Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What I’m having right now is an inappropriate physical reaction to my total joy.

I made my mother watch the Girls pilot over the weekend. She had trouble penetrating the wonder of "Brian Williams' daughter" and of Greenpoint. When Hannah's mom says "I want a fucking lake house" my mom did a "raise the roof" move and howled. Also, one time, I told my mom about a delusional graduate I read about, who wrote cover letters wherein he described what kind of environment he flourished in and what kind of job he deserved, and she applauded. What bit of this show squeaked through to her proved her to be the exact audience in which this show demonstrates an authentic condition, replete with real anguish, and totally flat - no layers of criticism or irony wavering through the unreasonably real.

The other night, one of my best friends live-txt'd her reactions to the pilot. Her impressions were tempered by her fundamental dislike of the kinds of people the characters represent. One thing she pointed out that I enjoyed is the fact that Marnie is being really passive but she demonstrates so much neuroticism over, for instance, the dinner party. It's hard for me to think critically about Marnie for the same reason it's hard for her to think critically about Shoshanna, and I'm relieved when others do it.

Girls, Episode Three, "All Adventurous Women Do"

In this episode, Hannah busts out an outfit similar to one that Aura wares for a date in Tiny Furniture. I love Dunham's adolescent look and the way she never disappears into what she's wearing - her appearance continuously asserts itself. That is really good to see - someone who doesn't, cannot, disappear.

One of my best friend's complaints about the show is that Hannah seems too young for twenty-five. Her outfit had a weirdly sentimental impact on me: I just gutted my closet and got rid of the supergoth stuff I've had since high school. Watching Hannah - ill received as her outfit is by Charlie and Marnie, whose interaction, while it is totally absurd, throws more foreboding dark on the tall shadow these three episodes have built up in the form of terminal illness - watching Hannah, I was very nostalgic for community, since looks like that, not professional or necessarily flattering, are part of the experience of a subculture.

Then I read this observation from the Lavin Agency tumblr:
Sex apart, another reason for the show’s appeal, according to Eric Klinenberg, the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, is that it depicts a new way of living. The four main characters, he said from his New York University office, are typical of college graduates who move to cities and form “tribes” of friends en route to maturity and independence.
“We always see a tension in these friendships because this is a phase, a second adolescence, which will give way to something else,” he said.
Klinenberg, a sociology professor who studies urban and demographic patterns, said that this was a relatively new phenomenon. “It’s a kind of luxury for young Americans from affluent families. It used to be you married young and stayed married.”
The Girls of Slate cite "the little hop in Hannah's step when Adam summons her upstairs" as evidence that they have a good, if fraught, thing going on in Hannah's estimation. "Hannah hasn't fully cracked the code of Adam yet—and he's obviously even farther from cracking hers—but she's fascinated by his untrammeled relationship to his own desire, and they do share a genuine, if uneasy, connection." That's what I perceive as being the source of her skip - she is quick, endlessly analyzing, and he is the only person who is more pointed than her in his criticisms - notably of herself - and he is so quick that he barely lets her finish a statement before he assesses it. As awful as he is, it is believable - because Adam Driver is an astounding actor, this part is rendered perfectly - that he is Hannah's intellectual peer, and she wants his consideration and to suss out his potential. She thinks he is smarter than her because he doesn't have time for her. This is almost so subtle that I wish it were a little more plainly demonstrated, a little more sitcomy (although I don't, because it's perfect), just so that young kids watching don't miss that. This is the way that it's important and vital, I believe, the way this particular relationship is rendered not as abusive and black-and-white, but is the kind of bad situation that can befall young, smart girls.

OH the precocity! Jessa is babysitting - in a risque outfit - the children of a documentary filmmaker. The kids do things like judge the homeless and write novels and are probably circa age 7 - one above, one below. This kind of thing makes me gasp/groan like when Shoshanna revealed what her rent was. It's not even precocity. I like the child Aura was saddled with in Tiny Furniture who, when she tried to inspire him to play, shut Aura down with "definitely N-O." That's a pretty precocious move. A preadolescent writing about being an alcoholic divorcee is funny but it makes me long for "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut." The precocity on parade in Salinger's "Uncle Wiggily" is unrivaled and has ruined me as a spectator of smart-child antics. But the scene did bring Salinger to mind, which is more than most TV does. I brought up Salinger in the last post! I'll get to why in just a minute. As the night wears on, Jessa meets and bonds with the girls' unemployed stoner dad - I cling to the dream that this will turn into a very uncomfortable friendship from which Jessa will be inspired to change her life, but if they do sleep together, may it be interesting and not what I'm dreading. So far Jessa has been outstanding to see, for me, and I'm ready to see the real weirdness she and Hannah will get down to, as foreshadowed by Marnie in the first episode - such are the pitfalls of episode-by-episode analyses.

In her absence from the "perfect bachelorette pad," there is an opportunity for Hannah and Shoshanna to be on screen together - although much of their dialogue, perfect for the occasion as it was, quivered in the shadow of Shoshanna's hair and the fact that she was heaped, in the middle of the day, on her couch in a mass of blankets watching TV. These kinds of flights of privilege will make Hannah, for all she has endured, look downright street savvy by the time Shoshanna is ready to look for a job.

