• Thu, Apr 19 2012

Critics Of Girls‘ Whiteness Are Not Seeing The Social Satire For The Trees

A lot of people are up in arms about the intense whiteness of the four main characters on Girls. In a world in which there are still few representations of minorities on television who are not total stereotypes, it’s understandable that people would be disappointed when a show comes along that’s supposed to be different/better/more realistic than the others, and it still fails to include a single non-white main character. However, I think a lot of the show’s critics are failing to see something: Girls is not really meant to be a realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a young, broke 20-something in New York City. If that were the case, the omission of minorities would be inexcusable.

Rather, as Lena Dunham has said in interviews, it’s meant to be a depiction of a much smaller subset of humanity, one which mirrors, but does not exactly duplicate, Dunham’s own privileged experience. (She actually had to dial down the privilege of her character from the wealth in which she herself grew up.) But even if it were just meant to be that, it still might not be acceptable, because it’s 2012, and there are certainly minorities who’ve gained membership in the elite classes.

However, in addition to being a depiction of what it’s like to be a floundering child of privilege, the show is also a social satire of the characters it depicts. We are not supposed to 100% like or identify with them. Sometimes they say and do horrible things! One of their major shortcomings is an extremely limited worldview, and I would not be surprised if race became an element of that idea as the show went on. As we saw in Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham is interested in examining and interrogating the idea of privilege, of which white privilege is a part. Maybe they’ll put Hannah in a position where her subconscious racism shows, and, like Peggy on Mad Men, she’ll have to deal with the fact that she’s not as enlightened and post-racial as she thought she was. Maybe there’ll be an “aha” moment when she realizes she’s surrounded herself with nothing but white people, and we’ll get to watch her bumbling, offensive efforts to make minority friends. Or maybe she’ll happen upon a minority friend, and everything will be fine, until she says something really inappropriate. Or maybe she won’t deal with it at all, and it’ll be a joke at her expense, like a less wacky version of Liz Lemon.

Maybe I’m wrong and the show is going to ignore race entirely, but I’d like to at least give it a chance. I mean, there’s only been one episode. It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen, but I’m willing to bet Dunham will add “subconscious racism” to the list of qualities we want Hannah humiliated out of, like stealing the maid’s wages or being super selfish in general. Or if she’s not planning to, she should. There, Girls. I gave you that one for free.

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  • Cecily

    “We are not supposed to 100% like or identify with them.”

    Come ON now! You were just writing about how damn identifiable the girls on the show were in your previous article! And I’ve similar articles all over the web- what a breath of fresh air to have these kind of realistic representations, etc etc.

    That’s a central premise of the damn show!

    A lot of my friends relate to the show incredibly, EXCEPT for the fact that they just aren’t seeing women of color on the screen.

    And this charming (now deleted, of course) tweet from a staff writer on girls:

    “What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.”

    What in the actual fuck.

    Jamie, if every single girl on this show was, I don’t know, anti-abortion, YOU’D BE UP IN ARMS. Not “oh, I’m sure they will address that later. Oh, I’m sure it’s just a part of how very cloistered they are”.

  • Benita

    So the only privileged, whiny young women in NYC are white? Thanks for telling me how wrong I am to be offended by this show!