Oh, how art accidentally imitates life. As Hannah passionately defends Gawker, and "its sister site Jezebel" for providing a place to discuss media, Adam's harsh words suggesting that the site appeals to our basest desires take on an extra dimension.
Suddenly, Dunham herself (not as Hannah) is like the fictional David Pressler-Goings, appearing on the Gawker Media site only to be picked apart by Jez's offer of $10K for unretouched images of Dunham's Vogue cover. (True, Pressler-Goings died while Lena just had her skin smoothed, but Adam's question of, "How would you feel if a bunch of creeps, celibate against their will, snarkily reported on every f***ing detail of your body decomposing?" feels particularly poignant.) Then Lena suggests that she feels the same support, as a feminist, from Jezebel. Was this all some Jezebel/Dunham-concocted stunt to push Girls to the forefront of the conversation? Doubtful, because of the Vogue element and doubly doubtful because of Dunham's irritation at the site for doing the exact shaming that Hannah rails against.
But, still, here is an example of Girls' most difficult obstacle: removing our knowledge of Dunham (and the world in which she and the other three ladies reside) from the story of Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa. The blurring of the lines between the characters and the actresses portraying them makes this show difficult to grapple with at times. Intentionally or not, Hannah/Lena are inextricably intertwined. And, that makes criticizing the stereotypes depicted on screen much more complicated.
We've seen a precedent for TV shows about people living in New York who are out of touch with humanity (Seinfeld), as well as HBO shows about awkward and unpleasant people (Curb Your Enthusiasm). Dunham openly draws inspiration from both. But, Hannah's ham-fisted sweetness and the general lack of huge belly laughs mean that the Girls narrative has the pain- and wince-inducing moments of both, but often times (seemingly) not the self-awareness of either.
I wonder, honestly, if this is because the show is starring young women, and as viewers, we aren't typically trained to see young women — especially ones who are intelligent and well-spoken — act so egregiously. What would happen if this show was, say, headed up by someone like Jonah Hill and told the same story, but with a bunch of goofy guys in similar roles? We would probably laugh more and revel in the discomfort and chalk up their behavior to television's long and rich history of letting us feel for the asshole. In this regard, Dunham is perhaps a true trailblazer. You might suggest that she is flipping the Seinfeld dynamic right on its head and making us feel for characters only to punish us, again and again, for relating to them. The likable jerk archetype, she is saying, isn't just for men.
Or, maybe not. Maybe things wouldn't be any different if the show were led by a cast of dudes. And perhaps, the argument above gives Dunham too much credit. Maybe this show is actually an unwitting product of liberal art schools and even more liberal metropolitan living, and Dunham isn't flipping the script on television's most beloved trope — the smart, young woman — by making her intentionally insufferable. Is it possible she doesn't realize that literally no one out there likes Jessa**? (Anyone? Does anyone like Jessa? This doesn't mean thinking she is pretty or finding satisfaction in her silky hair, but are you able to feel anything other than a sense of irritation when she is on-screen? Like, who here doesn't engage in some level of schadenfreude when she suffers? If I was Season, I would fake my death, too.)
**Ha, ha. Remember that time she was in rehab? That was soooo funny, her being in rehab. Too bad no one besides us, the unwitting viewer, remembers that.
There's a case to be made for both arguments. Dunham may be serving up Larry David-style cringe comedy but with a distinctly feminist twist, shedding light on our own discomfort with women not just behaving poorly, but behaving in a way that we can't relate to. Or, perhaps she has lost control of her characters, because the ditzy voice of reason who serves as a foil to Hannah has become nearly intolerable (Shoshanna), and the once-confusing and deeply problematic Adam is now the cast's most likable member.
"It's something that happens. Like jury duty or floods. It happens," says Jessa, drolly. Death happens. It happens to other people — and meanwhile, Hannah and co. can frolic through a graveyard unaffected by its utter permanence. It's like the series finale of Seinfeld, when the foursome have to face a judge and jury for all their bad deeds and unfeelingness toward the suffering world around them. So, maybe this is the ultimate hipster show, assuming hipsterism is all about being as unaffected as possible.