Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Girls like Us

by Liliana Padilla

So, Girls' Season Two has premiered and there's  lot of buzz surrounding it. I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a show creating this level of polemic in many years.

However, one of the observations that I've been hearing a lot (or rather reading a lot) all over the Internet is that the show seems to be representative of only a very slight part of the world's population. 'I wonder what anybody who has never lived in Brooklyn while 24 gets out of it', says Julieanne Smolinski, journalist for The Guardian. And later, she adds: 'I still wish this show was called Some Girls, or These Girls, in particular'.

The thing is,that same remark could be said about 99% of television shows. I mean, which of the shows currently aired are representative of the world's entire population? Is that even possible?

Sex and the City was a show aimed at a certain audience too, thirty-something single, career women living in New York. Mad Men is an attempt to realistically portrait the ambiance of the publicity world in the late 50's and 60's decades. My question is: do we really have to feel that our lives are being portrayed on a show, or any work of fiction, to actually enjoy it?

My answer would be no. If that would be the case, we wouldn't enjoy reading novels from the nineteenth century Russian novelist Dostoyevsky, even if their character's vicissitudes have little if anything to do with the ones we deal with in our twentieth-first century's lives. One of my all-time favorite TV series is Six Feet Under, even if I've never lived in LA, never owned a mortuary family business, never had a potentially mortal brain disease, or been gay. I could have been remotely identified with Claire in reason of us sharing a certain age range and a gender, but that wouldn't be the main reason of me liking the show.

I must admit that, contrarily to some people, I do find a lot of myself in the show, even if I don't identify with any of the characters completely. I once heard an interview of a French writer (I believe it was Houellebecq, but I'm not sure) where he explained that, in his opinion, to create a good fiction character you couldn't possibly inspire yourself from one living person alone, but that you needed at least 4 or 5 real-life persons' traits to make for a believable character; otherwise you would end up building a caricature.

I'm sure Lena Dunham's real life persona is very different from her alter ego Hannah Horvath, but also that she shares certain traits with her, as well as with probably all of her fiction characters, male or female. One of the funniest scenes in the show is the one where Shoshanna talks about Sex and the City and describes herself by making comparisons to its characters: 'I think I'm definitely a Carrie at heart, but sometimes ... sometimes Samantha kind of comes out. And then, when I'm at school, I definitely try to put on my Miranda hat'. The comparison is even funnier when you take into account the fact that she's a 22 year-old virgin whose main concerns are 'being a lady' and finding prince charming, which would make her the 'perfect Charlotte'.

I think that one of the main reasons why Sex and the City was such a big success resided in the fact that its characters were so recognizable, so consistent with the stereotype that they embodied. The most annoying character was certainly Carrie, whining all the time over the life she had chosen for herself, but even her had certain fragility and authenticity that made her somehow lovable even if flawed.

Girls' characters on the other side are far from being stereotypes. Even if they're somewhat caricatural, they can change completely from one episode to the next, showing us different facades of their humanity. I don't think they're always very agreeable, quite the contrary, they are often despicable. But I don't think it was Lena's intent to portrait charming and lovable characters. There are already enough TV shows depicting those kind of charming young ladies.

If I had to describe myself in comparison to Girls' girls, I think I would happen to be the worst possible combination of Hannah's self-awareness, clumsiness and hypochondria; Jessa's nonchalance and snobbism; Shoshanna's naiveté, and Marnie's fear of imperfection. And that ladies, ain't easy to accept. But aren't we all big fat jokes from time to time, whenever we feel the urge to do things in order to feel alive; or what is worse, to make ourselves believe that we're living life to its fullest?

I really don't mind the TV show's title, Girls. Why should it be called These Girls, In Particular? Aren't all girls, one girl in particular? There is no universal girl as much as there is no universal human being, man or woman. The quintessence of the human being is living a unique and particular existence.

To be honest, I don't know really what makes a good TV show, or even a worth-watching TV show. If I had to say anything about the subject, I think I would ask for the same that I look for in any piece of art. I think it would have to be an honest and touching portrait of human existence.

I believe that what makes Girls really annoying to some people is the fact that it deals with first-world, middle-class, normal young women's everyday issues, which can seem banal and futile to some of the world's population and mostly, let's be honest, to men. More than half a century has gone by since Virginia's last breath, but Woolf's quote is as true as it was at her time: 'This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room'.

As shallow and pathetic as some may think Girls' characters to be, I believe that the show succeeds to truthfully and compellingly portrait one spectrum of human existence. 

And maybe, the fact that we are still entertained by characters that seem at first glance very different to us, is because, as Natalia Ginzburg once said, there isn't such a great difference between human being's lives after all: 'There is a certain monotonous uniformity in men's destinies. Our existences are all ruled by antique and immutable laws, following its own flat and antique cadence'. 

Lena Dunham's Hannah might not be 'the voice of her generation', but she sure as hell is 'a voice, of a generation'; and a very lucid, cynical and exciting one indeed.


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