Vanilla “Girls” : Why Should We Care?

Posted: April 17, 2012 by angrymomo in The Mind of an Angry Patron
Tags: , , ,

Image provided by Pam Liou's Photoshop skills.
Read her take on GIRLS here: http://humanmaterial.tumblr.com/

This one’s from Monet:

If you have a computer, TV, or anything that connects you to the outside world, chances are you’ve heard about 25-year old Judd Apatow protégé Lena Dunham‘s new series on HBO, Girls. The series premiered this past Sunday to staggeringly high numbers and my Twitter feed was out of control with #Girls #FirstWorldProblems  — all a product of weeks of what seemed like endless hype and speculation.

I’m torn on this series. As a feminist, I’m thrilled to see that a young female writer is being profiled and getting work in such a cut-throat industry. But, as a 20-something female artist of color, I’m perturbed. I’m highly disappointed in the fact that out of the four major roles of seemingly unknown female leads (who coincidentally have famous fathers?),  there is not one woman of color to identify with. Admittedly, when I first saw the ad, I thought, it was a show about 4 white sisters. When I finally watched the trailer for the series, I felt duped when learned that they actually weren’t related.

Mother Jones columnist Maya Dusenbury (is it worth noting that she’s a white woman, too?) wrote a pretty glowing review of the pilot episode.  A large part of Dusenbury’s article is based on her response to fellow MoJo columnist Asawin Suebsaeng‘s review of the much anticipated series. Both are really fantastic reads that raise valid points about this series and the stories that are being portrayed. Riffing off both reviews, I wouldn’t classify anything that’s being discussed or seen on Girls is necessarily “groundbreaking.” I do think the “frank portrayals” of “passionless sex, STIs, casual abortions, boring boyfriends, gay boyfriends, drugs, money woes, body image” are refreshing in the sense that they’re seeing any airtime in conversation at all, but something is missing in how it’s being conveyed to the masses. I think a big part of the problem lies in the fact that I can’t identify with these “girls” — not really — and this is supposedly a show for my demographic. It’s not just me — other 20-something female friends of mine of various races feel completely isolated from this show. The characters seem like younger, less self-aware versions of stock characters that I’ve seen before and haven’t done anything (as of yet) to keep me vested in their lives for an entire season. The writing is decent, but again, it didn’t blow me away or have me completely glued to HBO-Go for 35-minutes. And at first I thought, “maybe that’s the point -apathy and irony?” but then I thought, “then, why bother to have a show on major cable network?”

Age, class, and race in creative media always irks me. I try to be conscientious of it in my own work, and I’m not saying that I’m perfect at it, or that everything I write has to have an agenda behind it, but I do think it’s something important to take note of — especially if we’re trying to live up to the “cultured” and “diverse” society we as Americans have painted ourselves out to be.  I can’t fault Lena Dunham for being born into privilege, and therefore, I can’t expect her to write truthfully about cultures and experiences that are not her own. The New Yorker has applauded Dunham on her ability to make her experience seem “prominent” and “significant” because she is “self-consciousness about how to give them form.” Agreed. Ever since Tiny Furniture she has proven that she is very capable at capturing her lifestyle.  In fact, she is so good at capturing the privileged-white girl-turned-artist story that I fell asleep. Twice. Why? Because it’s not that interesting of a story no matter how well you write it.

My biggest complaint with Dunham is not in her talent, but in the fact she has been presented with this amazing platform on which she can voice the “20-something experience” and yet we’re getting such a narrow view of it. In an city that is populated by so many different cultures and shades of the human experience, why are we boiling it down to the experience of 4 white girls who are cut off from their parents and trying to “make it” in The Big Apple?  Girls has been grouped as the female Entourage and How to Make it in America and called the younger, more hopeless version of Sex and the City (all shows I admittedly don’t watch except when “nothing else is on.”) So,  maybe the question becomes, “Why does HBO keep returning to the same tropes? Why does that sell?” in regards to the representation of minorities in entertainment.

Jezebel brings up a really well-rounded concern for the future of this show, and I don’t think I’d do any justice in expounding on it further, so I will just leave the link here for you to read.

Post-premiere, a male friend of mine (who is of color) professed that he really enjoyed Girls. When I asked him why, he said, he “knows those girls” — that they are literally shades of our female friends. He, like MoJo’s Ms. Dusenbury, thought Dunham hit the nail right on the head when it came to defining this generation’s 20-something ladies. Vomit. And here’s why:

Because there is — or should be — more to defining 20-somethings than this acceptance of apathy that we’re drowning in. Is this really what my generation is interested in seeing/creating? Is this really how we want to be seen/remembered? And if so, why aren’t we pushing ourselves to be better?

xo,

Comments
  1. It’s a strange position to be in as an ethnic male (hardly ethnic, but still) where it’s nice to see this upward trend of women featured more in comedic and/or anti-hero roles. But then you realize the step up is also a side step because how many of these roles go to white women instead of women of color? You could argue that changing the ethnicity would change the stories but then why aren’t the stories of colored women being told? And then again, does a win for women in media exclude women of color? Should we only celebrate it half as much? If a black woman had been cast as one of the four leads would it alienate all other women of color or would it have been enough of a win? I don’t have answers, just pondering. I guess more work can always be done. More steps upward!

  2. Pamela says:

    Okay James, there’s a big difference between “women of color” and “colored women.” Just saying. Continue on.

  3. vittoria mandela says:

    Anything more irrelevent than someone whining about not seeing HER skin colour featured in a HBO series? ENOUGH ALREADY.

    • angrymomo says:

      Vittoria, the post touches on more than just than the topic of race being featured on cable television. It also talks about the TYPES of stories being broadcast and how younger generations — the future of backers, consumers, and artists of the entertainment industry — are choosing to represent themselves. How is that irrelevant to the conversation at hand?

    • Also, if it were as irrelevant as you say it is, you wouldn’t be commenting on such an obscure post.

  4. vittoria mandela says:

    It is your entire conversation that is irrelevant It’s a sitcom about four white girls. It’s not an encyclopaedic view of life. But, you hate seeing stories about white girls on television. I get it.

    • angrymomo says:

      But it’s not set out to be a sitcom about “four white girls” — it’s set out to be a sitcom about 4 20-something girls trying to make it work in New York City. What I’m saying is we’re getting a limited, and not entirely accurate, world-view of 20-somethings if they’re all white.

  5. Aimee says:

    It’d be great if the show starred some no name actors, but the actresses aren’t really the issue. They can act and it isn’t surprising that they inherited talent. For HBO, that (along with Apatow’s participation) also provides a bit more security in their investment into the show. TV is a business– wealthy people may get shows on the air, but viewers usually keep it going, making ratings are a powerful currency in the TV world. So the real issue is about how viewers respond to the characters on the show.

    People turn to TV for escapism or to identify with the stories they see. These motivations usually don’t occur simultaneously. Girls is designed for the latter. Countless shows are popular because they portray the middle class (even if the actors are getting paid millions of dollars to portray the characters). In order to stay on the air, shows need to cater to a mass audience, the 99%. The universal conflict of ‘Girls’ is that Dunham’s character is struggling to make it. The not-so-all universal aspect is why: she’s been cut off by her parents. Middle class audiences may aspire to be wealthy, but unless their status changes, they’ll probably be amused by the drama wealthy people on TV go through on shows like the Real Housewives instead of empathize. When the characters are now struggling because they no longer have a financial blanket, it’s hard for the target audience to care because for many 24 year olds, being cut off is years-old news.

    Short version: the cause of conflict in Girls is irrelevant to the majority of viewers.

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