Speaking of which:
When I graduated college I had a series of just humiliating jobs that I couldn't believe I was at. It's like when they describe people disassociating during a traumatic attack. I'd go to be at work and fantasize that I was in Hawaii in the '70s, making a movie...a Woody Allen movie about a girl with a job. I was raised by artists who I now know were working really hard, but as a kid it appeared that they were doing what they wanted to do all the time. I was ill-prepared. And then I had gone to two liberal arts schools, a high school with no grades and a college where you could leave anytime for a sit-in. So the idea that you had to do things—I mean this sounds so bratty—but the idea that you had to do things you didn't want to do was shocking to me. - Lena Dunham's GQ Interview
I like that she is forthright about the extent of her shelteredness, and how directly Girls responds to the need she felt to see her experience reflected. Now that I have gained some perspective - badly needed - I sort of love to meet people who are surprised they have to take terrible jobs to get the ones they want, or are clearly not fit to do much. Sort of. It's so warped, this whole thing, what is being depicted and what kind of conversation this show is taking part in. My own experience being, when I was young watching my parents work - ineffectually, with the relative ease of financial security - I harbored the assumption that since I was an artist, I believed, I would not have it like they had it, the notion of artist being for me steeped in the starving and struggling. I had the impression that I was bound to be doing something on a ship or at night, monitoring the security of an empty building. I had lots of romantic ideas about where my money would come from while I made art. I had absolutely zero understanding of a creative class or professional writing or liberal arts degrees. Right up until college, when I was three years into it, I distrusted the whole idea of institutionalized art down to its existence. The only thing I felt I knew was work, which had to be done to get to the next place, where I definitely spent every debasing day fantasizing I was elsewhere (when I had nothing-jobs, that is). But that was what I saw coming - and certainly any means to get anyplace is more than many have right now. In the New York Times op-ed everyone on my Facebook feed is linking to, "Wasting Our Minds", Paul Krugman rehashes the fact that it's pretty alienating that so many people with excellent educations aren't working in their field or working way below their skill level, if they are working at all. I say "rehash" but every time I see multiple headlines stressing a topic, I think about what it would be like if things weren't talked about, even if much of the talking feels like a lot of complaining and no tangible progress.

I thought, in reading that, how I like that Girls gives vent to some of my own obviously repressed professional frustrations. I like that - so far in its young life - it has avoided the grave offense of Sex and the City, posited as it was as a fantasy, an escapist exercise, when it was just a commercial - but it is still as unreasonable, but its unreasonableness extends beyond the how-are-they-living-in-New-York and into how-is-anyone-living-with-this-totally-unsustainable-circumstance?

Then my friend, Matt Parish, a newspaper editor and one of the soundest minds I know, asked on Facebook: "How often do we like stuff because it excuses and encourages our own tendencies?"

Despite the fact that this episode had significantly less to do with what I'm zeroing in on than the previous two episodes, where education and employment were directly invoked as topics of conversation, this episode stirred those feelings more as it got away from the telling and approached the showing - now these characters can just be themselves, and I am starting to melt. I long for the days when I had a cohesive, loving social unit in which I was centrally fixed. Way beyond the fact that Hannah is a writer, it is the quality of her relationships that I relate to. And something else, which is not a tidy thing to admit and I'm grateful for my own sense of modesty (which doesn't exist except on the internet) that Lena Dunham isn't more balls-out in her approach to this topic so as to make me bring it up sooner (this is still soon) since it is so embrocated in what she does and the characters she writes - I am talking about Salinger and the frustration of being smart. Not the foremost, not in every arena, but for all the ways that Hannah is behind, she is ahead of many. She is quick. And given as she is to opening up in the tub like Zooey Glass, she probably could list nearly identical complaints about her incompatibility with the world.

Also, she was looking for Jessa in her scene with Shoshannna because she found out she has HPV. Hannah's pursuit of this information is occasion for a very enjoyable performance. The emotions that quaver through Hannah's expression when she explains this fact to her guy reveal that she doesn't know what is appropriate, and that loss of control is sad. It's very small but very effective, this little moment of confusion. I wish the episode would have focused on this reality, which does come with the real threat of cancer, instead of diverting to the scene where she confronts her ex-boyfriend, the one she assumes transmitted the HPV to her. Her ex is now out and their conversation is well-played - very well-played, even if I didn't want the scene to be there. It's a very different kind of talking about sexual orientations, way more involving the real feelings at risk when people aren't being honest, and the only thing played for laughs is the acid that gets mutually spewed - his, however, is a little less pointed and feeds the trend of people dumping on Hannah for reasons other than the good ones given onscreen. She is painted as unsympathetic and gross and mean-spirited, which is his cause for anger, while he is now so assertive with his sexuality that she sees how blatantly he was lying before. Still important to bring up for many girls, though. Same with scene where Marnie whacks it in the gallery bathroom. I'm a little surprised that was called out as unrealistic, that Marnie would dash from a heated encounter with a professional artist who is everything her boyfriend is not to work it out alone.

After the gallery, the next and last scene is Hannah composing a tweet. I like the segue from hyper-institutionalized artmaking to ultra-diy social media artmaking. This is a tension I am dying to see explored. The most significant gesture on the show to come from the protagonist herself - embracing her situation as the result of her choices, embracing that which makes her adventurous - drives her to dance. Marnie joins her. Maybe Hannah will pull herself up with art! Maybe she will understand, via the vacuousness that seems to pervade at Marnie's job, that art entails meaning apart from success! I look forward to seeing.

2 comments:

  1. I told you on FB that i had a response for you about Girls and your posts... but i have yet to watch the 2nd and 3rd episodes. Luckily i've recorded them and am going to watch them now... and get back to you.

    I find your mom's reaction to the delusional grad hillarious!

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    1. I wish I could remember where I read about that. I didn't even render his self-righteousness exactly. And my mom thought it was really exemplary that a young person should be saying "this is the greatness I deserve." Which is both sad (for him) and crazy (for the world that endures him). I can't wait to see what you think!

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