This is a tricky show to write about. I feel like I’m going to incur heated disagreement no matter what I say. To be honest, I’m not even sure what I want to say.
I feel like I have to write about Girls. It’s clearly a show intended for my demographic, its creator, Lena Dunham, is only a few years older than me, and it depicts many experiences I’ve had or friends of mine have had. So why hesitate to write about Girls?
As I watch Girls, the Cultural Studies part of my brain tends toward Julia Kristeva’s theories of abjection and otherness. Kristeva uses the idea of a corpse to explain abjection. To perhaps over-simplify Kristeva’s example, the corpse is dead, but also human. Aside from all that disruption to the symbolic order stuff, etc., the important thing is this: in the corpse, we recognize ourselves (the human form), but also something abhorrent, something that is far removed from ourselves (death). The corpse causes us to reconcile our living selves with the notion that we, too, will one day be just like the corpse. It’s other, but not other. It’s me, but not me.
This is how I feel about Girls to some extent, and it is why I have such difficulty forming thoughts about the show and then recording them. As I’ve said, the intellectual side of me explains my aversion to the show in critical terms. But the emotional responses I’ve had to Girls are difficult to examine.
I can rationalize my emotional experiences of the show through theory, i.e. I can’t watch Girls because the characters are too similar to me, and that makes me uncomfortable. But that doesn’t change the fact of the experience. Understanding why I feel the way I do doesn’t alter or remove those feelings. It simply gives me a certain amount of distance from which to analyze a thing.
And in this case, distance is the last thing one needs when writing about Girls. When I remove myself from the characters and the world that the show has created, I am making an implicit statement: This is not me. Though I recognize myself in certain actions, words, and thoughts of its characters, Girls is not me. Girls is other, outside of me.
And for most of the television shows about which I write, this approach is just fine. I am considering these shows intellectually and critically. Though my experiences naturally define how I perceive other shows, they do not limit what I have to say about them.
Limit may not be the right word. I am struggling to get at what I mean to say about Girls. I find it difficult to watch a show that simultaneously provokes such a varied response in me: I loathe its characters for their self-absorption, their mistakes, and their failed attempts at human interaction, but I can’t. Because often what I really loathe is my self-absorption, my mistakes, and my failed attempts at human interaction. And there it is, writ large on the television screen, for the world to see.
In this sense, I consider Girls a success. Not my success though. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Girls speaks for me, or any other young women of my generation. No, what Girls does is write for me. It’s a collection of experiences that many of us have had, perhaps Dunham’s way of saying, we are here. These are the things that have happened to us. Let me tell you about them.
At the moment, Dunham is one of the few young female writers to do this on television. And as more young women join her, our canon will grow. As we continue to write for ourselves and each other, we are adding records of experiences that the world needs to know about. We are asserting the validity of our lives: what we have done, what we want, and what we will yet do.