These Aren’t My ‘Girls’: Thoughts on Diversity in Media

HBO

In all honesty, I wasn’t all that intrigued to watch HBO’s Girls until after reading Jenna Wortham’s Where (My) Girls At? and her discussion about the show’s lack of diversity.  But I gleaned from the article that there were good points to the show, accurate reflections of the twenty-something millenials bracket in which I belong.  So I tuned in to better understand if stories and identifiable characters could overcome these issues.

I identify with being twenty-something and its ironically crazy study of learning how much the world is “meh”.  I identify with the struggle to be an artist while doing the things that make ends meet.  I advocate being a dreamer and existing beyond structures.  I am glad that there is a show about women made by a woman.

I want to like this show for these many reasons, but I find that I don’t.

When I first began to write this post, I wanted to say that my disliking the show had nothing to do with the characters being white.  Primarily because that sounds kind of terrible and I have “white” friends I love and “whiteness” isn’t anything I question or define them by.  But while I have grown up watching shows and reading books predominantly about white female characters, there was something about watching this pilot that really irked me.  I kept on asking myself “Why am I supposed to care about these people?” because I really didn’t.

I think I’m supposed to care that lead character Hannah figures out her life and gets her book done – that she achieves her dreams and figures out life after being cut off from her parents.  But that requires me to sit through her “sense of entitlement” phase while getting advice from her friends.  That requires me to like her a little and I don’t even want to root for her.

These aren’t my girls.  These aren’t my people.

My people who have received monetary or emotional support from their parents (and others) are grateful for the help they receive.  If they were told they could no longer be supported, they would be grateful for what they received so far.  This isn’t something tied to color lines; this is a quality of the people I choose to keep in my life. I’m not saying they’re not going to complain, that I wouldn’t hear the “but I graduated from college” line and a preference not to work at McDonald’s, but underneath the “first world problems” is knowing that they’re lucky.

I understand that this is a show about people with “First World Problems”, but maybe the real problem is that we need more shows not about that subject.  Or at least, more acknowledgement about that #firstworldproblem hash tag beyond a secondary character (also white) on the pilot that is kind of obnoxious.

Maybe I’m not supposed to root for anyone on Girls or identify with anyone.  Maybe I’m supposed to face the confusion of the world with these girls.  But why would I do that?  I’m twenty-something.  I’m lost at times. I’m living that life acknowledging my first world problems, but not feeling entitled to my dreams, but hoping for them.  Why would I want any of them to bring me down?

I’m not saying that Girls doesn’t touch on subjects that are a part of our present-day culture, that there aren’t elements of the show that resonate with conversations I’ve had with my own girlfriends.  But that doesn’t make them my girls.

Maybe at the end of the day, I’m really the Asian girl who got the job because she knew Photoshop.  I know Photoshop. I like Lunabars.  I like water.  Maybe she had refugee parents like me or, completely different, she came from an affluent wealthy family that had been in America for generations but people assumed otherwise because she’s Asian.  Maybe she has an even greater sense of entitlement and I wouldn’t have identified with her at all.  What I’m saying is that her character sticks out to me not because of her presence as something different (as the girl that gets hired instead of Hannah), but because that difference has no depth.  So much could have been said in this bit part beyond that.  It could have gleaned something different about upper-class white America – that perhaps it isn’t so white or that “real world problems” do exist in this Girls world, but digs into a lack of character awareness but is acknowledged and very present in the show’s universe.

It’s been stated that the show’s homogeneity was “accidental”, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think you write what you know.  And honestly, I don’t really want Lena Dunham to be writing non-white characters for the sake of diversity.  I don’t want her to throw in a lead character that is Asian or Latina or Black “just because”.  Such characters need to fit in the story somehow.  Are they also from upper-class privileged families, bringing non-white faces to “first world problems”? Are they opposite that, bringing something else into the discussion?

I don’t really need Girls to be my girls.  What I think it makes me want is the television media movement I grew up with – the one where we didn’t think twice that PBS’ Ghostwriter kids were Latino, Asian, Black, and Jewish.  What happened to that? What does it say about the TV world where it’s okay that Glee in Lima, Ohio has more diversity than Girls in New York City?  Is there some twenty-something age cut-off where people you hang out wth reflects “accidental” homogeneity?  I think if anything that should be less and less true as you grow older, especially if you’re in a large metropolis.

If anything perhaps Girls shows us a need for something more – real women beyond reality TV, real people facing problems not strictly typecast as “first world” (even if they might be “first world”).  What I wouldn’t mind is a diverse cast of twenty-somethings where I sit back and think “Those are my friends I have pizza with on Friday night.”

-cct