When Lena Dunham’s Girls first aired back in March 2012, I was 19 and about to move to London from my provincial French hometown after an awkward and boring gap year. Looking back, I realise I would have found support in these Brooklyn-based girls struggling with hopes for the future, relationships and the loneliness of big city life.
But several factors made me think twice before jumping on the already-crowded bandwagon of Girls fandom. First of all, I was young and utterly clueless. Not only had I not yet lived in a hip, metropolitan city, but my more personal experiences had been limited too. I didn’t know much about boys and what I wanted from them, which, more importantly, also means that I didn’t really know what I expected, needed, or could get from the kind of female friendship presented in the show.
My closest relationships up to that point had been with my family, in particular my twin sister, even though she naturally was – and still is – my best friend. But you can’t always speak openly with members of your own family. Not even to your twin. (Especially not to your twin.) So, just as Lena Dunham’s Hannah decides she must live life before she can write about it, I too felt the need to experience life before I could enjoy and fully appreciate Girls.
Yet what really turned the scale against the show was the media attention it received, much of which was negative, and some of which was justified given Dunham’s proneness for dropping dubious #hottakes. (And yes, I do see the irony in writing an article on Girls complaining about the number of articles on Girls already in existence.) In their defence – and mine – it should be said that I used to skeptically read and semi-secretly enjoy said pieces for their explorations of womanhood, even back before I started watching the show.
For indeed, like Beyoncé, I too run the world now. Peer pressure, curiosity and undoubtedly the loosening up of my arrogance and the growth of my tolerance through the years have led to my cringe-watching and eventually binge-watching Girls, with my appetite growing as the sixth and final season draws ever closer. At the risk of overstating my case, I now consider watching Girls to be an important life experience in itself, one that all millennials should embrace. Because although Girls, like any coming-of-age trial, isn’t always life-affirming or even enjoyable, the self-questioning it leads one to undertake is worth its recurring stabs to the heart.
On what turned out to be a momentous evening, sitting on the sofa with my female Girls-fans roommates, I was ready to be proven wrong. What I didn’t expect was to feel uneasy but intrigued after watching the first two episodes. I didn’t really like any of these pretentious characters and especially not the pernicious relationships they entertained. If I’d been honest with myself then, I’d have admitted that my discomfort was coming from the same aspect that fascinated me.
I recognised some of my own hopes and doubts in Hannah’s financial and creative anxiety and, especially and more worryingly, in her blurry and destructive relationship with Adam (Adam Driver). I am now 24, the same age as Dunham then, and even though my own recent complicated relationship with a boy wasn’t nearly as strange, I related to her seemingly counterintuitive and contradictory romantic impulses. Nevertheless, the selfishness of all involved left me cold. Determined to understand how my loving and caring roommates could connect to these self-centred snobs, and already subconsciously hooked, I carried on watching.
My scepticism had all but evaporated by episode three. At last, the tenderness at the core of these relationships began to show itself. At the end of the episode, Marnie (Allison Williams) returns home to find Hannah dancing by herself in her bedroom, but rather than commenting on this scene, she joins in. Neither one knows exactly what the other is going through, but they’re friends. The reciprocal support they provide comes in small gestures, yet it can still turn a pathetic lonely night into a party. Taken aback, I turned to my girlfriends sitting next to me. I’d had many mid-week dances with them in this very kitchen. We hugged when I finally admitted ‘I like this!’ and then we talked about the show (and ourselves) for a good hour or so.
Subsequent episodes confirmed my obsession. As each character’s personality became more defined and more complex, I identified my favourites. I immediately fell in love with Ray the looser (Alex Karpovsky) and found myself reflecting on my preference for deeply ironic and intelligent men when his behaviour thwarted my expectations. Such detours would feel like emotional manipulation were it not for Dunham’s brilliant writing.
By having even the opinionated Marnie change her mind every couple of episodes, Dunham cleverly expresses the frustrating confusion that comes with being in your mid-twenties and struggling to figure out your place in the world. From the second season on, I grew to hate Hannah while feeling more and more attached to her: I despise her attitude yet quite often recognise myself in the character.
Much has been written on Dunham’s ideas about gender, race and sexuality. Her depiction of youth has understandably discouraged many spectators and I have not yet recovered from her characterisation of the first African-American person on the show, in the episode ‘I Get Ideas’, as a racist Republican. Yet her often weird stance makes me reflect on what the pursuit of creativity and money, or the fine lines between friendship, romance and hatred, mean to me.
My heart often pounds wildly as I try to decipher my feelings towards the show, its characters and how they are reflected in the people in my own life. Soon enough, however, one of my roommates joins me on the couch and lets me ramble about everything and anything for a while, and all is well again.
Published 11 Feb 2017
By Kate Jackson
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