MOST REVIEWS OF LENA DUNHAM'S new HBO show Girls so far have focused on its "realism," which immediately begs questions. If Dunham's show is meant to be realistic, then we're obliged to judge whether it's either refreshingly on target, or entirely missing the mark. Do we, the viewers, feel represented and reflected by the conversations and scenarios that Girls presents? Or do we feel alienated from them? Do we identify? Or do we feel something in between?
In the promotional trailer for the series, Dunham's character Hannah Horvath sits before her parents and proclaims: "I think I may be the voice of my generation," only to retreat instantly behind the modification: "or at least a voice … of a generation." This line, tagged as the catchphrase of Girls in the lead up to its pilot, was received almost as a dare. Someone, finally, was going to take on the challenge of speaking the real and raw truth for recession-era youth! For all its overwhelming narcissism, though, the line also anticipates the mix of recklessness and reluctance that the show cultivates. Girls wants to have it both ways: it wants to be both brash and unsure of itself, universal and specific, speaking (when it wants to) for a generation but reserving the right not to specify which one.
Based on the internet chatter, there seems to be a voracious desire to find oneself in Girls, implying an urgency to locate a voice for this generation, a generation that understands itself to be diverse. As The Hairpin's Jenna Wortham says about these girls: "They are us but they are not us. They are me but they are not me." The show's representations of race, class, and gender have generated an expansive range of reactions, not least because of the show's monolithic middle-class whiteness. It seems like the one thing anyone can agree on is that, unlike Hannah Horvath, they don't eat cupcakes in the bathtub.
But if we're looking for what's truly universal in Dunham's depiction of young, white, upper-middle-class life in New York City, then maybe the cupcake isn't such a bad place to start. Eating is, after all, about as universal as it gets. The overwhelming excitement about and immediate backlash to Dunham's show both seem to suggest a profound hunger on the part of its audience for something nourishing, sustaining, and nutritious, prepared especially for them. This is fitting, because hunger, in all its manifestations, drives Girls. As with all lost generations, there seems to be a profound sense of lack among Hannah's friends. Hannah showcases her appetite for attention, sex, and food, none of which prove exclusive to one another.
The first shot of the pilot shows Hannah in an upscale restaurant seated in front of multiple plates of food, inhaling alternating mouthfuls from each plate. Her mother tells her to slow down: "You're eating like they're going to take it away from you." To which Hannah responds (childishly, mid-bite): "I'm a growing girl." For her, eating and talking are inseparable from the process of growing up. Hannah is, in turn, inte...read more