Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A girl's "Girls" vs. a boy's girls.

I've been thinking a lot about HBO's "Girls" lately.

I love that show. I see myself, or who I was 13 years ago, stumbling drunk down filthy New York streets, not having a clue in the world who I was or where I was going-- not that I was aware of that fact. Ask me back then and I'm sure I would've had a smart and sassy reason for living there, doing what I did, sleeping with the men I slept with. I'm sure it would've been hours of entertainment, my wacky life. But it also reminds me of who I am today, that the upper-middle class babe mewling and puking in Yellow Cab backseats is now all grown up, and it terrifies me to think of the time I wasted back then.  It's heartbreaking.

And then it makes me think of "Sex in the City," which was hailed at the time as "real girls talking about real things! Like sex!" and when a friend showed me an article she'd been in about "real women sitting around drinking wine talking about the realness of SATC!" I laughed and told her I'd love to one day do a collage of all the magazine and newspaper articles written within that show's six years on air about "real women sitting around drinking wine and talking about the realness of SATC!" What a statement that would be! All the stilettoed, working-girl journos out there penning groundbreaking articles on who-among-your-friends-is-a-Charlotte-and-who-is-a-Samantha, cut and pasted, like a ransom note from the 30s, onto one huge canvas. It would take up an entire museum wall, I remember thinking. Groundbreaking!

What a reflection that would be on the sycophancy we were fed ad nauseam for literally six years, discussing the "realness" of those stylish, smart ladies with incredibly expensive shoes. Or were we starved that much for women's voices on TV?

Smash cut to article after article about Lena Dunham's "Girls." They all seem to echo the same sentiment, "boy, that Lena (who often has nude scenes) sure is 'brave.'" Or, "those girls would never get laid that much! No way!" It is the opposite reaction to SATC. These modern "Girls" are icky in some way that the just-as-much sexed foursome of the late 90s were not.

In an episode called "One Man's Trash," Dunham's character Hannah has an intense micro-relationship with an older, wealthier man in his gorgeous remodeled townhouse. Afterward, did we see women's mags or design blogs print chart-icles of "Joshua's pad" with little numbered bubbles telling you where to buy items on the set? (1: Benjamin Moore's "Coventry Gray" is a masculine yet soothing color for sophisticated Joshua's walls. 2: Clean lines make this over-sized ottoman suitable for a man's coffee table, fabric: Lee Joffa's burnt charcoal boucle; to the trade only.) Answer: No.

One comment I read said, "this episode felt like Hannah was reading a Harlequin novel."

I don't know if you cats can remember, but there was this SATC episode, kinda a big one, where this character named Carrie was crying on a bridge in Paris in a billowing couture gown when a man --a man who, everyone likes to forget, treated her like trash the entire decade of her 30s-- suddenly shows up behind her, threatens to beat up the man who's being a meany-pants to her (he's too selfish, that artist ballerina man!), they go back to the hotel lobby where Carrie's INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE DIAMOND NECKLACE breaks into a million pieces and the two former lovers fatefully bump heads as they gather up the DIAMONDS, laugh at all the silliness that just transpired and suddenly remember that they belong together. In couture. While picking up diamonds. In Paris.

Sorry. Remind me again which one was the Harlequin romance?

And as I was thinking over the latest episode of "Girls," titled "Video Games," it hit me. The real difference between SATC and "Girls" can be summed up in an exchange between Hannah and her friend Jessa, who has gone home to see her estranged father. The two find Jessa dad's collection of Penthouse magazine and they are looking through the pictures.

"She should be proud, really," says Jessa of the nude model. "Helping a boy find his sexuality is one of the most noble things you can do."

“Yeah. Aside from being a doctor, or a firefighter,” says Hannah.

Did you see that? THIS is the reason people are uncomfortable with "Girls," right there. Did you see it?

My dears, my loves, my sweet women sister friends of the world, SATC was about women coming into their own, fumbling their way through a world of sexuality-- and here's where it veers off--to find ways to please men or, even better, to have them focus fully on pleasing us.

In case you remember otherwise, here are some actual quotes from our hero, the ultimate, adorable underdog, Carrie Bradshaw:
  • "Women come to New York for the two L's: labels and love."
  • "When men attempt bold gestures, generally it's considered romantic. When women do it, it's often considered desperate or psycho."
  • "Can you make a mistake and miss your fate?"
  • "When a relationship dies do we ever really give up the ghost or are we forever haunted by our fate?"
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, those are real quotes! REAL QUOTES! What were we watching!?

OK, now cut to the oft-derided "Girls" episode, "Another Man's Trash," which ends with Hannah, alone in a strange man's house, abandoned, the impromptu affair unequivocally over. She bags up their trash, throws it in his bin by the street and walks home with only the sound of birds and traffic in the background. This is not a chick "haunted" by her fate. You get no sense that she will stew for weeks and write bad puns about what went wrong. In fact, the one thing about Hannah is she is rarely haunted at all by her choices (whether or not that's a good thing is part of the drama). So let's go back.

