Haters Gonna Hate – Breaking Down The Backlash Against “Girls”

You may or may not have been hearing a lot of hype about a little HBO show called Girls. Okay, you probably heard it on this site or from my mouth, pestering you to tune in before the hype destroys its charming unassumingness. If any of you have escaped this obnoxious verbal or blogeral wrath of mine, allow me to fill you in.

Girls is a half-hour comedy about female Millenials who have recently graduated college and are living in New York. Sounds fairly typical right? Not quite. This show doesn’t sanitize women, their relationships, or their humor. It’s raunchy, but in an authentic way, unsoiled by laugh tracks or contrived situations involving pregnancy scares or internships at high fashion magazines. It’s clever and realistic about heterosexual relationships, the hardships of establishing a career in this pre/post recessionary abyss, and of the terrors of monogamy. The girls in question, (writer, director and star Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet), work various, unfulfilling jobs that begin to chip away at the rose-colour futures they dreamed of in liberal arts college. In short, life’s tough!

Sounds like a match made in Millenial heaven, right? Not quite.

Ever since its premiere, Girls has become a moving target for a deafening firing squad of pointed scrutiny. Be it the show’s racial politics, its advocacy for a privileged 1% of white young professionals, or its demeaning romantic relationships, everyone and their dog has voiced their opinion. For your own reference point and to intellectually unload my frenetic musings on the matter, I will be counting down the major criticisms and speak to how I interpret them. Thank god for temporary unemployment, am I right readers? You’re welcome/I’m so sorry!

3) What’s with all the white chicks?

One f the most common criticisms of Girls comes from its lack of diversity. The main characters, Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna, are all caucasian and middle class, living in seemingly uncrowded apartments and enjoying the verbal pleasantries of each other’s educated, middle class company.

Jenna Wortham, a journalist with Hairpin writes the show’s most succinct racial criticism by stating, “My chief beef is not simply that the girls in Girls are white … The problem with Girls is that while the show reaches — and succeeds, in many ways — to show female characters that are not caricatures, it feels alienating, a party of four engineered to appeal to a very specific subset of the television viewing audience, when the show has the potential to be so much bigger than that.”

I feel almost unqualified to comment on this, as these characters appear non-archetypal to me as I not only identify greatly with Hannah, but I also recognize a countless number of my friends within each character. In short, I am the “specific subset of the television viewing audience” that Dunham is writing for. Score one for sheltered, white brats.

Dunham has similar issue with the criticism, stating “I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me.”

So what’s the deal? Does this show’s exclusion of diversity get a pass because it’s representative of a certain sub-sect of girls, reminiscent of Dunham and my own life? If Girls is aiming for authenticity, then does this excuse the white-wash, or does it do a great injustice in allowing apt representations of ethnicity? Should they bring in a guest writer to speak to this criticism? Jury’s still out, yo.

2) Wow, these chicks put up with a lot of douches.

Another common criticism comes as a result of Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) relationship with Adam (Adam Sackler). Adam is a disinterested, semi-degrading sexual partner of Hannah’s. Many of Hannah’s friends believe that he mistreats her, as he commonly ignores her texts and calls and occasionally makes disparaging remarks about her appearance. Their sex scenes are squirm-inducing, to say the least. Adam is a literal dictator in bed, and Hannah’s affections for him cause her to give in to his every whim and off-putting sexual fantasy.

Lorrie Moore of The New Yorker served up a blended critical cocktail of an article on Girls, part praising and part relishing in its heterosexual sadness. Moore calls the sex scenes “heartless and degrading, and not remotely exuberant … like careless cruelty between nudists.”. Did I mention this is supposed to be a comedy?

Instead of sticking with my “I can totes relate” argument, which I can, I present the counter-point of the relationship between Marnie (Allison Williams) and Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Marnie and Charlie have been together for 4 plus years, aka an eternity in a 20-something’s life. Marnie is growing listless and increasingly out of love with Charlie. Unfortunately Charlie’s love for her is so palpable that it physically pains me to behold it through my television.

I find it too convenient and surface-level an argument to deduce that because there is one unfavourable representation of a male partner, then the show is predominately sexist towards men and their phallic dominance over women. Charlie is kind, well-meaning, and thoroughly sensitive towards Marnie and her mistreatment of him. Girls understands that sex for women can be demeaning, vulnerable and scary, but it also shows it as a potentially lustful, fun, and yes still dangerous activity to those in a relationship. It’s never safe. Fair? Maybe not. Accurate? Questionably. It would help the show’s case to show a fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable sexual encounter between both an uncommitted and a committed couple. I hear those exist.

1) What a bunch of whiny, indulged, rich bitches.

Okay, I’m kind of with the critics on this one. To summarize this argument: John Cook of Gawker recapped the pilot by stating, “Girls is a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization.” In a column for The New York Times, Frank Bruni writes, “”You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of ‘Girls’ engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?”. Ouch. That one stung.

I’m going to agree partially with this as even to me, a pampered 20-something aspiring writer being supported by her parents, I find it kind of ridiculous how each one appears to be receiving financial intervention from their families. I hear not everyone is as lucky and simultaneously nauseating as myself. Would it kill them to have one of them complaining about steep rent rates or student loans? I mean even unemployed Hannah appears to only roam the streets during the day, eating cupcakes and having casual sex with Adam, more concerned over their (non) relationship than of how she’s going to support herself in a jobless Metropolitan landscape. I have faith that the show, which is only 4 episodes deep, will dig into this the more it progresses. Let’s hope so, anyway. Otherwise Frank Bruni might really lose his shit.

So there you have it: my totally uninformed assessment of all that hate. I encourage you all to tune in, (every Sunday night on HBO at 10:30 ET/MT), and form your own opinions. Until then, I’ll be roaming the streets eating cupcakes.

What do you think of Girls? What do you think of cupcakes? Please share your thoughts on all of these deep topics with a comment or two.