MOST reviews OF LENA DUNHAM’S brand-new HBO showGirlsso much have concentrated on that is “realism,” which immediately begs questions. If Dunham’s display is meant to be realistic, climate we’re obliged to judge whether it’s either refreshingly ~ above target, or entirely missing the mark. Carry out we, the viewers, feel represented and reflected by the conversations and scenarios thatGirlspresents? Or carry out we feeling alienated native them? do we identify? Or do we feel something in between?
In the promotional trailer because that the series, Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath sits before her parents and proclaims: “I think I might be the voice of mine generation,” only to retreat soon behind the modification: “or at leastavoice … ofageneration.” This line, tagged as the catchphrase ofGirlsin the lead approximately its pilot, was received practically as a dare. Someone, finally, was going to take it on the an obstacle of speak the real and also raw reality for recession-era youth! For all its overwhelming narcissism, though, the line additionally anticipates the mix that recklessness and reluctance the the display cultivates.
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Girlswants to have actually it both ways: it desires to it is in both brash and also unsure of itself, universal and also specific, speaking (when it wants to) because that a generation but reserving the appropriate not to specify i beg your pardon one.
Based on the internet chatter, there appears to be a voracious desire to discover oneself inGirls,implying an urgency to find a voice because that this generation, a generation the understands itself to be diverse. AsThe Hairpin’s Jenna Worthamsays around these girls: “They are us however they are not us. They room me however they room not me.” The show’s representations of race, class, and gender have produced an expansive selection of reactions, no least because of the show’s monolithic middle-class whiteness. That seems prefer the one thing anyone have the right to agree top top is that, unlike Hannah Horvath,theydon’t eat cupcakes in the bathtub.
But if we’re searching for what’s truly universal in Dunham’s relenten of young, white, upper-middle-class life in brand-new York City, then probably the cupcake isn’t such a negative place come start. Eating is, after all, around as universal as it gets. The overwhelming excitement around and prompt backlash come Dunham’s present both it seems ~ to imply a extensive hunger ~ above the component of that audience for something nourishing, sustaining, and nutritious, prepared especially for them. This is fitting, because hunger, in all its manifestations, drivesGirls. As with all shed generations, there seems to be a extensive sense of lack amongst Hannah’s friends. Hannah showcases her appetite for attention, sex, and food, nobody of i beg your pardon prove exclusive to one another.
The first shot that the pilot shows Hannah in an upscale restaurant sit in prior of multiple bowl of food, inhaling alternate mouthfuls from each plate. Her mommy tells she to slow down: “You’re eating like they’re walk to take it far from you.” to which Hannah responds (childishly, mid-bite): “I’m a cultivation girl.” because that her, eating and also talking room inseparable indigenous the process of growing up. Hannah is, in turn, interrupted mid-bite, for her parents have chosen dinner together the chance to announce the they will no much longer be supporting her unpaid internship in new York, or as her mother defines it, “bankrolling her groovy lifestyle.” Shocked and outraged in all of her un-self-aware entitlement, Hannah announces to her parents the she cannot check out them morning evening because she has a “dinner thing,” and then will certainly be “too busy becoming who ns am.” This step of furious publicly ingestion looks forward to a future of relaxed, personal digestion: Hannah requirements to eat, and then she demands to figure her shit out. Throughout theGirlspilot, there is a sense that the people as we recognize it will slip away if we do not get to — and also through — it fast enough. What this girls are running toward, and also who they are busy becoming, they have yet to discover. However resources are scarce, and no one is getting younger.
Consuming and also facing the fact that there can not be enough left to consume room seemingly not compatible in Hannah’s world. Once she’s let go from her internship after ~ her inquiry for a paying place is denied, Hannah’s ceo (played by chris Eigeman, acquainted as a privileged slacker indigenous Whit Stillman and also Noah Baumbach movies) assures her: “When you acquire hungry enough, you’ll number it out.” come which she responds: “Do you average like physical hungry or like hungry for the job?” The line is played for comic effect, yet it also expresses Hannah’s confusion about exactly what she could get hungry for. An appetite, and an appetitive drive, is what Hannah and also her fellow girls require in order come “become that they are.” If you lack hunger, climate you just could be lost. But, climate again, you could still be anyway.
