I swear, this latest meme where everyone points out the racial limitations of HBO's Girls is the most surreal internet-fueled trend since people started putting misspelled captions on photos of cats. I've had to stop reading these things entirely, because I find them so alienating. I'm informed that Disgrasian—a site that I have always enjoyed—devotes some time this week to the exercise, focusing on the nannies-at-the-park scene. I can only imagine that the astute critic points out that The Privileged, Racially Myopic Stoner White Girl With No Concept Of What It Means To Work For A Living reveals herself to be privileged, racially myopic, stoned, and lacking any concept of what it means to work for a living. Because, yes, that is what happens in that scene. Next, I hope someone writes a scathing exposé of how Bob of Bob's Burgers makes his living by cooking hamburgers. Speaking of which, what about the racial politics of that show? Right? DON'T THEY KNOW BLACK PEOPLE CAN MAKE HAMBURGERS TOO?
Having spent my last precious moments in bed this morning thinking about this whole thing, I have officially lost sleep over it, and I do not have sleep to spare, people. I think reality television has succeeded in making us stupider than ever and as sexist as always. Unlike reality TV, this show does not consist, even in concept, of "people behaving badly (and therefore being bad people)." "Girls" is scripted, you know, the old-fashioned way. Someone writes it. It consists of characters designed to display bad behavior. Their consistently infuriating antics thus makes them well-written characters. Nowhere have I seen this acknowledged. It is not a particularly sophisticated thing to understand.
I don't really know anything about Lena Dunham. She may well be limited and insufferable—aren't most smart, successful 25-year-olds? But rarely do we collectively rally to impugn the success of smart 25-year-olds the way we have around her. You might claim it's because her success is a result of white privilege; I'd find that a lot easier to believe of a society that wasn't about to seriously consider Mitt Freaking Romney for president. I think it's much more likely that it's because she's a young woman who is making a name for herself by some means other than sexiness. Really. That is what I think.
And whatever Dunham's limitations as a person may or may not be, one thing should be clear: they are not the same as Hannah's limitations on the show. In the same way that Flaubert was not Madame Bovary, Dunham is not Hannah. How do I know? For one, that is how writing works. For two, Hannah's character is writing an unpublishable collection of autobiographical essays (the literary equivalent, I think, of reality TV); Dunham is writing a television show that was picked up by HBO and has become the talk of the town. Therefore: Hannah can't write her way out of the trainwreck of her own life, while Dunham is making an extraordinary living writing the trainwreck that is Hannah's life.
The show is funny the way trainwrecks are funny. I think that's why viewers are confusing it with reality TV—it pushes the same buttons by displaying versions of human character in the least flattering light. But someone is in charge here, and instead of crediting her with seeing through and exposing those types of people who think of themselves as "girls," we act like we're seeing through her and exposing her by pointing out all the things that are wrong with the types of people who think of themselves as "girls." Frankly, I think Dunham has been remarkably polite to the press by not overtly acknowledging this weirdly insistent piece of idiocy. When they say, Don't you think your show is just about a bunch of privileged white girls? she responds graciously as if that isn't the stupidest thing anyone has ever said to her, ever. She doesn't say, Of course I do, you moron. I wrote it that way. Which she has every right to do, and I'd bet you $5 she knows that. Did anyone ever corner David Chase to say, Don't you think your show is just about a bunch of gangsters? Or Aaron Sorkin: Don't you think your show is just about a bunch of politicians? I think this should be our new meme. You know The Simpsons? Isn't it just about a bunch of cartoons?