I try to stay away from Internet maelstroms, because they tend to flare up abruptly and burn out even quicker, making everyone who participated look stupid for expending so much righteousness at such a fleeting issue. But the current hullabaloo about GIRLS and race seems to me to be one of the more misled maelstroms of recent memory, prompting my need to comment on it. Those demanding (only two episodes into the series, mind you…) that the show needs to feature more non-white characters are ignoring the context of the show.
The “girls” of “Girls” are white girls from an educated, upper-middle class white world, and the show is COMPLETELY AWARE OF its insular, monochromatic nature. The girls are not part of a multicultural Brooklyn, they’re part of a Brooklyn where upper-middle class people move after college, which (and I say this without snark), is more often white than not. I simply cannot imagine a black or Latina character on this show without it being a completely token role, there to satiate the PC diversity mongers.
GIRLS writer and creator, Lena Durham, is following the old adage of “writing what she knows.” Gonna go out on a limb here and say she knows mostly about white girls.
Surely, feminism at large has often neglected women of color and other minority discourses; and like the feminism of Betty Friedan, Durham’s feminism is born of a certain class standing, which tends to include mostly white women.
I sympathized with critics when, after four seasons of “Mad Men”, they pondered why race had not yet become an issue on the show. Mad Men is about the cultural friction between the 50s and the 60s, when social barriers were being broken down. The rise of women in the workplace is a cornerstone of that MM’s plot, but there is conspicuously little meat in regards to the civil rights issues of the 60s. One naturally wonders if Matthew Weiner is too lazy to confront questions of race head-on or if it’s not on his mind at all.
But with GIRLS, it’s different. This show is not a parable about society at large, it’s about a group of people who have no idea who they are or what they’re about; in many ways, from what I can tell so far, the show is a parable about their ignorance of the wider world, and about how difficult it is to remove one’s gaze from the navel when you’ve been brought up to be entitled about your abilities and promise. The girls do not know diversity, only insularity, and their world is a tiny one: it fits inside their flittering, contradictory, self-involved brains. To ask the show to be diverse is to ask it to go against its artistic goals.
On the one hand, I am glad we’re in an age when feminists and critics are very aware of feminism’s tendency to neglect minority discourses. But in this case, the feminists and critics were sniffing up the wrong tree; they are imposing a P.C. concept on a show for the sake of being P.C.
It would be great if there were shows like GIRLS made about people who were not just white girls. And I hope some girl out there is getting her shit together right now, writing her story about her world. But I just hope she doesn’t call her show “(Insert Race Here) Girls.” As I’ve mentioned before, that wouldn’t be progress.