No matter: talking and also eating will save us distracted from the object of ours hunger. Later on, Hannah tells her roommates in a typically melodramatic moment: “I can last in brand-new York because that three and a fifty percent more work — maybe seven if i don’t eat lunch.” The running joke behind these statements is the Hannah’s livelihood is no actually at stake (even she roommates role her eyes throughout this moment of self-pity) since, once push comes to shove, Hannah’s parents can just take ago what they said around buying a lake-house and also bail her the end instead. However Hannah’s fixation on gulp down is no much less real or urgent. Food, together both a metaphoric notion and also a real, onscreen substance, is essential toGirls. The tentative title of Hannah’s memoir-in-progress is, after all,Midnight Snack. A title is supposed to it is in suggestive and representative of a body of work, yet really all Hannah’s (unfinished)Midnight Snackindicates is the she still has actually not learned just how or once to eat favor an adult. Together for talking, she has actually only just begun.
The paradox in writing about — or filming — scenes of eat is that any meal is, narratively speaking, a snack, in that it’s not an end in itself but a short interruption of part more an important ongoing action. Exceptions, such together Louis Malle’sMy Dinner through Andreand Francis Veber’sLe dîner de cons, just emphasize the implicitly narrative potential surrounding cultures of eating. Jim Jarmusch’sCoffee and Cigarettes—a film the strings with each other vignettes that café scenes — find the narratability in visualizing a break or snack. Snacks space by an interpretation inessential, unstructured, and irregular: girlfriend never know when the next one can come. The snack walk not market satisfaction or closure; in fact, it needs a an ext responsible future that can justify the current indulgence.
Food is intended to help us fuel up so us can obtain on through life, but food inGirlsbecomes the an extremely excuse to stop the mundane reality of farming up. Scene of eating, i beg your pardon abound in the pilot, are pauses in the real job-related that constitutes a bread-earning life. Quite than showcase the crucial regularity of eating, however,Girlsuses food scenes together a way of control plot, and exploring personality development. A meal is an chance for Hannah’s parental to tell her “No. More. Money.” (and, by extension, no much more food). As soon as the waiter asks if they would like an ext of anything, Hannah’s mom drives the blog post home and speaks on she behalf: “No, she’s fine.” Food is additionally the gateway to Hannah’s an approach of coping through her new economic status. After twenty-four hours of being financially reduced off, Hannah comes house (notably so late for her “dinner thing”) and also drinks a cup of cook opium leaves upon mishearing the it “tastes choose Twix.” (It, surprisingly, walk not.) whereby a proper, reserved restaurant dinner facilitates Hannah’s “final push” into adulthood, she responds by consuming a medicine (masked in the form of a drink, or a chocolate bar, or also better, a midnight snack). Characters’ motivations and also affective responses are, here and elsewhere, displaced top top food.
In terms of breakthrough — narrative, character, and otherwise — food is a method to one end. It will carry the girl ofGirlstogether, but it also differentiates them. Hannah eats her tub cupcake while complaining around her instance (and her body) come roommate Marnie. At the dinner party for your returning friend Jessa, a last-minute invitee rectal a seat at the table that was never ever meant for her, despite this lastly matters tiny as her visibility feels inconsequential since she will certainly not eat: “I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m just not really into eating this week.” Unsurprisingly, further development of this character stops at this sentence.
As pauses, eat is both what keeps united state from attaining ours ideals, as well as the literal driving pressure for life, and also thus living the great life, itself. Because that all the is clichéd and also flat around the show’s glancing portrayal of happiness Lin, the asian intern who gained hired due to the fact that of her Photoshopping skills, the show establishes typical ground in between Joy and also the rest of the girls through her privileged connection to food. She one heat in the pilot — “Will you gain me a Luna bar, and also a SmartWater, and also Vitamin Water?” — indexes she socioeconomic status an ext precisely 보다 it does her racial one. A wellness bar andtwotypes the bottled water? If Joy can care about what she consumes, the because, as a skilled and also paid employee, she deserve to afford to. Together a suggest of fixation, food becomes an excuse and distraction to store Hannah from encountering up to she imminent shift in financial conditions. Again, the hoax is the there is constantly enough food about to carry out a distraction indigenous worries around not having enough food.
The nested of appetites for food and for sex in fiction, film, and even television long predatesGirls. A couple of examples: François Rabelais’sGargantua and Pantagruel, cutting board Mann’sThe Magic Mountain, Marco Ferreri’sLa grande bouffe,I Love Lucy, and, like, every one of Evelyn Waugh. What makes narrative so directly contingent on physics drives? (“You’re worn down of eat him out,” Hannah speak Marnie about her submissive boyfriend, “because he has actually a vagina.”)
