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Why You Shouldn’t Avoid Lena Dunham and HBO’s Girls

And why I've steered clear of the show even though John Podhoretz is probably right to praise it.

by
Dave Swindle

Bio

June 19, 2012 - 1:30 pm

Commentary’s John Podhoretz with an enthusiastic write-up of HBO’s Girls at The Weekly Standard:

HBO’s much-discussed new series Girls is just concluding its first season, and it’s extraordinary. Girls offers the most interesting and original televised portrait of upper-middle-class American angst since thirty-something went off the air in 1991.

Like thirtysomething, it is simultaneously an infuriatingly self-referential thumbsucker and an extraordinarily intelligent dissection of infuriatingly self-referential thumbsucking. But it is, thankfully, far more the latter than the former. And it is one of the most prodigious media stunts since the heyday of the very young Orson Welles, given that it is largely the work of a 26-year-old who created it, wrote most of the episodes, directed a few of them, and stars in it to boot.

Her name is Lena Dunham, and two years ago she did the same triple duty on a do-it-yourself movie called Tiny Furniture that I actively disliked because it was purely a self-referential thumbsuck. Something good happened to Dunham in the interim between the movie and the TV series, because Girls takes the world of Tiny Furniture—post-collegiate types with no marketable skills wandering aimlessly around New York City—and gives it heft and shape and dimension.

It’s often very funny, and given that each episode runs a half-hour, I guess you’d call Girls a sitcom. But it really comes across more like a loosely linked collection of Ann Beattie stories updated from the post-1960s anomie of Beattie’s characters to the media-soaked seen-it-all world-weariness of Generation Zynga.

Read the whole thing. And let’s consider this post the conclusion of the Girls vs Women and Boys vs Men discourse for now. (Though don’t be surprised if more articles on the subject of growing up show up at PJ Lifestyle. It’s one of Kathy Shaidle’s specialties.)

Seeing the promotions for Girls, two impressions emerged:

1. Looks like they nailed the Millennial “post-collegiate types with no marketable skills wandering aimlessly.”

2. Therefore, I have no interest in watching it right now.

Just the previews alone reminded me of myself and too many people I’ve known over the last decade who were in the same limbo zone in life: just emerging out into the “real world” and wobbling between being a girl and a woman, a boy and a man, struggling to find their path to a happy, satisfying life of meaning, worth, and dignity.

With only so many entertainment hours in the day, why spend them being reminded of all the people I care about who were making themselves miserable by refusing to grow up?

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Acculturated editor and Millennial Emily Esfahani Smith wrote about Girls for the Washington Times in April:

Like other Apatow creations (the feature film hits “Bridesmaids,” “Knocked-Up”), “Girls” is about how sex and immaturity collide in the early years of our adult lives. “I like to show people struggle and try to figure out who they are,” Mr. Apatow recently told The Hollywood Reporter.

There’s plenty of struggle in “Girls.” Hannah (Miss Dunham) is an aspiring writer. The only problem is, she hasn’t been published; she’s been fired from her non-paying internship; and she’s out of money because her parents, who are academics, won’t support her any longer.Adam, the actor-hipster she’s been hooking up with, won’t text her, let alone call her, and she just found out that her ex-boyfriend, whom she dated for two years in college, is gay.

“You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again,” Hannah’s gynecologist tells her.

“Well, they’re not paying me at all,” Hannah responds.

A few days later, the gyno calls to tell Hannah that she has a sexually transmitted disease, HPV. Don’t worry, a friend assures her, “all adventurous women have HPV.”

Hannah’s three close friends have problems of their own. Marnie (Allison Williams), Hannah’s best friend and roommate, has fallen out of love with her boyfriend of four years, Charlie. Jessa (Jemima Kirke), a sexual and emotional free-spirit, misses her own appointment at the abortion clinic, conveniently miscarrying the day-of while she’s hooking up with another guy. And Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), a twenty-two-year-old virgin, may be naive, but she’s wise enough to know that “if a man doesn’t take you on a date, he’s not interested” and “sex from behind is degrading — point blank.”

“Girls” will inevitably be compared to another HBO show about young women, “Sex and the City” (1998-2004). But “Girls” is less an extension of “Sex and the City” than it is a response to it — a tacit and even subversive acknowledgement that the sex lives of young post-feminist women are bleak.

