Long gone are the days in which a generation could be defined by a single voice. In fact, if anything, millennials are defined by the cacophony of voices. Equipped with the means to broadcast both philosophical musings and trivial overshares at the drop of a hashtag, we can all be self-styled Gloria Steinems.
But being a chorus member doesn’t cut it for Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s simultaneously self-deprecating and bombastic character on HBO’s just-add-Tampax instant hit Girls.
It’s been six episodes since the April 15 pilot, when our 24-year-old zeitgeist hopeful announces to her piggy bank parents, “I think I might be the voice of my generation.” The twittersphere was ablaze over whether or not that’s so, with few signs of a consensus. But what has become rapidly clear is that Dunham (who writes, directs and stars in Girls) does have one thing working in her favor. She is indeed the voice of her generation — on television.
American television has established itself with the capacity to act as a visual time capsule for a generation and its subcultures. And yet, a historical irony of mainstream media is the conspicuous absence of the tastemakers of the moment: the 20-somethings. It’s easy to understand why; to tell our stories with any authenticity would be too raunchy for broadcast networks and too disheartening for just about anyone else. As TIME noted in a successful marketing campaign, millennials are “overeducated, underemployed, wildly optimistic.”
Dunham and her cohorts (among them executive producer Judd Apatow) have instilled those very characteristics in the leading ladies of Girls. Botched job interviews, gay ex-boyfriends and mortifyingly awkward sex: the Carrie Bradshaw dream is over and the Hannah Horvath reality has set in. (The death/disappearance of a peripheral character named “Carrie” on last night’s episode was only another nail in the coffin.)
The show is paving the way with a genuine, gritty and, above all, charming portrayal of recent college grads, holding a mirror up to their quality-conscious audience and tackling the very issues that plague us with brutal honesty.
That’s proven to be a heavy cross to bear, though, as viewers and critics demand of Dunham an increasingly authentic and holistic depiction.
One criticism that splays the show’s digital dialogue is how it portrays Brooklyn as June Cleaver’s white-bread stomping grounds. Slate contributor and cultural critic Debra Dickerson called it a “cop out” that Dunham would create a show with “an abundance of chicks with normal bodies, but somehow no negroes.”
Dunham has vowed to remedy this limitation and others like it in the second season, as evidenced by Donald Glover’s presence in the first week of shooting for season two. What remains to be seen is whether Girls will be able to quench viewers’ desires for both ground-breaking “accurate” representation and killer entertainment; rarely do the two go hand-in-hand (hat tip to Mad Men).
Dunham is a well-intentioned storyteller and I only hope that we don’t lose quality narrative to the pursuit of a more diverse cast. As a group of NPR broads noted on Pop Culture Happy Hour, a token black friend might actually kill the show’s realism in depicting the truth that white girls do tend to stick together.
Race issues aside, this polarizing romp has stirred an immensely charged dialogue that is worth celebrating in and of itself. Mashable reported that in its very first week on the air, Girls ranked #6 in Trendrr’s Cable Top 10 shows that garnered the most social media buzz.
As we enter an exciting era of social television viewership, we ought to relish content that provokes a reaction, and a multifarious one at that.
Trendrr also tracks the positive sentiment amidst the buzz, and in that first week Girls had a 35% index — the least positive sentiment of any show on the cable or broadcast charts. It’s a markedly contentious dialogue, but that’s exactly what fuels this show. Not only is Dunham a voice of a generation, but she’s inciting new voices to join in this global discussion. And that’s worth a whole lot more than 140 characters.
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