If our culture has mainly neglected food in its conversation ofGirlsthus far, it’s obtained sex pretty well covered. Coinciding with the transfer of the pilot, Katie Roiphe created an post on submissive sex-related appetites forNewsweekand, adhering to the premiere, another on the performance of sadomasochistic sex inGirlsforSlate. While many have responded to Roiphe’s concepts on woman fantasies of sexual dominance with suitable rage, more have obtained it as largely dull and uncritical. In comparison come Roiphe’s previously pieces, which it seems ~ controversial and also infuriatingbecausethey to win something around her generation’s principles of modern womanhood, her recent take top top heteronormative desire appears to be gaining tired.InTroy Patterson’s take it onGirls(also forSlate), that both quotes and comments ~ above Roiphe’s lose of steam:
The movement against date rape is a symptom that a an ext general anxiety about sex. … The crisis is no a rape crisis, yet a situation in sex-related identity.” ns think the Roiphe had a solid point earlier then. It is unclear come me what she is saying, now, in lamenting the awkward sex ofGirls. She is lamenting human being nature? She is disappointed that non-marital sex still had yet to attain zipless perfection?
Roiphe’s retrograde reading of woman desire does no take into account the possibilities that displacement and suppression that could lead to conclusions other than, simply, that females wish to it is in dominated.Girlsmight really stand for a generational change that diverges from, or at least complicates, Roiphe’s concepts of female entry and, much more importantly, sexual identification in general: that obtain us talking again. Who is eat whom the end anymore inGirls?
What is seen as realism inGirlsis precisely what we would certainly not expect to have the ability to see in our day-to-day interactions through others: uncomfortable scenes including food and sex. Sex is explicitly bad and also unsatisfying inGirls, however in an unfazed way. Dunham’s camera takes us into the bathtub and the bedroom together though she were simply narrating an additional chapter in our mutual diary. In the sex scenes in between Hannah and also her “boyfriend” Adam,Girlsplays top top the expectation of erotic submission yet fails to go all the way. With mimicking, fairly badly, the narratives that submissive sex, the present exposes the potential for disengagement and also humor in sadomasochism v its overperformance. Indeed, sex for Hannah seems to feed she appetite to analyze her environment. (At one point, mid-thrust, Adam tells Hannah: “Let’s play the quiet game.”) subsequently for the bad pornographic manuscript that Adam feeds her, Hannah responds with her own. She wants to focus on the speak that occurs no just approximately — but also during — the plot of resting with one more person. As soon as Adam uses Hannah a Gatorade after a an especially unappetizing round of sex because that the latter, Hannah pauses climate responds: “No many thanks I’m good.” An practice in pleasure because that Adam means he’ll require a snack to replenish; yet Hannah not only does not require a drink, she rejection of nutrients likewise signals an implicitly rejection the the sex come which it would be a response. For Hannah, talk is a way of comes to terms with, and also owning, her appetites.
These scenes, lurid in their will to display what is unsexy about sex, are exterior our ordinary purview, except, asGirlsseems come suggest, as soon as girls room with your closest woman friends. Also when Hannah is having actually sex through Adam, over there is quiet a feeling that her best friend, Marnie, is there with them as a referee third. Sitting back in her apartment, Marnie speak her very own boyfriend: “I know specifically where she is. She’s off having gross sex with that animal.” For every that authors have spoken aboutGirls’s appetite because that sex — negative or great — these scenes regularly seem prefer just one more appetite that drives the show’s deeper dynamic of mrs friendship. Men are often only the catalyst v which females connect. Marnie’s friend Charlie is, literally, the outsider, who keeps trying to insert himself wherein he does no belong. The interrupts Marnie conversing with another girl in the bathroom no once, however twice; first sharing the tub with Hannah, and again just after Jessa, on the toilet, confesses to gift pregnant (he is shooed out through a disgruntled wave of Marnie’s hand). “Dude, it’s never ‘just her girlfriend’ in here,” Hannah speak Charlie, and really, it seems like he would know this through now. Unlike the men that interrupt Hannah and also her girlfriends, however, Dunham’s camera is allowed to remain inside through her female protagonists, inviting viewers to come to be a component of the talk that wake up behind closeup of the door bathroom doors.
