I've watched every episode of Girls. I like to say I've hate-watched it, perhaps because that's the fashionable thing to do. Everyone has an opinion about Girls, and apparently the New York Times has an assignment editor telling their entire staff to weave references to the HBO show into each story about 20-somethings, or base entire articles on it.
To be sure, I think there are a lot of issues with Girls, from the constant nude scenes Lena Dunham stars in (playing table tennis topless, really??), to the book deal she's handed out of nowhere or the weird scene where Hannah's garbage bag luggage somehow was allowed through TSA.
But rather than just rant about another problem, I want to offer Dunham some unsolicited advice about a simple write-in to appease the naysayers. (And don't tell me it's too late, because I know you're shooting two blocks from our offices this week) It's actually pretty simple: make Shoshanna have student loan problems.
Shoshanna goes to New York University, one of the most expensive schools with one of the most indebted student bodies in the country. Right now, she seems to be living the high life, with a fancy pink studio apartment and no apparent money problems. She's a peppy, well-dressed character, who clearly has frequently shopped in SoHo and the West Village.
Shoshanna has also shown she has maturity problems, especially prevalent during the episodes about her relationship with Ray. It would only make sense for her to have casually taken out large private loans, on top of federal ones, thinking her debt would be manageable upon graduation. Thanks to reforms from the Obama administration, federal loans carry a lot of protections for recent graduates, such as income-based repayments. Private loans, on the other hand, could easily stress out Shoshanna, since banks are more likely to come demanding $950-per-month payments from a new NYU grad.
Shoshanna is also the only logical character to carry debt; Hannah went to Oberlin and private liberal arts colleges often have generous financial aid packages. Marnie comes from a privileged background, so it's likely her parents paid her bills, while the rest don't have much reference to their collegiate pasts, or are too small a role for it to matter if they have debt.
Student debt borrowers are unrepresented in popular media. One-in-five householdscarry debt, with the average graduate carrying $30,000 (higher if you're an NYU student), with two-thirds of the classof 2013 leaving college with loans. Yet, no TV show or movie incorporates this reality.
With all the hype around Dunham and Girls, there's been a lot of scrutiny. There have also been a lot of people calling Dunham the voice of her generation -- though this seems to be mostly from people who aren't millennials, and I thoroughly disagree that Dunham is our generation's voice. But there hasn't been any TV show to even touch on the new normal of a generation of recent college graduates carrying burdensome student debtloads. 2 Broke Girls touched on it, but not in a way that sparked much discussion.
Dunham has the opportunity to make a bigger splash, because every blogger seems to think HBO shows are much more worth discussing than anything on, say, FX or MTV. Regular reporting on student debt only goes so far, but pop culture connects issues on a more personal note. Dunham could help change things for the millions of people her age who aren't securing multi-million dollar book advances. If nothing else, an episode of Girls about student debt is guaranteed to lead to at least a couple posts on Slate and ThinkProgress.
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