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March 25, 2013 | by  | in Arts | [ssba]

I Just Want Four Walls and Adobe Slabs for Girls

The incendiary television show/contentious talking-point Girls has just concluded its second season in U.S time. For the sake of legalities, please assume that the author commutes between Wellington and New York and watched it according to HBO’s rules. This isn’t just of interest because it’s an innovative, shit-on-my-cock-this-is-great show (although it is), but because no other show in recent memory has generated as much discourse. Nosirree ladies and gentlemen; I doubt there’s ever been another show that has been analysed, re-analysed, defended, vilified, attacked, critiqued, seized on as a ‘zeitgeist’ and rejected as ‘privileged nepotism’ to the extent that Girls has been held up to scrutiny. Occasionally articles amongst the slew are brilliant, and to that end I’d direct you to HULK’s phenomenal analysis and a particularly insightful New Yorker article. The majority are hopelessly fallacious in more ways than you can shake a stick at. So it is that I’m batting with the big leagues, trying to analyse Girls on its own terms and not the ones prescribed to it.

For a start, the commentary surrounding Girls has illuminated the misogyny and ugliness perpetually lurking beneath the surface. Consistent comments expressing disgust at Hannah’s weight and insulting her for having the affrontary to bare herself on television and prudish denouncing of the realistic sex scenes exposed something deeply unsettling about the way we treat females. And then the horde of commentators that furiously derided the import given to it without realizing that they themselves were contributing to the discourse; the whole thing just kept perpetuating itself into a stagnant and shitty repetition of offensive claims and juvenile criticisms. But, at the same time, even I – bleeding-heart liberal, unabashed intersectional feminist/misandrist McSweeeney – was equally as infuriated with the liberal interpretation and critiques of the show, with the added element of disappointment just to compound matters. I’d resignedly braced myself for discriminatory vitriol from some, but to get self-aggrandizing misreadings from institutions I admire was in a way worse.

A particularly horrid New Zealand band once penned a song entitled ‘You put me up just to put me down’, and this perfectly encapsulates a syndrome that plagues and dominates the discussion. You may have read that Girls’ creator, Lena Dunham, is ‘self-important’ or ‘narcissistic’, with most such claims being supported by Hannah’s quote in the first episode: ‘I am the voice of my generation’. Let’s take a moment to back-track; this quote is uttered WHILE HANNAH IS HIGH ON OPIUM TEA AND ARGUING WITH HER PARENTS. IT IS MEANT TO BE IRONIC. It is not delivered in such a way that intends it to be taken at face-value; on the contrary, it is meant to demonstrate that the character Hannah (rather than Lena Dunham’s – I only stress this because to many the two are inseperable) has an insufferably parochial world-view that the creator herself does not share. It’s basic, right? Except that damn-near every review I’ve read of it has either outrightly taken it as the shows manifesto of intent, to the be zeitgeist, or as part-irony but part-real too; mostly because television critics are frothing-at-the-mouth desperate for something that captures the spirit of these heady times, and nonchalantly declare the show such because it suits them, who cares what the show itself is about. And then there’s the carping of websites such as jezebel (which I really like usually btw) and the tumblrsphere that decries it as being ‘not feminist’ enough, or ‘not racially diverse’ (not that this one isn’t a problem, but to target Girls exclusively seems pretty callow) enough, or whatever. Here’s the thing though: Lena Dunham doesn’t have a feminist agenda. Rather, people are expecting her to put forward something from a feminist viewpoint because she’s a woman, and then get enraged when she doesn’t. Doesn’t that seem a little reductive though? So, like, Werner Herzog can explore death, mortality and social failures on primetime, David Simon can present economic disparity and microcosmic communities, Rob Thomas can explore the dynamics and tension of family life but there’s some onus on Dunham, some requirement, to focus on pushing the Feminist cause at the exclusion of all else? Fuck that.

And then there’s the reaction to Dunham’s choice to disrobe – while not as unpalatable and despicable as the lurid jeering on the other side of the fence, it’s a misinterpretation too. Talk of her being ‘brave’ and ‘honest’ is, though understandable, misguided. Dunham’s nudity doesn’t serve some kind of emancipatory purpose, though it’s been co-opted and seized to represent such. Rather, it just is; I know that sounds vague, but I honestly believe that it’s just a natural component of Dunhams visceral, in-your-face ethos rather than anything else. Look; I’m as sorry as anyone that you just lost 5 minutes of your live reading this deranged rant, but Girls has been disingenuously co-opted by so many to suit themselves that the show itself, I feel, has been lost in shuffle; obfuscated by the sheer volume of infelicitous discourse that has, in itself, bred infelicitous discourse. And so on and so on. Ugh.

With that clarified; the second season of Girls is decidedly a mixed-bag. This season has entrenched it as an episodic endeavour. Though there are over-arching plotlines, they tend to get pushed to the periphery in order that more focus can be granted to characters and the nuances of their relationships. In many ways, ‘Girls’ functions as a collection of vaguely related short stories (a la Winesburg, Ohio or Cannery Row) put to film than a television show proper – especially now the central characters are atomized from each other. The upshot of this is an inevitable disparity in quality throughout the episodes. To my mind, the season peaks in the middle with the strongest three-shotter in the shows short history (and indeed a trifecta of some of the best tv I’ve seen), ‘Bad Friend’, ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ and the masterful (in my eyes, although some people loathe it so there you go) ‘One Man’s Trash’. Honestly, there’s a lot of talk about Girls and bravery, but it takes some serious ovaries to feature a whole episode more or less exclusively with two characters, one of whom had just been introduced that episode. It’s understated and poignant; and although I’m no buff when it comes to directing techniques, even I can tell talented directing when I see it. The mise-en-scene was used effectively to isolate the two characters and present their loneliness without shoving it in your face. But really, all three episodes are witty and intricately-plotted.

However, the season starts off slowly and peters off towards the end- a graphic plot of the season would look very much like a conventional bell curve, with some questionably dark twists and turns manifesting themselves in the later episodes. Specifically, the abrupt twist that Hannah has OCD felt contrived and even exploitative – though it’s refreshing to see real treatment of mental disorders on mainstream television, it is handled in rather a melodramatic way. The sex is as awkward and occasionally horrible, and though nothing resonates with the same honesty and realism as that one-night stand in the first season did (honestly, the most realistic depiction of a one-night stand I’ve ever seen tbh) the second season does offer the first cumshot ever aired on mainstream television I believe. It’s not hot; it comes after a bleak and brutal sexual experience which will make you blanche more than it arouses. Business as usual in some areas then, but some exciting changes in others. And, more than anything else, I can’t wait to see what Dunham does for us next. There is a wealth of creative potential and innovation on display here; when she harnesses it to its fullest, it will be a sight to behold. Watch this space.


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