The camera’s capacity to insert viewers in intensely, also uncomfortably, intimate scene of woman bonding is at the heart of Dunham’s art. Unloading her shit is a process that takes location in much more than one form, with an ext than one body, in the commodes ofGirls. Dunham’s image of this moments oftoo-closeness is, however, just how she prompts moments of visceral to know from she audience. In his article, Patterson to compare Dunham’s interaction with the camera as
kind of favor anSNLplayer law body art <…> Has any type of of the commentary around Dunham’s usage of she nude or naked human body in her job-related bothered to compare her come Tracey Emin, Pipolotti Rist, Vanessa Beecroft, Marina Abramovich, or because that that matter Matthew Barney?
As a form of performance art, Dunham’s manipulation of her body engages viewersbecauseshe treats she body completely irreverently. Prefer Hannah, Dunham has actually a desire to “take regulate of she shape,” and she walk this with bold portrayals of she naked body, in bizarre contortions, ~ above screen. Together the human who gets to script, direct, block, and portray her very own body, all the arguments about Dunham’s deal with to degrade herself autumn apart top top screen. Viewers could not have a difficult time deciding what lock think around Hannah’s use of her body, yet they will have actually a harder time locating Hannah’s, or Dunham’s, own take on sex due to the fact that these acts are never ever fixed in the sexual identity of one body. Like body art, Dunham’s directing that Hannah’s body-alongside the psychological characterization she qualities to that undoes any type of clear notion of what the is the body is doing, and why.
Patterson’s placement of Dunham among the pantheon that feminist human body artists might, however, be slightly off key, together Dunham, ultimately, communicates her body via a television character. The immediacy that body arts is precipitation by the real, physical fact of a viewer’s confrontation v the live human body of the performer before them. What makesGirlsa piece of art (and entertainment) the its time is exactly its ability to maintain a distance and anonymity native its viewers through virtue the the televisual medium.
The 2nd episode ofGirlsconcludes with Dunham lying level on a gynecologists’ table, while she makes a characteristically insensitive, and also provocative, remark around her body. Despite a big part ofGirlsruns top top forcing the audience to compete with Dunham’s body, Hannah, in this moment of vulnerability, desires nothing much more than come escape her corporeality: “Maybe i’m actually not scared of AIDS. Perhaps I assumed I to be scared that AIDS, yet really what ns am is… wanting AIDS.” This is not Ron Athey or Tim Miller, however, who performance art demanded one’s solution to the very real, really immediate consequences of AIDS. Choose Dunham’s treatment of food and also sex, AIDS currently stands as just one more vehicle for her fantasy the escaping the present moment. Dunham goes on to tell she gynecologist the her are afraid of AIDS is like a “Forrest Gump” — the is, a cinematic — type of fear, one that only occurs as soon as you room detached from the real, distanced indigenous the object the prompts this fear. The step is stunning in its portrayal that Hannah’s narcissism, but it additionally shows Dunham’s finish unawareness the her privilege lies in her ability to dramatize disease, starvation, and also sexual deterioration as forms of liberation.
Though its first season could be scripted, shot and also ready to air,Girls —like its characters — is still emotion out a precarious situation, do the efforts to uncover a an are of identification because that viewers the is neither also insular and also restrained no one so expansive and also universal that it stop signifying anything meaningful at all. So much the display seems grounding somewhere between its characters’ sense of the emergency the the current moment and also the magical ability to postpone emergency, look at indefinitely, due to the fact that they have the economic and social resources to execute so. Talk aboutGirls, too, is comes at us hard and fast in a way that forestalls, quite than forecloses, our arising sense the what that about. IfGirlstruly resembles performance art, together Patterson suggests, it is in its capability to precipitate vivid talk about itself virtually instantaneously. Ours responses are an important and urgent, yet provisional, and we must remember the Dunham’s present is still becoming what the is. Writing aboutGirlsinstantaneously ~ above the internet, however, we can be chewing on a many — and also for a long time — before we acquire a possibility to watch down and also really research what the is the we’ve been digesting. Maybe we’re fear they’ll take it away from us.
Jane Hu is one English phd candidate at UC Berkeley with an emphasis in Film and Media Studies. She has actually published in Textual Practice, The new Yorker, the New Republic, Slate, and The Awl.
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