Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls is back, and with it comes the intense vitriol directed against both the show, and against Lena Dunham herself. It's more than a little uncomfortable to read reviews that attack Dunham for being "blobby," and as someone who lives the whole "post college, aspiring writer, insecure about everything" lifestyle, there's something personally painful about reviews that attack the series' characters for being the worst kind of lazy, self-indulgent human beings possible. The problems that Hannah and her friends face, and the things that they say, are self-conscious and somewhat exaggerated, but they also ring true -- and I think it's this truth, more than anything, that inspires such hatred of the show.
Because Girls is messy. In a media culture where women are expected to have that glossy sheen of perfection, and where likeable characters rarely have any flaws more serious that clumsiness or a shopping addiction, the characters in Girls actually act like human beings. And, as human beings, they are not always likeable. Their thoughts and actions aren't always logical, and they are at times irrational, emotional, and selfish. They have ambitions, and the sort of arrogance that comes with holding any kind of ambition, but they also have extreme self-consciousness and self-doubt about them... because, perhaps, they aren't perfect, and non-perfect women are often viewed as unacceptable. They're not all "conventionally pretty," slathered in makeup and wearing the world's most perfect clothes. They don't always have a direction, or even know what they want. To me, their lives are less "funny ha ha" and more painful to watch, but they are oh so fabulously real.
And that, it seems, is unacceptable. By having a TV show written by a young writer, based on her own experiences, where the characters are often deeply, unlikeably flawed, it's almost as if it's saying that it's OK for viewers, for women in general, to be flawed as well. That they don't have to have a glossy sheen all the time, that it's OK to not obsess over being as thin as possible, that it's OK to be insecure and kind of self-loathing but also somewhat ambitious, somewhat selfish, and to screw up a lot along the way.
The show is far from perfect, and it would be too far to hail it as "the voice of our generation" or anything so dramatic as that. But I do think it's an important show. And the fact that it's upsetting, even disgusting, so many critics is important too.