Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

That's a-hella different.

Without further ado.

Girls, Episode Four, "Hannah's Diary"

Or, On Boundaries.

A cornucopia of line-crossing kicks off when Hannah's boundaries are trespassed by Adam in the form of an accidental sext. Hannah then foists the message - a photograph - on Charlie and Marnie, who she's awakened with her wild reaction. It got more real later, but I was irate with Hannah. I got in there and took this scene personally. I do not like it when, to put it delicately, I'm in the position Marnie was in here. Being shown. Also, this is the second instance of Marnie saying "ew" to Charlie with such loathing that I don't know how he stands it. Even the end of this episode wasn't enough of an exorcism.

Hannah has a job! I like after getting so worked up over the past few episodes, the event arrives with a whimper. A very the Smiths move. She is suddenly in an office, feebly operating a Windows computer, being taken to school on her aesthetic hygiene by her older workmates. Also, her boss gropes her mightily. She gets her workmates to confirm that this is a habit of his, but they are willing to deal with it since he doesn't take it any farther and he is nice. He springs for gifts and is lax about attendance. He is even, in a later episode, perfectly open with Hannah about his "touchiness" and advises her to speak up if it bothers her. This is a few shades different from Adam's behavior towards her - her boss acknowledges that he's crossing a boundary and makes Hannah accountable for saying yes or no, which, instead of adhering to the basic tenant of do not grope your employees, makes Hannah into an accomplice whose boundaries are perfectly crossable without concern, which is all she needs right now, yeah.

Lena Dunham talked to Terry Gross on NPR about an encounter she had with a guy who was very rough with her. When she asked him about it, if he was always so rough, he said he wasn't, he could just tell that's what she wanted. This sent her into a tailspin of wondering how she provoked that, what about her gave off that desire to be brutalized, until she realized that was just a manipulative tactic, just his excuse. That dynamic is even more significantly universal than the vulnerability of being an employee, I think, subject to groping, and this little plot tapped into way more than conventional office harassment. When she tells her workmates about Adam's sext and his retraction - wherein he stated the photo wasn't meant for her - in a way that doesn't necessarily seek validation of her feelings over it. She laughs as she tells the story, after wrenching it in awkwardly, so her divulging it is very much motivated by her desire to see some reaction from someone besides Marnie. The workmates snap. That is demeaning, they tell her, which Hannah counters by pointing out how they allow their boss to grope them. And that is crossing the line! THAT'S A-HELLA DIFFERENT, they declare. I love that. They have put that boundary in place and Hannah is calling them out on it. I love that they perceive themselves as taking advantage of the situation, just as Hannah perceives herself as merely taking what she wants of her relationship with Adam, never bothering to assess the inadequacies and inconsistencies and how they make her feel.

Ray is back. I finally purchased Tiny Furniture over the weekend and watched the conversation with Lena Dunham and Nora Ephron. Dunham talked about her difficulty coming up with names that seemed realistic. Alex Karpovsky's name in Tiny Furniture was Jed. Dunham has gone beyond selecting names that are unfortunately plausible - they lend so much to the characters in his case. In the case of how insufferable he is. Every word out of his mouth, I have heard before. In fact, it was with his perfect likeness that I used to stay up with all night, quoting Frisky Dingo: BOUNDARIES! Without even attempting to be ironic, which, later, spelled my doom. Ray instigates a raid* on Hannah and Marnie's apartment wherein Hannah's diary is discovered - among pictures of Marnie that inspire incest fantasies (they aren't related, I think he was just trolling for any excuse to talk about incest) and Hannah's hole-ridden clothing. They discover incriminating evidence of the extent of Marnie's unhappiness, making this a majestic three-way boundary-rape entirely befitting the few minutes Ray spends on the screen. He is a destroyer of lives.

*Speaking of raids - Shoshanna is scooped up off the street by an old acquaintance from camp ("you led the most INTENSE kitchen raid I ever saw in my time as a junior counselor," he tells her) with whom she has a riotously weird tryst that ends before she can, by her standards, declare herself devirginized. Shoshanna sometimes reminds me of the anger I experienced reading the Purity Myth, although she herself does not make me angry - I really, REALLY hope she can become a means by which to discuss the way young girls use images and "rules" they learn from contemporary culture and how it inhibits them but establishes boundaries they feel they need, that reassure them. As Shoshanna walks across the street with Jessa, when first spied by camp dude, she is wobbling to hell on a serious pair of Sex and the City shoes in a way that isn't goofy and too much the focus of the scene but also, for the way Jessa glides around, refreshingly realistic and funny and empathetic. In bed, camp dude tells her she smells like a baby. I lost my shit. Shoshanna plays wonderfully along with everything and responds to the ridiculous things he says with such earnestness - when he says he doesn't like virgins because they get attached and they bleed, she says it's amazed, but she's totally not an attached bleeder. In Shoshanna's attempt to transgress a boundary, one she perceives as being operated by a man, she is shot down, and that is awful and awkward.

Also, recently, one of my best friends - Scott Mitchell of ReadySoup - came to visit, and we watched the Girls pilot and had a rousing discussion about sitcoms and social conditioning, about which he is passionate. I commend him for his ability to mine those shows for data, so I imagine it is a luxurious position I'm in that, so far, only one thing on this show has bothered me for the sake of its presence. I didn't like how camp dude hedged his declaration of love for administering oral sex with the fact that it was weird that he enjoys it. Not weird! Why perpetuate that notion? I'm so angry about North Carolina! I am full of feelings about how wrong the world is.

