PHOTO BY DUNCAN SULLIVAN
by Grace Hirt
January 31, 2013
The new season of HBO’s Girls began a few weeks ago, which prompted some soul-searching. Why is it that in the face of critics who condemn the characters’ privilege and the show’s lack of diversity, I still love it with such a fierce, protective, personal passion?
Besides the fact that my X chromosome identifies with all four of the main characters on some basic level, I also just think it’s funny. I mean, come on, girl gets peed on in the shower.
So I re-watched the entire first season, and I think I discovered the moment that made me an eternal devotee of the show. In the very first episode Hannah, the main character, unintentionally quits her internship at a typically nondescript publishing company. She tells her boss she can no longer afford to work for free, and his response is simply perfect:
“Oh no, no, I’m not quitting. I just, I know that Joy Lin got hired after interning so I thought that maybe...”
“Hannah, Joy Lin knows Photoshop.”
The first time I saw this scene its absurdity nearly knocked me out, but it also tightened the knot that’s developed in my stomach since I decided I’d move to New York after graduation. It’s this totally crazy flooded market that I’m planning to enter, and I, like Hannah, am armed with little besides writing skills and a need to eat (I also like to think I’m a little less neurotic than she is, with a better work ethic).
Hannah’s boss may be a caricature (“I was just gonna start you manning our Twitter, you have just the quippy voice for that”), but he is also the voice of all my insecurities. He routs internship requests into his spam folder. UGH.
PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO
This is the beauty of Girls: the absurdity is palpable, but the reality is TERRIFYING. I believe that New York has no surplus of writing jobs. But Hannah’s career woes are compounded by the fact that she is self-absorbed and very interpersonally dysfunctional. I mean, who makes a rape joke during an interview?! But hey, she has talent – or so we are meant to believe – and a passion for writing, and success seems eternally elusive.
Yes, Hannah’s been coddled and supported by her parents her entire life. She’s probably been told she’s special and that she could do anything she wanted a few too many times. In my head, I have little sympathy for her – she has way more than she realizes, she just needs to get it the fuck together. But my heart – my coddled, supported, “special” heart – totally gets her.
When I decided to ‘major’ in literature, I was giddy about how much fun I was going to have. I thought, “I’ll just get to read books and write about them all the time!” As for the real world, it could go to hell. It was secondary to my intellectual pursuits, and I’d figure it out eventually.
But as I slowly realized that there was nothing I wanted less than to stay in the academy, go to grad school, and become a professor, I was left with the gut-wrenching conclusion that I really hadn’t figured anything out. I constantly have to tell myself that I’ll be okay eventually, and I’m prepared to work hard for whatever it is I decide I want.
But the other voice in my head – the one telling me I have no skills and nothing to say – is worried, to say the least. And watching Girls, for whatever reason, sometimes allows me to rationalize it into submission.
Yes, the characters are repulsive in a lot of ways – ways that I like to think I am not. Besides Hannah’s dysfunction, there’s Marnie’s narcissism, Shoshanna’s naivety, and Jessa’s devil-may-care approach to others’ feelings. It’s often hard to sympathize with any of them.
But just when you think the kids are beyond help, they surprise you. After Marnie’s totally deserved post-breakup post-firing tailspin, her new job at a skeezy gentleman’s club shows that she has at least a modicum of self-awareness - she gets to “work on her interpersonal skills.” And Hannah is at least attempting to have normal romantic relationships. She is also failing miserably, but it’s a start.
If my own insecurities got me hooked on the show, these moments are like personal redemptions. Small victories, the most minute indications of growth, self-awareness, self-assertion – they are like tiny cheerleaders that enter my brain and put things in perspective. Progress is being made.
Everyone’s leaving their comfort zone (it’s where the magic happens!), and no one is falling off any cliffs. Hannah’s even getting a writing job, sort of! I’m not sure I would want to start a career by narrating my big cocaine night out, but whatever, she sure makes it look fun.
And so she has to work at a coffee shop. It’s not the end of the world. She can pay her rent with dignity. I feel almost positive I will wait tables again in my life, and that’s okay with me. At the end of the day, the girls all have roofs over their heads and then some. If nothing else, I can at least confidently aspire to not starving.
But I am going to learn Photoshop.
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