Tag Archives: HBO

GIRLS and Race

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.






There’s a new show on HBO, have you heard about it? It’s called “GIRLS,” and, guess what? It’s about some girls. A group of 20-something Brooklyn transplants who are girls, to be specific. It’s about life, love, and fucking up in your 20s. GIRLS can relate to this, right?

The first episode of GIRLS is rather like mumblecore meets Sex & The City; the milieu is straight mumble-style, with young people speaking colloquially and inarticulately, wondering what to do with themselves, screwing the wrong people, and eating cupcakes in bathtubs (???). The S&TC influence is evident, not just because of the show’s cheeky references to it, but because it focuses on a group of girls in an aspirational urban locale. In both shows, New York is the place people move to in order to become who they want to be. And yet, despite the grandiosity of self-building I am implying takes place, GIRLS is entirely mundane and bedeviling in the details. It is the tale, like many realist novels before it, of the wayward bourgeois, whose stories “attach to money at the heart of the drama.” As many commenters have already covered, GIRLS has a forthrightness about money: its characters lack of it, their parents having it, their upper-middle class naivete about how hard it is to get. 

I find the show startling if only because it is so humble in its aims; aren’t popular shows supposed to have stupendous costume design (Mad Men & Downton) or have stunning narrative archs (The Wire)? GIRLS, at this point and I am sure moving forward, will merely follow the minor triumphs and failures of its main BFF characters. A triumph in this show will probably include scoring a 30k job at a publishing house, finding a boyfriend who is nice, and/or severing oneself financially from one’s parents.

Refreshingly, I didn’t find the show particularly pandering in how it tried to capture this very specific milieu; unlike other films, television, and marketing strategies trying to capture this cultural moment, it did not proffer brands, musical taste, or broad life philosophy statements as proof of its authenticity (I’m thinking of Portlandia, Justin Long in the apple commercials, etc). The girls’ apartments are believably unremarkable, the “costume design” is not going overboard to prove the characters’ alternative lifestyles, and Jay-Z, beloved by basically everyone in our society, is the music in the background.

The one thing that does bother me, however, is the presumptuousness of the title. To call a show “girls” is so all-encompassing, one must consider it a manifesta, a declaration that this show is defining or taking part in the definition process of what GIRLS are. Certainly, some might argue that the show is called “GIRLS” in order to distinguish its characters from their adult contemporaries, WOMEN. Maybe calling the show “GIRLS” is a nod to the mundaneness and realism of the show, like when Flaubert called a book about Madame Bovary “Madame Bovary.” A frilly title wouldn’t have worked. But aside from those things, I believe the creator/producers thought that naming the show GIRLS would be some sort of revolutionary move. Maybe it is unusual to capture the life and travails of very typical white, middle class young women going about their business, but it really shouldn’t be. We only make art about women more exotic and more alienating when we harp on how rare it is. I would like to move forward, personally, into a future where it is not revolutionary to portray women. I want to live in a world where half of the shows are about GIRLS, but different kinds of girls–girls in space, girl crime-fighters, girly girls–but without a neon sign announcing that the art is, indeed, about girls. Maybe you don’t like my idea, but indifference to gender is what I think true progress entails.

–Anna Out