You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again.”

In the comments to the previous posts on the Girls Vs Women debate I’ve tried to refocus the conversation. Here’s an edited exchange with several commenters and PJM’s Charlie Martin on Dr. Helen’s post. There are multiple issues in play here and one of them is generational.

Mike:

I’m attracted to women of lots of different ages, both by their looks and their personality. But is their something wrong with finding a beautiful 17 or 18 year old girl hot or sexy? I agree with Helen, it’s completely normal.

June 17, 2012 – 10:06 am 

Dave Swindle

“Normal” does not equal Good.

Which is more normal? A man who wants to sleep with a bunch of young, beautiful women or a man who wants to marry and respect one woman? Which standard should we advocate for in our culture?

June 17, 2012 – 10:18 am

Oligonicella:

“A man who wants to sleep with a bunch of young, beautiful women or a man who wants to marry and respect one woman?”

Wow. How about, the first is a fantasy, not a plan; and the second is a plan and therefore in no way incompatible with said fantasy.

“Which standard should we advocate for in our culture?”

The standard of attempting at all turns to stay out of people’s thoughts and actions that in no way interfere with your life.

June 17, 2012 – 6:44 pm 

Dave Swindle:

“The standard of attempting at all turns to stay out of people’s thoughts and actions that in no way interfere with your life.”

This issue does interfere with my life. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t write about it.

June 17, 2012 – 7:01 pm

Charlie Martin:

Okay, I’ll bite: how does what other people think when they look at pictures of yet other people, none of whom you know, interfere with your life?

June 17, 2012 – 7:35 pm  

Superbad, another Apatow production and Gen Y favorite, also depicts the journey from boys to men:

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Dave Swindle (in response to Charlie):

You’re avoiding seeing the forest because you want to look at the trees. The issue is not “what other people think when they look at pictures of yet other people”. The issue is about the bigger damage done from accepting teenage boy and teenage girl sexuality as “normal” and acceptable for adults.

My little sister is off to college this year. And I’m thrilled that the boyfriend she’s found is a very mature 18 year old who acts like a man instead of a boy. (He wants commitment, not sex.) But what happens if they break up when she’s at college? What kind of man or boy might she meet and get involved with? I want her to be with a man who will treat her with respect, not a teenage boy in an adult man’s body who will manipulate her and use her for his own pleasure. And we get back to a world of men instead of boys by articulating the difference between teenage boy sex and mature husband sex.

June 18, 2012 – 1:02 pm 

johninohio

Dave Swindle

Oh yeah–Your sister’s boyfriend isn’t interested in sex. And she isn’t either, I guess. This comment alone disqualifies any of your subsequent comments on this subject from being taken seriously.

June 18, 2012 – 1:31 pm  

Dave Swindle

Oh they’re interested in sex, alright. They’re just more interested in marriage. Because they’re trying to be men and women instead of boys and girls. That’s the difference.

June 18, 2012 – 1:56 pm 

johninohio

Oh. My. God.
June 18, 2012 – 2:37 pm 

Dave Swindle

Is it really that much of a stretch to realize that a lot of Millennials immersed in a culture of porn and sex, who grew up with a President getting blown in the Oval Office, would eventually get bored with sex and be more interested in marriage?

June 18, 2012 – 2:48 pm

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I’ll wait to watch the whole first season of Girls with my wife when she gets back from Europe in a few weeks. That’s how we prefer to watch our shows — at our own pace instead of having to wait each week for a new episode. Just a suggestion for what works for us. Not a mandate that everyone MUST watch TV shows that way and live the same way we do.

David Swindle is the associate editor of PJ Media. He writes and edits articles and blog posts on politics, news, culture, religion, and entertainment. He edits the PJ Lifestyle section and the PJ columnists. Contact him at DaveSwindlePJM @ Gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle. He has worked full-time as a writer, editor, blogger, and New Media troublemaker since 2009, at PJ Media since 2011. He graduated with a degree in English (creative writing emphasis) and political science from Ball State University in 2006. Previously he's also worked as a freelance writer for The Indianapolis Star and the film critic for WTHR.com. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their Siberian Husky puppy Maura.
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