BY: SARAH EDWARDS
Trying to say anything new about the HBO series “Girls” is difficult—and this, in itself, should say something about the show.
It’s a show that most people heard about long before they actually watched it—the sort of show born to be paraded across the headlines of pop culture pieces. Because this is the thing about Lena Dunham’s “Girls”: everyone has an opinion. And, inevitably, you will have heard about the controversy before the plot; measurements of main-character Hannah’s thighs before any substantial measurement of the impact of her character. When I Google Lena Dunham’s name, the search engine automatically fills in the blank with the word “weight”.
And it is, in essence, attention-seeking. Season two begins with generous, lingering screenshots of Hanna’s derrière and rounds out nicely with an episode in which Hannah plays naked ping-pong with a character played by the well-aged Patrick Wilson.
But, no matter how self-aware the show is; this backlash isn’t a malaise of the show. It’s a malaise of the culture where the show has come-of-age in.
Every HBO show is attention-seeking—this, indeed, seems to be the point of HBO, and, while we’re at it, the point of television. Emmy Rossum’s show Shameless—also an HBO series—has an equal amount of nudity and much more, in terms of underage drug-use, sexual innuendo and generally bawdy content. But Emmy Rossum, by pretty much unanimous social agreement, is a Hot Person and her character fits the prototype of someone who ‘deserves’ to get naked. She is a hard worker. She takes care of her five-hundred other siblings and is generally always sympathetic.
Hannah of Girls is different. She is not a culturally Unanimous Hot Person and, unlike Emmy Rossum’s character, she is privileged. Everything about her body seems to be antonym to what is generally considered an acceptable nudity: pear-shaped, she is fond of wearing floral rompers that partition parts of her stomach into neat folds. Like most twenty-something’s, her character seeks attention, affirmation; approval in ways that incite frequent cringing.
She exemplifies a white-coffee-shop privilege that generally makes her unsympathetic to a recession-era viewer. And at least one thing Hannah shares with Emmy Rossum’s Fiona character is this: the quality of shamelessness for both her sexuality and her privilege, things which viewers tend to resent her for.
Popular opinion condemns the Lena Dunham/Hannah duo (a case where artist and subject are difficult to separate) as exhibitionism, and online commenters are prone to go on diatribes demanding that Hannah just ‘cover up her body for once’. But Hannah doesn’t cover up, and she doesn’t apologize. But she shouldn’t be required to.
Hannah Horvath is just another imperfect character on a television show—who, as she says, is “the voice of my generation, or at least a generation.”—and this isn’t something that requires apology or mediation. If Hannah is taken, not as a spokesperson for all twenty-something women, but as a character deeply comfortable with her physicality, where does that leave us?
It leaves me, at least, watching a show in which I have complicated feelings about the main character, and I’m okay with that. No one thinks Hannah is a flawless role-model. Far better, when I watch ‘Girls’ I am able to have a deep appreciation for a show which doesn’t catalog its characters into people who do and don’t deserve to have an active sexual life; who do and don’t deserve to love their body. And that, if anything, is a new thing to hear about.
This article originally featured in Campus BluePrint’s March 2013 issue. For more content check out the digital copy of Campus BluePrint, available on our website!