Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Girls, Dealbreakers, and Writing Difference

I had high hopes for season two of Girls, due in no small part to my anticipation of Lena Dunham's handling of the criticism that her show lacked diversity (true), and presented the experiences of middle-class, white twenty-somethings as universal. (Also true, though I think it was spurred by the media more than anything else. Despite the "voice of her generation" tag, I really don't believe Dunham intended her show to be just that.)

Donald Glover , aka Childish Gambino, was brought in to be Hannah's new love interest, Sandy. I hope he stays on for at least a few more episodes, because last Sunday's was disappointing. I don't know if Duhnam qua Hannah is hyper-aware, trotting out the "I don't see color" trope because it is usually the first defense for progressive white people when their racism is being called out, or she is completely unaware. (Where Dunham ends and the character Hannah begins gets pretty blurry.) I'm hoping it's the former because there could have been a greater discussion on race and privilege during Hannah and Sandy's breakup, but Sandy's character was clumsily handled from the start. It's painfully apparent that Sandy was inserted into the cast with nothing more than a wink toward diversity. Hopefully he sticks around because I'd really like to see how his character develops.

Roxane Gay wrote a great post on representing difference, not explicitly targeted toward Girls, but it's certainly applicable here (and it's good advice for any writer):
"So how do we represent difference? The simple answer is, “I don’t know,” and the complicated answer is, “I don’t know.” When writing characters who are different from me (and this would be every character I’m writing as it’s called fiction for a reason), I start with the experiences and emotions people have in common. I tend to believe we are more alike than we are different. We get so stuck on this question of difference as if we’re from different planets. Don’t believe the hype. We all love and lust and want and know joy and darkness. We are all imperfect. And then I think, how would a given identity shape these common experiences and emotions? How would a given identity shape a person’s imperfections? From there, I try to write difference. I try to do research—what is life like in inner city Baltimore? What is life like in rural Michigan? What is life like in Los Angeles? And then what is life like in those places for a Latina woman? What is life like in those places for a black man? What do I know about these characters who are different? What do I assume? Where am I wrong in my assumptions? What do I need to know? I don’t have the answers but I also don’t think it’s as complicated as we make it. I suspect we try to make it complicated because it’s more flattering to imagine ourselves as unknowable, precious snowflakes."
Sandy's political leanings (he's a Republican) could have shoehorned an interesting discussion about dealbreakers, but we never got to hear his actual views on anything, only Hannah's interpretation of them. And I'm saying this as someone who's pretty quick to judge any member of a party whose tenets are based on a meritocracy that doesn't exist; small government, but not when it comes to women's bodies; and denying civil rights to gays, lesbians, and trans people. Another missed opportunity.

I know I loudly and routinely criticize Girls, but I actually do like the show -- which makes it all the more frustrating. That it always seems to be just scratching at the surface does nothing but lend to my disappointment.

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