from Dunham’s personal experience with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), the main character, Hannah, struggles to maintain her writing career. By the end of the latest season, “Hannah’s narcissism seems terroristic. Her personality disorder has the power to disorder other people’s personalities”. Watching Hannah struggle throughout the majority of the show with her OCD was discomforting, but it was also seen as encouraging. For a long time, mental illness was something that wasn’t talked about openly. In recent years, many television shows and movies have opened dialogue about mental illnesses, and Girls is definitely part of that movement.
Morris also notes that “the national indifference that’s accrued around a show whose fealty to discomfort, poor choices and social cannibalism, which felt new in 2012 [when the show started], are now just part of television’s oxygen.” Throughout the past five seasons, the show has not lost its sense of satire. In fact it can be argued that the pathos and satire are stronger than ever. “But it’s true: Funny narcissists are indeed easy to come by (even on HBO).” What sets the show apart is that even if it isn’t a refined spectacle, it “still has the confidence to jump along a tightrope of displeasure.”
Despite the show’s success, there are still plenty of people who find Girls to be crude and deemed unwatchable. In fact, Dunham has received a lot of backlash over the years for how she looks and how she portrays white women in America. The show is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for someone to watch it and only be able to see the first layer of a highly intelligent, meaningful series, comes across as sheer ignorance. Girls is the summation of how ridiculously millennials are viewed by other generations, and the fact that people take it so literally is more comedic than the show itself. In closing, Girls is a show where people either love it or hate it. But despite the backlash, the show and its creator have managed to create something that has captured the essence of being a young adult in the “real world”.
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