Jessa's plot is a continuation of her babysitting adventures in the last episode. I wonder what the deal is with the children's father being unemployed vs the necessity of Jessa as what seems like a full-time nanny. I worry for Jessa that she might become a device to make episode-to-episode melodrama with topical overtones, but it is not a throbbing concern. She was still wonderful in her speech to fellow nannies about unionizing, where there are so many invisible lines she can't appreciate she's crossing. And her own boundary was penetrated so sadly and pointedly: the children's father asks Jessa how she was when she was young. Jessa says she used to run off and tell lies, just like his kids. When queried as to the kind of lies, she says they were about what a wonderful mother she had and what kind of awesome relationship she had with her. It is clearly so sore for her to bring up, and the economy of the scene is amazing. I hope this continues to be the kind of thing folded in the too-played-out lechery for which the dad's scenes have such potential.

Inspired by her workmates, Hannah attempts to hurdle a line of her own and spits some vitriol at Adam for not being the person she wants. Because he isn't, she has to act dissatisfied, and she doesn't want to, she only wants to be "sweet" to him, but treating him thusly makes her feel like garbage. One time, a guy manipulated me and my best friend into a very unsavory dynamic. I couldn't believe she and I, who had been beyond close, were being cold with one another over his behavior. I talked to her and she got very rationally fired up about what a nightmare he was, and decided we needed to confront him. The minute she saw him, she talked herself in the same kind of lunatic spiral. So powerfully negative was the idea of displeasing this person who had heretofore demonstrated no regard for her feelings. All it took was one little pat, like the one Adam gives Hannah, no doubt administered because he thinks she's just going hysterical. This was jaw-dropping to me, this veracity.

The episode ends with the girls all together at a concert, and it marks the first time the four of them are all hanging out together. Somewhere, in a tweet I think, someone pointed out that crafting of this episode is inferior to the crystalline, cinematic first three, which were conceived as a piece and premiered together at SXSW before the show aired. But I think this episode was tight and amazingly cohesive, and at the end everybody is pretty vulnerable and ready to run into each others' embraces. But then! Marnie's feelings about Charlie, as they are detailed in Hannah's diary, are revealed publicly in an agonizingly bad performance by Charlie and Ray as the band Questionable Goods. This boundary-violating comes from both Charlie and Ray as well as Hannah, so Marnie feels intensely screwed and storms off after throwing her glass at Hannah and calling her a bitch. She is SO enmeshed! There is so much emotional dynamism and these characters are ready to move in serious ways. A lot has been catalyzed.

The next episode will be the season's halfway mark, and at this point I have been swayed by Adam as a necessary factor. I begrudgingly accept that that relationship is an awesome, complex one to focus on and is being done so with outrageous clarity. My own perception of such guys is so clouded and that behavior is rendered so acutely by Adam Driver. Quoth Jane Hu at the LA Review of Books.

Most reviews of Lena Dunham's new HBO show Girls so far have focused on its "realism," which immediately begs questions. If Dunham's show is meant to be realistic, then we're obliged to judge whether it's either refreshingly on target, or entirely missing the mark. Do we, the viewers, feel represented and reflected by the conversations and scenarios that Girls presents? Or do we feel alienated from them? Do we identify? Or do we feel something in between?
In the promotional trailer for the series, Dunham's character Hannah Horvath sits before her parents and proclaims: "I think I may be the voice of my generation," only to retreat instantly behind the modification: "or at least a voice … of a generation." This line, tagged as the catchphrase of Girls in the lead up to its pilot, was received almost as a dare. Someone, finally, was going to take on the challenge of speaking the real and raw truth for recession-era youth! For all its overwhelming narcissism, though, the line also anticipates the mix of recklessness and reluctance that the show cultivates. Girls wants to have it both ways: it wants to be both brash and unsure of itself, universal and specific, speaking (when it wants to) for a generation but reserving the right not to specify which one.
I enjoyed, in Dunham's NPR interview, how she experienced misgivings about calling the show Girls since so many Girls-something or something-Girls titles popped up simultaneously, and how her dad swayed her by screaming YOU HAVE THE METATITLE. Personally, my immediate reaction - which reasserts why I don't engage TV on a critical level - is that I have no desire to see someone else be "the voice of my generation" because I do write, I do articulate, I have friends I feel write of experiences and in ways that reflect the world in ways idealistic and uncannily foreboding. I feel my generation isn't lacking for voices at all and is served by technology to demonstrate how futile a voice would be, how that's not the thing anymore. What I would love to see - and it doesn't keep me up at night that Girls doesn't serve this purpose, because I have faith that people will keep getting angry and brilliant people will keep working - is anything that exposes me to lives that aren't like my own, that aren't in the same class, who didn't have the same racial experience. Whatever this inspires Lena Dunham to do, I am on board for it: I watched Creative Nonfiction this afternoon, which came with Tiny Furniture and was made during her junior and senior years in college, and the technical leap between the two versus the time between them - no more than months - to say nothing of her composure and readiness to engage the criticism she's received - I am very, very interested.

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