“Do you like the poster?” Shoshanna asks Jessa, gesturing to a slightly obscured image featuring the principle cast of Sex and the City. Jessa reveals that she has never seen any form of SatC, an act which Shoshanna likens to “not being on Facebook”. “I’m not on Facebook,” Jessa replies.
As innovative and original as it is, the pilot of Girls sets the tone of a series that revisits social norms established in texts that have come before it. As the above sequence will attest, HBO’s focus can be more self-involved than outward-looking. Shoshanna aspires to be as free as the women in Sex and the City, yet Jessa finds solace in a spirituality that deems Shoshanna’s desires unworthy of any empathy. It’s freedom versus freedom.
In saying this, it was tempting to discuss how the show reflects the self-involved values and lifestyle of its creator and leading lady, Lena Dunham, but then that’s nothing I didn’t really look at with Steve Coogan last week.
But the topic of this week’s analysis does consider this idea – in its universally applicable standing within modern first-world communities.
Girls consciously plays up to its female protagonists, demonstrating just how different circumstances are between its world and that in Sex and the City. The most central figure of Girls does evoke Carrie Bradshaw, in that Hannah is following a writer’s aspirations, but it’s what Hannah fails to write that becomes the emphasis throughout the series. Sexual autonomy is a badge proudly worn by SatC’s Samantha Jones. But STIs, an abortion story-arc, and an innumerable amount of awkward sex scenes in Girls seem to attest to a reality not nearly as idyllic as the one Carrie’s crew would have us believe in. Yet HBO aren’t necessarily rectifying SatC’s claims to 21st-century living in America. The cultural landscapes are the same in Sex and the City and Girls, but the characters in the latter are struggling in their environment. Freedom is as ubiquitous as ever, the girls in Girls just don’t know what the fuck to do with it.
What You Don’t Own
Hannah is struggling to pay it. Her best friend, Marnie, says it’s the reason she moved to New York. Girls is saturated with references to it.
Ladies and gentlemen, ‘it’ is RENT.
RENT was a display of artistic individuals who had their creative expression limited by financial constraints and the mortal shadow of HIV/AIDS. If RENT showed a fight for freedom, then Sex and the City and Girls show the spoils of the people’s victory. But for the characters in Girls, freedom seems an overwhelming responsibility to handle.
“I just wish someone would tell me, like, ‘this is how the rest of your life should look'”
– Marnie Michaels, one of the four protagonists in Girls, played by Allison Williams
For Hannah and friends, the next best thing to do in the face of their inability to deal with freedom is to pretend that they, like the vagrants of RENT, are in a serious struggle to claim it.
At the conclusion of episode two (the aptly named ‘Vagina Panic’), Hannah is being tested for STDs by her gynaecologist when she claims the following:
“Maybe I’m actually not scared of AIDS. Maybe I thought I was scared of AIDS, but really what I am is… wanting AIDS.”
Aside from being a terrible thing to say, Hannah’s suggestion is, in the grander scheme of things, a plead to be faced with a real obstacle – she hopes that it will give her resolve or inspiration to write or, at the very least, a real excuse to flail in freedom. Writer’s block, becoming financially cut off from your parents, and everyday relationship problems, are Hannah’s menial issues that don’t lend themselves to advancing in any particular social or career direction.
But above all else, what Hannah spoke aloud was downright abhorrent, and the gynaecologist rightfully pulls her up on it. AIDS is suddenly discussed with the serious tone that it deserves, and we are reminded that Hannah’s head-space is constantly segregating her from others. This is an instance of Hannah’s absurd self-indulgence at its worst, and her life can only deteriorate for it.
But it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to RENT’s representation in Girls. One of the most lasting sequences in the series comes at the end of ‘Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too’, an episode that has seen Hannah’s boyfriend, Adam, suffer a burden to his creative expression at the hands of a pretty awful performer in their two-man theatre act. Despite his collaborator’s shortcomings, the whole production is completely aborted due to Adam’s temperament. By the episode’s conclusion, Adam means to make amends for his lack of care unto others, manifested in his epic display of apology to a driver he verbally blasted. At the street where he encountered the driver, Adam makes a ‘SORRY’ placard feature wall. Adam’s sublime creative expression, rendered in a RENT-like font, and meticulously composited embrace with Hannah, is a perfect unity of the bohemian values of freedom and love. But though Adam reveals his greatest potential for compassion and creativity yet, he is clinging to an unlikely chance that his victim will see and interpret his message of goodwill. Never before has there been a greater hope for redemption for one of the most self-imposed down-and-outers of Girls. It’s just a question of whether or not Adam will, like those around him, sacrifice too much along the way.
The American Dream
The season two finale of Girls sees romantically linked characters haphazardly reconcile with one another following conflicts established in its premiere season. One might think of this as an idyllic close to a fairly tumultuous set of events, but beneath the surface lies a tough reality to face. For starters, any conceived notion that the finale could be an elaborate dream is shattered with Shoshanna and Ray’s relationship coming to a grinding halt. The reunions of Hannah and Adam, as well as Marnie and Charlie, are a false ending. That’s not to say the craft of the show’s creators is poor. It’s anything but that when you consider these relationships as case studies in what happens when estranged yet lonely souls reach out to one another.
Marnie returned to Charlie upon learning of his successful sale of an iPhone app. As her lifelong aspiration to sing, and attraction to Booth Jonathan demonstrated, it’s career success that drives Marnie, and she’ll realise such ambitions vicariously if she has to.
Hannah and Adam reconnect at a time when both parties are in vulnerable states. Their intentions within the relationship become sporadic to the point that the relationship can’t settle down in the metaphorical or traditional sense of the phrase.
Still not convinced that Girls has a pessimistic outlook of its characters? Just look at Hannah, who has advanced no further than when we first met her. She’s blown every writing opportunity that has come her way and finds herself literally in the arms of the man she was attached to at the beginning of the series, without having really resolved what had separated them in the first place. What can be positively said of a girl who has experienced so much potential to develop and yet finds herself at square one?
‘Together’ is a blunt season finale title to describe the circumstances that the characters of Girls find themselves in. There are physical bindings between people, but their self-infatuation often outweighs their love for their companions. The phrase ‘love conquers all’ traditionally refers to the notion that one’s love for another can overcome any obstacle. But in a world where achieving anything seems more possible than ever before, one can bear love for something (or, in other words, themselves), and such a love can come to conquer the things that, down the track, might be of greater importance than anything else in life.
HOUSEKEEPING EDIT: Music analyst Fletcher would like me to mention that I failed to mention him in my post two weeks ago. I’d like to mention that I didn’t mention Fletch because I wasn’t sure when to expect his first post. Welcome aboard, Fletch, you silly ass. Also, each of the contributors will take turns in having a week off from blogging; starting with me next week. See y’all next month.