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Don't Shoot The Messenger: HBO's Girls Backlash

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The criticisms being directed at Girls are misguided. The much hyped new HBO show created by Lena Dunham, and co-produced by Judd Apatow, focuses on the lives of upper class, twenty-something, white girls living in New York City. That Girls was promoted as representing a generation is the fault of journalists, and HBO, but not Dunham, or the show itself. If the show was intended to speak for an entire generation, its failure to incorporate a minority character, and a minority perspective, would be a major insult. However, the show is about one segment of society. In this way, it's not entirely different than the Jersey Shore.

Furthermore, the first episode of Girls presents one of the most critical portrayals of middle class, college educated, young, white people I have ever seen. What's revelatory about the show, and perhaps inspired some of the hype, is that by focusing on this narrow segment of our culture, Girls shows the hypocrisy shared by many young people.

Girls exposes contradictions of being a middle class, young person, and she's aimed her criticism squarely at herself. Her characters would identify themselves as liberal, open minded, and modern. That the characters of Girls fail to live up to their own inflated egos, is a main point of the show. That Lena Dunham did not include a black girl in her clique is a symptom of the problems she is confessing to.

The criticism of Girls the show focuses on the characters' narrow worldview, the lack of diversity of their friend circle, their sense of entitlement and the pettiness of their problems. Meanwhile, the criticism that the show Girls makes about middle class New Yorkers is that they take their privilege for granted, are entitled, narrow minded, unaware and have pretensions of being special, talented and liberal. The show's creators are attempting to make many of the same points as their critics. (I'd like to address the pettiness of their problems but it's beyond the scope of this article.)

Girls is documenting a reality, and people are reacting with outrage about that reality, but they are directing their anger at the documentarian and confessor. People are essentially trying to kill the deliverer of bad news.

South Park gets away with shitting on every ideology, class, race, culture, religion, country and group. It succeeds because the jokes are universally directed. Nobody leaves South Park unscathed. In the first 30 minutes of Girls a similar approach is unfolding.

The men are brutally depicted. The Jewish male friend comes across as an evil Jerry Seinfeld. Hannah's best friend's boyfriend "has a vagina," and Hannah's father might have one as well. Hannah's "boyfriend" is a sadistic douche bag. The girls are all spoiled, and beyond that Jessa's stupid, Shoshanna's a narcissist and Marnie -- perhaps the most reasonable person in the show -- is uptight and self righteous.

Girls takes place under a harsh, florescent light that highlights flaws. The intern who is good at Photoshop and the homeless man are not shown in a worse light than any of the other characters.

One thing is clear: nobody in Girls receives a harsher treatment from Lena than her main character, Hannah, played by herself. As a director, Lena has gone out of her way to show Hannah with more character flaws, and physical flaws, than any female protagonist in memory. She's more spoiled, self centered, entitled, immature, messy and lacking in basic moral principles, than anyone else in the first episode.

The first episode features Hannah being cut off from her parents after two years of post college financial support, being fired from an internship, having humiliating sex with a guy who suggests she gets lazer surgery, interrupting her parents in a hotel to read from her "novel" -- which looks like 15 pages -- begging them for money, being told to leave the hotel and finally stealing a $20 tip her parents left for the hotel maid.

Lena wrote, directed and stars in an indictment of her own spoiled self, and was her own target long before she was the target of this current blast of criticism. If Lena hates any race of people it would seem to be white people. She's roasting herself, she's doing it on HBO, and she's wearing granny panties. The show is a dark comedy that can be hard to watch. People are free to hate the show but some of the backlash has been unfair.

This post has been updated since its original publication.