Jun 18, 2012

"People Don't Do Things To Be Nice": 'Girls' and The Young Artist in 2012

Love is the pits. Love is a grave that you dig yourself, a monster that devours your entire sense of self. Love means heartbreak and confusion and loneliness. But maybe not. Maybe there is the possibility that love can work and a couple will last and you and your partner can change together. Or you could end up on a beach, alone, eating wedding cake at dawn, questioning everything you’ve ever done.

Girls, a show that I recently diagnosed as “overrated”, produced an absolutely flawless season finale that (perhaps temporarily) fixed just about all of its problems. First off, the episode was easily the funniest to date, thanks largely to Bobby Moynihan, who I’ll get to later. Shoshanna was given an actual plot, even if it was seemingly slight. The largest improvement, though, was the character of Hannah. We’ve seen speeches similar to the one that Adam gives Hannah before. This variation on the speech, however, was perfect and unique. The first season finale of Girls is a definitive statement on being a young artist in a big city in the early ‘10s. Dunham was correct. She definitely is a voice of this generation.

Shoshanna is given real motivation and emotions this week, as she feels excluded for not knowing of Jessa’s wedding. It’s difficult to read her perspective exactly, as it is with Jessa and Marnie. Three of the four girls end the episode largely satisfied, but it’s nearly impossible to tell if it will last (it won’t, it’s a TV show). Marnie is trying to be more impulsive and care-free, and largely succeeds, ending up with Moynihan’s character at the end of the night. That scene, by the way, is beautifully played, as Moynihan instantly peels back the fa├žade of his loud, jokey personality, showing a fully rounded character in two or three minutes.

I’m sure that Shoshanna and Marnie’s relationships won’t last too long in season two, but Jessa is the big question mark. Will her rushed marriage produce a happy, long-lasting relationship? Does Girls believe in love to that degree? It’s, of course, impossible to tell, but the scene in the bathroom seems to say yes. Jessa has matured thanks to the relationship and “kinda” feels like an adult now. Whether it lasts or not, we leave the first season of Girls with the least committed person in a long term relationship, and happy about it. Jessa represents, for now, this hope that all of the characters have. Our generation has seemed to push marriage away, due to high divorce rates and a general mood of apathy. But maybe love can work. If nothing else, we need that happy ending to make up for the complete and utter despair provided by Hannah’s story.

Hannah has always been a testy character, self-obsessed and self-loathing simultaneously. I’ve often wondered who could possibly relate to her, or at least who would admit to doing so. After her fight with Adam, and accidental journey across the city, I’ve found that she isn’t meant to represent any specific person, rather an entire generation of artists. That line, about being “a voice of a generation” got a lot of shit earlier this year, but it’s starting to come into focus.

That duality, of focusing solely on yourself and hating what you see, is an overwhelmingly fitting representation of the modern young artist. Being self-centered and being conceited are two completely different things. Hannah’s actions don’t derive from any generosity towards herself. Rather, they are inspired by fear. She tells Adam that she is “more scared than most people who say they’re scared”. There’s this impossibility to see that everyone around her is equally as scared as she is, and that’s far too easy to relate to. Adam, brutally and honestly tells her that she doesn’t “have the right to be” that scared. He’s completely correct, but of course, his reaction is stemming from his own internal fears.

The show’s development of Adam is its greatest achievement so far, as we see him grow over the course of the season, as the rest of the characters (Jessa aside) stay still. Adam has fallen in love with Hannah, and now she is the one backing away. It’s infuriating, but understandable. Adam has his own issues as well, being equally as self-involved as Hannah. He tells her that she doesn’t “know struggle”. Does he? They are in similar places in their lives as starving artists, but they fail to connect because of that cruel similarity. Neither can see how terrified the other one is. Or, if they see it, they cannot comprehend.

The young artist in 2012 is scared. They cannot escape this fear because of the impossibility of honest human connection between two people who are hiding within themselves. They can’t see the other person as they really are because they are too busy figuring out who they themselves are. The young artist in 2012 has passion, and drive, and a multitude of other attributes that forces them to build a small world for themselves.

Of course, not every young artist can be described this way. But there is one truth that I’m going to guess everyone in this classification can relate to. When Hannah awakes on the train, she asks a group of strangers where she is. They yell back at her “you in heaven!”, laughing at her confusion. When the camera pans around, Hannah is leaving, going to find somewhere to sit and eat the cake she’s carrying around. She’s just been through a terrible break-up, is in a scary place, and doesn’t need to take shit from a bunch of girls. These girls, though, have their own stories. They don’t care about Hannah or her issues. When Hannah walks through the beach, there is a close-up shot of all of the footsteps in the sand. Perhaps some of those marks belong to the girls from the train station. Perhaps not. But when you can’t even see the person you’re in love with, how can you begin to understand complete strangers? We artists like to believe that we are observant, and work to capture reality as it is for everyone. But given how rarely we look outside of ourselves, this is next to impossible. People have criticized Girls for its narrow world-view. With this near perfect episode of television, Lena Dunham tells us that that’s exactly the point. We write what we know because while the world may be a scary place, it can’t compare to what’s lurking inside of our thoughts.

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