A debate among scholars is raging in the US about whether young people are narcissistic or altruistic (more in Chapter 7). An HBO series about four young women several years out of college, inspired by Sex in the City (1998 to 2004), Girls (began in 2012) strengthens the narcissistic side of the debate, a devolution away from the confidence and humor of the older friends in the earlier female friends show. (Another spin off of Sex in the City by the same writer, was a prequel launched in 2012 called The Carrie Diaries about the fashionable star as a high school student in the early 1980s.) The creator and writer of Girls and lead actor, Lena Dunham, stated in an NPR radio interview, “each character is a piece of me or someone close to me.”[i] During the interview Dunham described , the character she plays, as a brat who usually makes the wrong decisions; Hannah bombs a job interview by making a joke that the rape rate went up after the interviewer entered his university and drinks opium tea and later passes out while trying to convince her parents to continue supporting her two years after graduation. In the second season, she put the garbage of the coffee shop were she worked in neighbor’s trash bins instead of getting another copy of the key she lost to the shop’s trash recepticle.
Hannah and three co-coworkers agree to allow their boss to touch them inappropriately because he provides good benefits, certainly not a feminist stance. She quits her job when her married boss declines her impulsive offer to have sex because he seems to want it. Unlike the Sex in the City women of a previous generation, we don’t see sex associated with passion or humor. It’s true that Carrie Bradshaw and her three friends were in their 30s, but they had self-esteem, had goals and achieved them professionally and personally. Norton comments the “pathetic girls aren’t funny because these Girls have lost themselves — lost their power. They have no self-esteem. They don’t even aspire to self-esteem. That goes from awkward to just — yuck.” Hannah tells her boyfriend Adam she’s is scared all the time and he says, “Join the club.”
Millennial Anna Willoughby commented on the NPR webpage; “The characters just seem selfish and everything I resent about people my age (and not just white people, btw, like some have said [the four main female characters and their lovers were all white so the second season added Hannah’s brief affair with a black man]. Just entitled, self-absorbed, and childish. I don’t like any of the characters on this show.” Blogger Abra Deering Nortion comments, “There are different kinds of hipsters but this show represents the worst kind: Entitled and lazy East Coast hipsters who actually come across like they’re stupid. They make mistakes and bad decisions and it’s not okay. Why? Because they should know better.”[ii]
It’s not just Hannah who makes stupid choices, as when Jessa was fired from her job as a nanny for inappropriate behavior with the father of the household and marries a jerk she recently met and initially detested. She ended up leaving him in the second season after a fight over her first meeting with his parents where she revealed she dropped out of college to go to rehab for her heroin addiction. Shoshonna’s main goal seems to be to loose her virginity but without enjoyment or intimacy, finally finding a grumpy homeless boyfriend, and Marnie dumped her boyfriend because he was too nice.
A TV critic, David Wiegand believes the show is “representative of the detachment of many young men and women of Hannah’s generation who . . . express passion and excitement through emoticons and tweets.”[iii] A writer for the TV show, Deborah Schoeneman calls the characters and real young women like them, “Women-children.”[iv] But, she sees them not racing to the altar as positive, “It’s about women celebrating femininity and community.” Dunham explained in an NPR interview that Hannah is not a “boogie” (bourgeois) woman, not like the “chick lit” young women who are in search of a diamond ring, husband, and a great house. Some people therefore have called the series feminist, perhaps because the four girls’ loyalties seem to be to their women friends while their sexual relations with men are often unsatisfying, uncomfortable and without depth, or “awkward,” as Dunham said.
The only time I saw female sexual passion in the series was when Marnie masturbates after an encounter with a rude guy. Marnie tells a friend who wants to lose her virginity that “sex is overrated.” Hannah does ask her lover Adam to be monogamous, a response to him sending her a text photo of his genitals, followed by a text telling her the photo was intended for someone else (she responded with a text photo of her breasts). When Adam asks about Hannah’s one-time sexual encounter with a guy she meets in a visit to her parents in Michigan, she is more enthused about the size of his apartment. Adam relies on monthly rent payments from his grandmother and part-time jobs.
A similar focus on foolish buddies who have recently graduated from college (however the actors are in their 30s and 40s), a popular Indian film called Dil Chahta Hai (2001) tells the story of their relationships with each other and with the women in their life. Twelve years later, some SpeakOut students mentioned having a Chata Hai attitude, meaning too carefree and irresponsible. The three friends each live with their wealthy parents in Mumbai and are respectful to elders. The most sensitive of the guys, painter Siddharth falls in love with Tara, an older divorced alcoholic woman, although there is no way they can in any way show their love. She tells him, “The trouble with your generation is they think anything is possible.” In the usual Bollywood style the friends dance with lots of hip trusts and sing: “We are unaware of fear” and “Our paths are full of glory” as they reach for the stars. In a more realistic vein, the lyrics note, “Everyone seems to be lost,” and “We’re a little crazy.” Also typical, we don’t see any physical contact between men and women, but the guys hug each other. Akash limits his romances to two weeks because he doesn’t believe in love—until he falls in love but risked losing her to another man because of his reluctance to acknowledge love. Sameer is foolishly romantic, often falling in love as with a Western girl who robs him while the guys are on vacation in Goa. He falls in love with a girl his parents introduce him to for an arranged marriage after initially agreeing they wanted a love marriage. After Tara dies of liver failure, Sid meets a woman at a Goal reunion two years later and all three guys are shown eating together with their girlfriends, presumably ready to begin responsible adult life.
The US and Indian characters illustrate Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s description of a new emerging life stage in between adolescence and adulthood, as when Dunham said about her characters, “There’s no such thing as age appropriate behavior.” When Jenna got married, Hannah asked her, “Do you feel like a real adult now?” Like the character she plays, Dunham is dependent on her parents—living with them half the time. Another character, Ray, observed, “It’s not adult life if your parents still pay for your Blackberry.” Arnett defined “emerging adulthood” occurring as young adults in developed countries spend more years in education and thus wait longer to enter careers and marriage.[v] He points out that in Western Europe the average age of marriage is nearly 30, which is about the time they feel they’ve arrived at adulthood and financial independence, similar to other industrial nations. Arnett believes having this period of freedom for young adults is a positive achievement by industrialized countries. Arnett warns that “youth bashing” has become too common, ignoring youth accomplishments.[vi] He calls Millennials the empathic generation.
[ii] Abra Deerin Norton, “HBO Girls: Hipsterism Gone Awry,” May 8, 2012.
[iii] David Wiegand, “HBO’s Game-Changer Sitcom Funny, Smart,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 2012. http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx
[iv] Deborah Schoeneman. Woman-Child. Amazon Kindle Singles, 2012.
[v] Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, “The Long and Leisurely Route: Coming of Age in Europe Today,” Current History, 2007. http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/articles/Arnett_2007_CurrHist.pdf