"She should be proud, really," says Jessa. "Helping a boy find his sexuality is one of the most noble things you can do."

“Yeah. Aside from being a doctor, or a firefighter,” says Hannah.


There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: your Stanislavski Super Objective. Welcome to the wonderful world of "Girls," a place where Lena Dunham's generation does not give a rat's ass about "should I or shouldn't I?" "Did he or didn't he?" Hannah, the driver of the show, has been raised to believe that her sexuality is not of the utmost importance, instead what she becomes, what she does in the world, matters more (unlike Jessa who unfortunately learned from her impetuous father that seduction is her purpose--one of the reasons she's devastated her husband wants a divorce so quickly).

This is also part of the reason why Zosia Mamet's character Shoshanna is so ridiculous. (Well, that and the emojis.) She is a walking facsimile of what she believes a sassy New York gal is supposed to be, complete with a SATC poster framed on her wall. I genuinely love how bewildered she gets when life isn't as glamorous as her favorite show.

Man, I adore "Girls." Even the opening credits are part of the bold new world of female thought. They change colors, neon, pastel, everything, flashing wildly with new music every week. *This* feels liberating. Finally.

You know, when I decided to leave New York, a dear friend confessed to me she was glad to see me go. "You always told me how much you loved it here and, yet, I never really felt like you actually loved it here."

She was 100 percent right.

So maybe all that glitz from SATC: the Manolos, the cosmos, the ability to live alone in New York City while having windows in your apartment, maybe all that was all too silly, too schmaltzy, too "girly" for me. Carrie: "Can you make a mistake and miss your fate?" (Me: [jumps rope]"How many doctors did it take? One! Two!")

Not that Dunham's generation, or any other, is immune from regret or fear of the future.

Oh, the time I wasted and the histrionics spent on my stupid choices.

Por ejemplo: I had a boyfriend in NYC who lived below Spring Street. That's right. Below. You entered what was most certainly not a legal residence from a grate next to a bodega, down littered concrete stairs to an orange gate and heavy, metal door. Inside there were no windows. The boys, there were three roommates as far as I can remember, lined up mattresses on the linoleum floor. The "apartment" had a dropped ceiling, the kind in office buildings and there was a primitive bathroom. I think. I actually can't remember if it had a bathroom. When you turned out the lights, the entire place when pitch black and there were rats in the ceiling, so the guys got a cat and named it Mr. Pickles and let it roam around inside the dropped ceiling. They really didn't have to feed him because of this.

Anyway, I didn't really like this boyfriend. I liked my boyfriend's roommate, who was in love with another girl, a foreign young woman (Argentinian? Colombian?) who was married and he pined for her, so naturally, I pined for him-- but secretly, because, you know, the boyfriend. When they moved to Brooklyn (and to this day I cannot remember which neighborhood they were in but I knew it was far, far away and super sketchy), my boyfriend pressed down on the intercom and let me listen to the multitude of street sounds, cars, children, men yelling, bottles smashing. "Hear that?" He said. "That's the sound of squalor." Anyway, long story short, these guys were ridiculous and I was ridiculous for wanting to be in their world.

(Hey! Now that I'm thinking about it, I did hook up with the roommate! But I can't remember if it was before or after the boyfriend. I do remember it was a disaster though. And then there was the breakup with the boyfriend in which I called my mother. During the breakup. Like, in the middle of the fight that we were having about breaking up, I called home. So.)

There are so many other stories like this.

I'll never forget the toothy Harvard Law guy (um, listen, I heard you after the 15th time, you went to Harvard Law) who asked me why I was nervous on our date. "Well, figures," I said. "I haven't been on a date since 'Nam." At least I thought it was funny.

At the time I thought my life was romantic, bohemian. I look back now and I think, what on earth did I contribute to that city besides patronage to the bars and my poor boss' graying hair. I was a disaster. (It will take me another decade before I'll be willing to discuss if I'm a disaster now, so please don't bring it up.)

The fact of the matter is I was, and I guess most paycheck-to-paycheck, young, artistic New York females still are, more like Hannah than Carrie Bradshaw. Bravo to that! Bravo to the female march to self-authenticity via scripted teleplays on cable! I LOVE YOU, LENA DUNHAM!

And you know what, ladies? Fuck the people who tell say, "boy, aren't you brave" for making choices that are based on what you want and not what the world expects of you. You're not brave, you're just feeling your way around life. It's what we all do, us girls who don't know what the hell we're doing. So get out there, be bold. Make all the mistakes you want!

You turn out pretty OK in the end.