I thought that any and all backlash to Girls was pretty fascinating, basically because it said a couple of things. People carry a lot of wounds. Representation is important. You would have to be half-dead to not bristle at things selling you on “a voice of a generation,” however ironically displayed, and then to have a show that stars a bunch of unknowns with known parents on top of it… it just makes you think that the deck is stacked. (Bad Smash joke corner: why didn’t she cast one of Meryl Streep’s Gummer daughters, even if they were volunteering in Micronesia?) I think, in particular, even though the access to making your own art is easier than ever in 2012, it’s still very hard to devote yourself to it, or to make things that people end up seeing with no monoculture. The result? Resentment of people who break through, whose voice gets heard for whatever reason.
And they’re good arguments to have, even if they cloud out the fact that Lena Dunham is a sharp, talented writer. Even if Girls is screamingly tone-deaf at times, seemingly on purpose, she has a voice at an age where people can’t quite afford to have a voice - out of all the twentysomethings trying hard to be writers, filmmakers, whatever, literary and creative, whose stuff do you remember? Whose stuff kicks you in the ass?
For me, personally, Dunham’s work is not there yet - and I know on my end a lot of it relates to stuff I’ve dealt with the past two years, I feel tired, I can’t care and relate in the same way to a girl moping in Tribeca or the general ineptitude of dudes these days - but it certainly could be. She reminds me a bit of Nicole Holofcener, whose work would probably be pilloried in the same way if it came out now, if she starred in it and didn’t have a Catherine Keener - after all, her step-father produced Woody Allen’s films. The other difference between the two might be a little film school (Holofcener graduated from Columbia, I think) and the seasoning that comes with it. This seasoning may also give off the impression of “paying your dues” and “the struggle” because of “student loans.” But seasoning can also come with DIY, eventually. You can learn how to tighten the strings and get someone in the heart. There’s also a lot of parallels between Dunham and novelist/memoirist/screenwriter Emma Forrest.
The Girls backlash reminded me of two other things: Diablo Cody + Juno and Jonathan Franzen on the cover of Time. Such ink spilled over stuff that ultimately can be kind of niche (at least in the case of Franzen, to a degree, and Girls, which is about as popular as that). And it’s certainly quieted down in the case of Cody, who’s been writing some pretty great, weird stuff. The general public will totally fight whenever someone is deemed “the voice of a generation,” or “the voice of now.” Cody’s case was complicated by that whole stripper-turned-writer thing, which inspired so much gross misogyny, whereas Franzen just angers everybody. Franzen’s funny because he’s the opposite of a bumbling, self-deprecating Woody Allen sort - he’s just a literature catholic, believing in the transcendent possibilities of the written word to the point that he can’t really be out in the world without people calling him an arrogant, awful person. He seems awkward to me. I think the talk about Girls will quiet down and, really, the true test of things will be seeing where Dunham goes in her career. What she does next.
Ultimately, however, I hope that a rising tide will carry all ships, particularly when it comes to this show. I want the girls doing Girls to hire girls and mentor girls and put real girls on film. I want Peggys telling Megans that it’s freaking awesome that you saved the Heinz account, in whatever form that is. I want more strange female characters written by smart women straddling the billboards of New York like a colossus. I want those characters to be a variety of races and to have parents that worked as schoolteachers for nonexistent pensions and no lakehouses.
Sometimes I think that people care about pop culture or art in whatever form because you just want to see yourself reflected in the light, to know that you existed as something slightly bigger than the everyday mundanity. Here’s the thing, though: you exist. What are you going to do with that rare gift?