Editors Note 1/31/2013: The YouTube videos embedded have been swapped out with different clips since the original videos are no longer available. –Joz
There’s a lot of hype around Lena Dunham’s new HBO series, Girls. And I refuse to be a part of it. (Please note that due to my hypocritical nature, this means I’ll probably be drinking the Kool-Aid starting April 15th.) Why, you ask. But her indie film, Tiny Furniture, was critically acclaimed! And this will be such a realistic and hilarious and honest portrayal of young cosmopolitan women in the 21st century, unlike Sex and the City! They even tweet on the show. And you know what I say? White girl problems.
Keep in mind that I’ve never seen Tiny Furniture. I’m passing judgment based on the numerous trailers I’ve seen (which all happen to use the same footage, just at different times and occasionally, flipped in the opposite direction), and here’s what I figured the show to be out: a young, post-college white girl is forc to survive in the Big Apple after her conservative yet comfortable looking white parents cut off her allowance. Also, the guy she likes is a jerk. Cue tiny violin. And cue scene where she dances around with her white girlfriends. (Yup, it’s there at the 1:08 mark in the YouTube video.) Here’s what the LA Times describes,
Premiering April 15, it’s a sexually graphic, emotionally luminous half-hour dramedy about a quartet of female friends…stumbling toward adulthood. [The series] pivots around Hannah Horvath (Dunham), an unemployed aspiring writer who has a bad habit of sabotaging herself.
Just by reading that, it would be easy to assume that Girls could apply to any young woman. We all have friends, we are all aspiring somethings and we all sabotage ourselves one way or the other. But the trailer reminds us that once again, despite the quirky humor, the not-exactly-model-like leading lady, the awkward sex (except maybe the Judd Apatow name gives this away)–this is a story about white girls. The LA Times article even states, “one likely criticism of the series is that it dwells on privileged white-girl problems.” And it’s not just the sea of white faces that annoys me. It’s the fact that this common story about twenty-something women who don’t always get it right is somehow only worth telling through their culture.
As Asian girls, we get Tina from Glee and once, Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls: adolescent female characters forced to go to extremes to stand out, whether it’s faking a lisp and dressing like a goth or breaking free from strict, Christian parents. But why can’t we (or any non-white girl) be included in a buzzworthy show like Girls? Does this humorous, groundbreaking and hyped story only apply to white women? It’s called Girls, for chrissake: the most generic, all-encompassing term you could apply to the female gender. In the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot comments on the “sexual revolution” that these HBO characters go through:
Girls also paints a revealing picture because of what, or whom, it leaves out. The show’s young women are protected, in part, by privilege: they went to good colleges and, to a greater or lesser extent, have the financial and moral support of families that believe in them. The sexual revolution has mostly been a boon for upper-middle-class women like them, who have been able to use its freedoms to delay marriage and to find mates they can stay with for the duration, while enjoying active sex lives in the meantime.
In other words, the only women who can afford to experience the awkward journey to sexual awareness, employment and comfortable happiness in New York are the white ones. But did it cross anyone’s mind in the writer’s room that maybe–just maybe–it’s a little weird that a show set in New York can contain absolutely zero non-whites? Of course, all we’re seeing is the trailer footage so hopefully there’s some black character wearing Ray-bans in a coffee shop in some scene. But if Sex and the City has taught us anything so far, it’s that when you see four best girlfriends hanging out together, chances are, everyone else is white. For example, check out the new Lola Versus trailer starring Greta Gerwig.
Again, we have a quirky white woman navigating awkward relationships with her snarky friends in New York and aside from the African American bouncer in a strip club (oh, great), the city is completely vanilla. I think I saw some ethnic looking person in the background of one scene, but that could have been a speck of dirt on my monitor. And no, this movie is not set in some podunk town in Montana. This is New York. And apparently it didn’t cross their minds that their portrayal of New York doesn’t coincide with what the reality is.
The same goes for Girls: how insulated is Dunham’s world that the stories she finds worth writing only feature privileged white girls? If this show somehow reflects her personal life, does she not realize how alienating this can be for other young women in America? She probably doesn’t and because of this blindness, I won’t be paying attention to this show.*
*Okay, I will.