Confession: I watch Girls without putting too much extra thought into it, other than wondering how it can possibly be so relatable in the subtlest of ways. So, I decided to re-watch the first episode of season one and give it some more thought – it’s crazy how much I’ve missed. At the end of the episode, Hannah goes to her parents’ hotel room (in an opium haze) and lays it out for them: “I think I may be the voice of my generation.” This got me thinking: is Girls aiming to be the quintessential text of this generation? Or, is it more fair to say that Girls is simply looking to express what it means to be young and a woman right now?
A quick overview:
Girls obviously has some Sex and the City vibes – we get four women of different personality types living in New York City, dealing with relationships and employment woes. (Shoshanna even makes a direct reference to Sex and the City in the episode: “You’re definitely like a Carrie with a little bit of Samantha and you have Charlotte hair.”) Still, Girls is more honest about what it’s doing, and functions more as Sex and the City’s antithesis. Hannah, the main character is a self-proclaimed artist; Marnie is self-absorbed and creeped out by her overly affectionate boyfriend; Shoshanna is naïve and fast-talking; Jessa disguises her fear of putting down roots by putting on airs of worldliness.
The first episode of season 1 begins with Hannah at dinner with her parents. They don’t waste time beating around the bush – they tell Hannah midway through her meal that they’re no longer going to support her anymore. Bummer. Hannah is two years out of college working at an unpaid internship and writing a memoir. Hannah is crushed and counters this devastating news: “I’m busy trying to become who I am.” (Self-centered and pretentious? Yes. Relatable? Yes.) So, Hannah’s cut off, she’s fired from her unpaid internship, and doesn’t have anyone to read her memoir or supply her with 1,100 dollars a month. Yikes.
So, what is Girls doing right in terms of capturing the essence of this generation?
1. Communication (or lack thereof): Girls perfectly captures the disconnection of this generation, honing in on a dependence on texting and social media to interact with one another. Marnie gives us a break down of the hierarchy of today’s communication: “The lowest form of communication is Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting then email then phone. Face to face is of course ideal, but it’s just not of this time.”
2. Relationships: Girls offers an honest view of what relationships (and quasi-relationships) are like. We’re given two drastic but reasonably relatable examples of relationships in the first episode: the suffocating boyfriend and the elusive/shady quasi-boyfriend who can’t be bothered to even answer a text message. Girls doesn’t glamorize relationships; rather, it shows that intimacy can be awkward, and boyfriends can be suffocating. What’s much cooler, though, is that guys and romantic/sexual relationships certainly play a role in the show, but friendships between women are brought to the forefront. Hannah and Marnie are crazy-intimate BFF’s – they sleep in the same bed and sometimes shower together. These care more about each other than they do about their boyfriends (maybe not always true in real life, but certainly a refreshing take).
3. Self-absorption/superficiality: Hannah’s character says is all. She’s already writing a memoir (I can’t imagine about what) and thinks she’s justified in asking her parents for 1,100 dollars a month from her parents for the next two years since she is an “artist.” Jessa can’t be bothered to show up to a dinner on time, and Marnie is all around selfish. This self-entitlement is an accurate reflection of the inflated egos of this generation that are encouraged with social media.
4. The economy: The recession is referenced often in this first episode. It’s cited as the cause for lack of paid jobs and even internships (a fear that hits close to home for a senior in college). All four of these girls (and their boyfriends) went to college, but this doesn’t bring them any closer to securing a decent job (and they’re left burdened with student loans). The most refreshing aspect of this – especially when considering Sex and the City – is that it’s realistic about how difficult living in New York City actually is.
The potential problem with Girls is in its title: the women of this generation are referred to instead as “girls,” and are stunted in their portrayal. Marnie still wears a retainer and Hannah tells her parents that she’s a “growing girl.” These “girls” are openly dependent on their parents (or grandparents) and are completely naïve about what it takes to function as an independent adult; these girls aren’t exactly striving for independence either. However, as difficult as it may be to accept, this stunted portrayal may be the more realistic one. In the end, Girls offers something relatable, a look at what it means to be a young twenty-something in this moment. Perhaps it’s a bit exaggerated, but it certainly resonates with the nuances of a generation.