Girls Will Be Girls: My Fraught Relationship with Girls S01 E07

28 May 2012

R-L: Marnie, Hannah, and Hannah’s “fucking boyfriend,” Adam

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.

Stay tuned.

Women in Furs, or, A Really Stupid Decision I’ll Never Make Again

17 May 2012

Why wait for a season finale before writing your spec?

This past semester, I took my first class on writing for television (why yes, this is a teachable skill!). I chose to take the hour-long drama spec course, as opposed to the half-hour comedy spec course. This class is intended to teach students how to write spec scripts (“spec” meaning “on speculation”) for existing television shows. The expectation is that these scripts will never serve as actual episodes, but they will demonstrate the abilities of a writer to capture the tone, characters, theme, and stories of a particular show.

At the beginning of class, we selected four current shows on which we’d like to write: Justified, The Walking Dead, The Good Wife, and Mad Men. I chose to write my spec script for Mad Men, which was the titular REALLY STUPID DECISION.

Let’s bypass the following true, but somewhat tedious, remarks so that I can get to the REALLY STUPID DECISION: the course was challenging, I learned a great deal, and I did indeed come away with a solid understanding of writing for a television drama. I had a wonderful experience in the class and I know my writing improved over the course of the semester.

The REALLY STUPID DECISION was choosing to write for a show that is currently on the air. I love Mad Men and I was looking forward to writing snappy dialogue for its characters. That part was great. But watching each new episode devastate my spec script was a singularly unpleasant experience.

(Not-so) Little Sally Draper waking up at the new apartment in the first episode? Damn! How’d Matt Weiner get a copy of the first ten pages of my spec? A shot at luxury car company Jaguar a few episodes later? Well, shit! Sally walking in on Uncle Roger having a very French moment with Megan’s mother? Now I know this can’t end well…for my spec.

There are good things and bad things about writing a spec for a show that’s airing new episodes. But when you’re the writer, and you’re trying to write a feature script at the same time, it’s mostly all bad. I’d write plot points and emotional beats into my spec, and the following week, they’d appear on the show itself. This was good, in the sense that I knew the show well enough to anticipate where it was going, but bad–really, really bad–when I’d have to re-write pages 2-20 of a 25 page outline.

All this writing and re-writing gave me a good sense of what it’s like to work in television. I guess the crucial difference would be that those supposedly villainous network execs wouldn’t give me as good notes as my professor. But the process is clear, and I know how to work creatively within it.

In the end, I wrote a pretty good spec for Mad Men (entitled “Women in Furs”), even if some of the stories are a bit too similar to what’s been happening in season 5.  I learned my lesson the hard way (i.e. the same way I learn most life lessons): don’t write a spec for a show that’s on the air. In fact, better to time-travel and write a Mad Men spec during the EIGHTEEN MONTHS when the show was on hiatus. Regrets, I’ve had a few. Stay tuned!

Hiatus Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

17 May 2012

Well. That was a long and somewhat unexpected absence. Here’s what happened since you last tuned in:

  • Good shows were born, good shows died, and 80% of the media landscape was dominated by mediocre trash, as usual.
  • Yours truly made it through an entire year of graduate school with minimal psychic damage. Only one more year to go now!
  • I spent most of this last semester watching television and writing television, but I have not written ABOUT television in months. That’s a situation I aim to remedy in bits and pieces. I also hope to give some insight into the whole “writing television” deal.

I’ll end this brief post now with the assurance that some scathing critique and unabashed love of television is on its way.

In the meantime, let’s have a moment of silence for the criminally underrated, soft-boiled detective show Bored to Death. Stay tuned!