Sunday, April 15, 2012

Here Comes Girls

I am simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the HBO show that's premiering tonight.

Entitled Girls, it's not meant to be Sex and the City despite their both being set in New York City - for one thing, the ages of the women in Girls are far younger than those in Candace Bushnell's fantasy Manhattan. These are just-out-of-undergrad women trying to find their places in the overwhelming environs of real life. Along the way, many less-than-stellar decisions are made, which is possibly why they are still just "girls."

I was in the same place the characters of the show were not too long ago - busting my buns working three jobs just to live two stories above a fish store in Brooklyn, in a room the size of the bathroom in my first apartment in New Orleans. Many decisions were made then, good and bad, that ended up bringing me down south - who to associate with and who to drop like a hot potato, what was going to sustain you long-term and what wasn't, when to keep plugging and when to just give it up. I lasted nearly three months in the rat race that was NYC, not counting the nadir: that month and a half I was at my aunt's place trying very hard to get jobs so that I could get out of her hair. Another low point was working a register at Dean & Deluca in Soho for three days before quitting because the catering jobs I was getting were netting me three times more money per hour - the nice yet stern Indian man in charge of the cashiers turned darkly furious as he yelled at me over the expensive groceries that he never wanted to see my face in the store ever ever again. I'm curious to see how the Girls will get tossed about job- and career-wise, not to mention some of the family conflicts. Relationships with the opposite sex, though? Of COURSE crappy decisions will be made. I more or less stayed celibate, too damned exhausted to even talk meaningfully with guys, forget dating. I could only dream about sex, when I could dream.

I am repelled, however, by some of what seems to be running through the most popular comedies today that star women, and I doubt that they are signs that things are being "equalized" between the sexes. I don't know that we have reached the point where female characters can screw up just as badly as men can without some major consequences being built into their stories, and without "redemption" including a relationship of some sort as in the movie Bridesmaids. It's kind of what comedies such as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and Ally McBeal tried to do yet didn't really succeed at: presenting women as people that don't have to be complete airheads or complete superwomen, all one thing or all another. Also - women of color, of other nationalities, of other creeds, anyone? New York is full of those women. Perhaps no one wanted to attempt that for fear of offending any of them. Or, more cynically speaking, they just didn't sell. Not much proven entertainment value.

So I did watch it. Let's hear it for the trustafarians of every generation. I am so, so glad I had the sense to decide not to come home and, especially, not to ask my parents for a damned thing. Yes, I sound like a crusty elder about to tell anyone within hearing how many miles I had to walk round-trip to get to school. I'm just very happy the internet wasn't as huge as it is now - it would've given me something else to go insane over when I was trying to work.

Will I watch it again?


Why subject myself to such a painful thing?

Something in me still feels like these unformed characters. Where will they go? Will they continue to let everything beat them down? Is there still something to be learned from basic naivete and naked ambition (or is it naked naivete and basic ambition?) Or will this all become yet another cautionary tale for women writ large? It's a trainwreck, a car wreck across the highway that, unfortunately, I'll be rubbernecking at like most others as I pass it. Because every terrible mess is different.

Update, 4/16: Came across a phrase from critic Glenn Kenny referring to Lena Dunham's film Tiny Furniture that encompassed many of my misgivings about Girls' premise: " does represent the Cinema of Unexamined Privilege, let's face it." Yep, following in the footsteps of Metropolitan, Francis Ford Coppola's short(er) film Life Without Zoe, and - one that dates me some - Reality Bites.

In the interests of examining my own privilege, my parents did pay for my health insurance and the charges on one credit card that I rarely used. There was no way in hell I was going to try to lobby for total support from them after college, though - I felt somehow guilty that I was still getting the insurance and the credit card from them. It was in large part what made me uncomfortable when I met people like the guy who had a storefront in Soho that clearly was not doing well selling his wonky glassware. I asked him if he was at all worried about that state of affairs, and he blithely replied,"Oh, I'm not worried. My family won't let me starve."

The guy was definitely drinking too much delusional opium-pod tea.