Lena Dunham plays Hannah Horvath in HBO’s “Girls,” which Dunham also writes, produces and directs.
“I may be the voice of my generation … or at least a voice, of a generation,” says Hannah, the character played by Lena Dunham in the HBO hit television show Girls, to her parents.
But is she really the voice of 18 to 20-somethings across America, or even the voice of some 18 to 20-somethings?
The popularity of the show — winning at the Golden Globes for best comedy, with Dunham also taking home a Globe for best actress in a comedy — has drawn attention to the generation that Dunham represents. Instead of simply moving from adolescence into adulthood, that generation goes through what psychologist Jeffrey Arnett calls “a new life stage between adolescence and young adulthood.”
Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University and co-author of the book When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? said that the characters on Girls are all “typical emerging adults.”
“They change jobs a lot, they have periods when they can’t find a job and many of their jobs at this age are crummy jobs — things they take in the short term, just to get by, while they look for something better.”
However, many students don’t think that Girls represents them, and even feel offended by the suggestion that it does.
“Girls represents a very particular subset of people in our generation, but I am definitely not a part of that group,” said Emily Moss, a junior at New York University.
“Lena is only writing what she knows, and unfortunately that excludes a lot of people,” she said. “Those of us with less money or a different skin tone than her especially suffer from being left out of the Girls demographic.”
However, according to Ben Brewer, a senior at Pacific University, “in terms of upper-middle class, white, educated 20-somethings,” the show is “absolutely spot-on.”
He also said he doesn’t think that the show overly stereotypes.
“As a gay man, the show’s gay characters have never offended me or seemed overly stereotypical,” Brewer said. “In fact, the first season addresses a struggle common to many young gay men: how to be yourself without feeling like a stereotype.”
According to Rutgers University psychologist Jennifer Tanner, who studies 18- to 25-year-olds, the current generation’s transition to adulthood is “indisputably different” than that of other generations, and Girls primarily highlights the period of emerging adulthood.
“Is Girls the voice of a generation or is Dunham just describing that transition?” asks Tanner.
For Tanner, the show’s characters don’t represent a demographic, but a privileged group.
“Money buys you freedom to be who you are,” she said. “It’s not your race or your gender.”
If young adults rebel against the idea of Girls being the voice of their generation, it’s probably because they don’t want to be defined by any single voice, Tanner said. “If there’s any other time in life that’s about being an inividual, it’s that generation in emerging adulthood.”
Not all young adults feel that way, and in some ways, Girls shows emerging adults that it’s OK to take more time to grow up.
Arnett said that most young adults are “relieved” to hear about the theory of emerging adulthood, because it helps them see their current problems as normal.
“Nearly everyone finds a more stable and rewarding life path by about age 30, in both love and work,” Arnett said.
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