People Need To Stop Comparing Me To Lena Dunham
I finally watched Girls, and now I'm really mad at you guys.
by Jill York
Suppose for a moment that it's 1977, and you are an asthmatic, socially awkward teenage male. You're kind of dark and brooding, so you wear black a lot, and occasionally you walk around wearing an old beekeeper helmet, because it covers your face and you're self-conscious about your acne. Then Star Wars comes out, and all of a sudden people start whispering and pointing at you in the cafeteria even more than usual. The comparisons to a fictional villain in a movie you haven't even seen anger and frustrate you, and before you know it, a school security guard's searching your locker and confiscating all your porn.
This is sort of how I feel when people compare me to Lena Dunham's character on Girls.
Since the show premiered in April, I have been compared to Hannah Horvath, the twenty-four-year old aspiring essayist that Dunham plays on the controversial HBO series, approximately seventy-five-thousand times. Ex-boyfriends, relatives, people I haven't spoken to in years, all feel compelled to comment on the ways in which I am similar to the character. This would not be an issue, if they weren't also listing the myriad reasons why they hate her.
"Did you see last night's Girls?" these conversations usually start. "Lena Dunham's character is such a stupid, annoying bitch, and seeing her topless is like looking at autopsy photos of murder victims. But you know, it's weird, you kind of remind me of her." Or, "Lena Dunham and her friends are a bunch of racist fucking untalented hipster assholes. I hate that show, and I hate myself for watching it. I feel like you'd love it, though, 'cause it's pretty much about you."
I hadn't even seen Girls when I first started getting these comparisons, but at first, I assumed that any parallels between me and Lena Dunham were purely superficial. Like Hannah, I'm a white, female, privileged twenty-something from New York with aspirations of writing professionally, but these commonalities are certainly not unique to me; in fact, they probably apply to about sixty percent of the total Girls viewership. I couldn't figure out why so many people seemed to see shades of me in what was, by all accounts, an incredibly unlikable character. So I put myself to work, skimming through the hundreds of reviews and blog posts that had been written about the show.
Compared to the rest of the internet's response to Girls, my friends' assessment of Hannah had been extremely generous. Critics and commenters made her seem like the most nefarious pop-culture super-villain since Hannibal Lecter, or Flo the Progressive Insurance Lady. She was alternately described as "spoiled," "lazy," "entitled," "self-absorbed" and, as one Rolling Stone critic put it, "kind of a pissant." Time magazine critic James Poniewozik even compared her to Tony Soprano in a piece on TV "antiheroes." Others seemed less interested in analyzing the show than in running Lena Dunham over with a truck.
Either way, everything I read about Girls indicated that I should be hurt about being likened to someone so repugnant. I wondered if I really seemed like the kind of person who would pocket a twenty-dollar tip intended for a hotel maid, or, as Hannah's boyfriend Adam puts it, "fuck someone just to go home and write about it in [my] diary." I never thought I'd be one degree away from the guy who garroted a former business associate in a hot tub. Was I really, like Hannah, a spoiled, lazy, entitled, self-absorbed pissant? I had to find out, so I caved and caught up with Girls.
Almost immediately, I realized that the answer was a resounding yes.
Everything my friends and the internet hated about Hannah seemed to be plucked directly from a checklist of things that I was embarrassed by or hated about myself: criminal levels of self-absorption; a tendency to throw myself into relationships at the expense of other friendships; sky-high literary ambitions, despite the fact that the only decent thing I'd written in months was a nasty note to my downstairs neighbor about leaving laundry in the dryer.
Even Hannah's sexual partners seemed to be lifted directly from my own roster, from the gay ex-boyfriend to the anti-social, fitness-obsessed manchild to the nice, unassuming dude averse to dirty talk and backdoor stimulation. It felt uncomfortable to watch them paraded onscreen, one-by-one, like contestants in some perverse Mr. Bushwick competition. It felt even more uncomfortable to realize that this was yet another thing I had in common with Hannah: fucking someone only to go home and write about it later. (You know, kind of like what I'm doing right now.)
In this sense, watching Girls felt like going through one of those boot camps for out-of-control teenage girls on the Maury Povich show, where former drill sergeants attempt to reform pregnant thirteen-year old meth addicts by screaming at them about what worthless, terrible people they are. It was like Lena Dunham was blowing an airhorn in my ear and screaming, "Stop judging me and start judging yourself, you spoiled, lazy, entitled, self-absorbed pissant." And after a while, I couldn't help but acknowledge that she had a point.
Next week, HBO will air the season finale of Girls. Although there have been hints of Hannah maturing into a capable, decent, non-loathsome person throughout the season — her first forays into the literary world, her surprisingly healthy relationship with Adam, her fledgling attempts at severing ties with her toxic best friend — it's unlikely that she'll pull off a complete 180 from anti-hero to hero in the span of twenty-eight minutes.
In a way, though, I kind of hope she never makes that transition, for both the show's sake and my own. I still don't like Hannah Horvath, and I certainly don't like that I see so many of my own negative qualities in her, but I like that she and her cohorts force me to see them. And I think that's why Girls has resonated so strongly with us spoiled, lazy types: it takes these uglier truths about ourselves and how the rest of the world sees us and it spits them back in our faces, leaving us to think about whether we'll choose to stay on the Dark Side or take our first steps toward the light.
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