Published on March 2013: A man walks into a coffee shop and meets a girl. Man likes girl, girl seduces man, man and girl spend a carefree, dream-like couple of days together in the man’s spacious, beautifully decorated New York apartment. But this wasn’t just a man, and it wasn’t just a coffee shop, and the girl wasn’t just a girl.
Educated, professional, clearly wealthy, and, according to the general consensus, very good looking – blond, blue-green eyes, an immaculately chiseled physique, and a smile that has devastated thousands of innocent hearts – this 40-something-year-old man could very well be described as perfect.
As for the coffee shop, it was located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one of New York City’s many eccentric neighborhoods.
Allow me to translate what that means to you; the coffee shop was located in a neighborhood populated by 20-something, upper-middle class, educated, predominantly Caucasian, semiambitious, self-centered, consistently broke, ‘cool kids’. Otherwise known as the ‘Millennials’, ‘Generation Y’ or, to be more accurate, ‘Generation Me’.
Which leads us to the protagonist in this story – the girl. As I said not just a girl, but a 20-something–year-old upper-middle class, Caucasian, downright immature, particularly un-ambitious, extremely self-centered, perpetually broke and not so cool, kid. Beyond her unappealing personality, her pear shaped, flabby physique topped with an averageish face rendered her (again, according to the general consensus) very far from perfect.
So what? Good looking, overwhelmingly ‘flawless’ men fall for average looking, overwhelmingly ‘flawed’ girls all the time. And vice-versa. Forty-something adults have trysts with 20-something young adults all the time. Yet convey this scenario on television in all-its entirely natural manner and a nationwide uproar ensues.
‘Girls’ – the T.V. show I’m referring to, has done just that, provoking an endless diatribe of irrational, rational, simplistic and complex reactions. Similar to the cultural discourse that propagated a decade ago thanks to ‘Sex and the City’, Girls explicitly brings to the forefront a whitewashed, privileged, self-absorbed perspective of life in the female lane. But where Sex and the City was unrealistically sexy, kooky and fun, Girls is awkward,desperately sexual, uncomfortable, and much to our disdain, very realistic.
Beyond these shock and awe characteristics, a key difference with Girls, compared to almost all other television shows focused on the female gaze, is that this show is written, produced by, and stars a 20-something, flabby, selfcentered, flawed protagonist, also known, in reality, as Lena Dunham – a young woman who has amassed a great deal of power in a short amount of time. And who has, unapologetically, aggressively opened herself up to the judgment of voyeurs, and thrown that judgment back at us.
Watching Girls is an exercise in discomfort and pure voyeurism wrapped in the panache of culturally relevant entertainment. Not because of explicit sexual content, immoral behavior, or very unlikeable characters, though all those factors do come into play. But because every other scene is unbearably awkward and undeniably kind of realistic, especially if you have any awareness of what it is to be a 20-something-yearold living in an urban environment and ventured in the world of adulthood. Which I, clearly, do. This combination of disgust, intrigue (at least a little), validation and shame is the exact reaction little Miss Dunham intended us to feel. She wants us to watch people we don’t want to watch, do things we know they shouldn’t be doing and certainly don’t want to watch them doing. She is begging us to shamelessly judge all said individuals and behaviors, while simultaneously making us feel very ashamed of our own judgment. It’s an artistic feat that is both extremely manipulative and wonderfully genius.
This psychosocial response to a television show about girls doing what girls tend to do (whether we like to admit it or not) is as unnerving as it is hilarious, reminding us why we prefer our entertainment to be as unrealistic and fantastical as possible. The reaction to the aforementioned storyline has been particularly intense. Ranging from anger (Why are these people having sex, when they are so clearly mismatched—in style, in looks, in manners, in age, in everything?) to accusation (the episode felt like a finger poked in my…eyeball, or a double-dog dare for me to ask, How can a girl like that get a guy like this? Am I small-minded if I’m stuck on how this fantasy is too much of a fantasy…?).
Seriously, how dare the show subject us to such a preposterous scenario? Not only is this female character audacious, selfish and inexcusably arrogant, but also to add insult to serious injury she is also physically unattractive? It’s completely unacceptable…
It is? Why is it that we feel so uncomfortable seeing a physically non-perfect female on the screen, despite the fact that she is a very accurate depiction of the average American woman (or girl)? Why do we pour so much judgment on adult women leading their lives as many of us do, i.e. ridden with mistakes, regrets, embarrassments and that constant itch of unworthiness? Is all this shame that we carry stimulated by viewing the all too real plight of being a woman, or by the realization that we, as a society, continue to fail our women by enforcing an unrealistic ideal of womanhood?
All of these questions, or issues, only go to prove the contradictory nature of being a female in any society. We strive for independence, equality and to be seen as real, non-sexual beings. Yet we simultaneously succumb to the pleasure of being sexualized and desired. How can we not? Who would be so naïve as to deny the fact that beauty is a very strong,
very desirable currency? Would Miss Dunham and her depiction of ‘Generation Me’ girls have been so brutally attacked if her beauty currency was stronger, or rather at a level we find acceptable? We (us females) attack society for holding us, a socially disadvantaged, marginalized class to a higher standard, yet we continue to hold ourselves to a completely unattainable higher standard of beauty, brains, power and compassion. Defiantly striking our feminist swords at all threats, we proclaim our strength, demand our independence and scream at the top of our lungs that we truly do run this world.
Only to realize that maybe we don’t actually want to run this world. Eventually we all succumb to the fact that there is no such thing as having it all, we awaken to the realization that desire for something more than what you already have perhaps never goes away. And after fighting so hard and so long, we find ourselves isolated, scared and painfully lonely. Too weak to deny the comfort of being taken care of, and too needy to escape the desire for protection.
At the end of the day Miss Dunham and her ‘Girls’ merely unveil, like all good art, the universality of isolation and ambivalence we all carry. The desire to be sexualized, liberated, protected and validated without question or hesitation.
The need to act like an adult and feel like a child, to live in a fantasy based on our own reality. To judge without shame and to stand above the shame of judgment. To have everything without having to realize just how little having everything even means. But it’s easier to turn away from these complex emotions and unwarranted desires. It makes us feel better to instead
focus the lens on the audacity of Miss Dunham because how dare she? How dare she, in all her perfectly imperfect form, throw reality back in our faces and force us to feel the pain of our carefully hidden insecurities? Really, who does she think she is?
After a half hour of surrealism the episode comes to and end. Turns out that man and girl’s fantasy world is short-lived and too good to be true. Having achieved a taste of ‘satisfaction’ both man and girl eventually wake up and return to their daily realities. He goes back to being a successful, very good looking, unattainable 40-something-year-old. And she goes back to being…well, a girl.