Real Problems

Another criticism is that the world of Girls is privileged, that the main characters all have a huge sense of entitlement. She holds up her hands. “I cannot fight you on that. No one in this show is on welfare, no one has what we would call, in quotes, ‘real problems’, but I also believe problems are relative, and although some people are born in unspeakably terrible conditions, some people are born in the suburbs of Michigan and everybody is in pain. I’m talking about the kind of pain I know about. Other people talk about the pain they know about, and there’s room for all of it. My dad said this thing that really inspired the show in a lot of ways. He said this is the first time in American history when kids can expect to do less well than their parents.”

I like this Lena Dunham interview in the Guardian.

If you want to talk about “real problems,” let’s talk about how I haven’t watched Girls yet this season because my sister’s boyfriend’s parents cancelled their HBOGo subscription. Nooooooo. (Please send messages of support and HBOGo passwords to


31 Comments / Post A Comment

samburger (#5,489)

Is your sister’s boyfriend’s parents my best friend’s boyfriend’s parents? Because they cancelled their HBO subscription too and now I’m cut off and it is absolutely tragic.

Meaghano (#529)

@samburger omg maybe. Greater Chicago area? And yes it is the worst. I was halfway into the last season of the Sopranos – ahhhhhhh! I just panic bought the rest of the episodes on iTunes. Which is fair.

samburger (#5,489)

@Meaghano Nope, they’re in upstate New York! I am calmly trying to find a solution via mostly texting my best friend frantically in the hopes that she can somehow fix this…

Sloane (#675)

It’s on youtube!

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

@Sloane Yep, under the official HBO youtube channel. I watched them there just last night.

Meaghano (#529)

@CaddyFdot omg i am going to watch it RIGHT NOW

I have mixed feelings on the whole “privileged” thing… Girls is not about people on welfare, so there aren’t people on welfare in it. It’s like complaining disco music is too disco-y and not rock enough. You don’t like it, fine- don’t listen, but don’t complain that it is what it set out to be. On the other hand, there’s only so much navel gazing I can stand at a time…

Meaghano (#529)

@TrotskyHolds MyiPod “don’t complain that it is what it set out to be” YES and a point worth making in many situations.

Meaghano (#529)

@TrotskyHolds MyiPod i guess the trap is always when something purports — or more likely, is assumed to purport — to speak for all ___ or represent the ___ experience. and then you get into trouble. and people can legitimately object that actually, reality is much different for people who aren’t x, y, z. and i do think that’s worth articulating, if not a valid criticism. more like a criticism of the criticism or the conversation than the art itself (maybe?). Relate-ability is great but then universality is tricky territory.

@Meaghano “Relate-ability is great but then universality is tricky territory.” A very good point! It’s the same problem I have with diversity- it’s great, but how many characters do you have to have in order to achieve that? And I do think it’s a fair criticism of the makers of television to say that even though Dunham worked hard to get her show where it is, someone who wanted to make a similar show with people with “legitimate” problems would have an even harder slog. I guess I’m saying Girls isn’t the disease, but it’s a symptom?

chic noir (#713)

@TrotskyHolds MyiPod just one Black cop and an Asian deli owner. Presto magical diversity ballance.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I really don’t know why this show get’s so much flack for it’s character’s priviliged status. 90% of TV drama is about moderately affluent white people with existential problems. That is possibly a cultural problem in itself but it’s certainly not a trope invented by Lena Dunham. Furthermore it’s not like Girls goes out of it’s way to show sympathy for its character’s narcissism. Isn’t that the whole joke?

samburger (#5,489)

@EvanDeSimone RIGHT.

My theory is that is gets heat because Dunham show her fat body on the tee vee. No one seems to complain when thin affluent white women show their bodies/gripe about petty problems.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

@EvanDeSimone Yeah, that was exactly my thought process as well. Like, what TV show is about people on welfare? I’m thinking it also has to do with the self-awareness of the show that maybe is lost on people?

I just don’t understand why Dunham is the recipient of so much hate and vitriol. You don’t like the show? OK cool, don’t watch it. There are plenty of shows in the world I don’t find particularly humorous or insightful or worth watching, but they also aren’t something I go out of my way to speak about.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@moreadventurous I think for a lot of people she’s just an avatar for the whole urban hipster creative class and her success is galling. It seems like a lot of the interest in this shwo seems to come either from youngish internet writers and creatives who see themselves as potential Dunham peers and feel slighted by her success or misrepresented by her work, and older people who aren’t familiar with the lifestyle the show is satirizing and thus take it at face value.

@fo (#839)

@moreadventurous “Like, what TV show is about people on welfare?”

You mean, *since* Good Times?

gl (#5,458)

I would be more sympathetic with that if a) I liked Lena’s writing (I don’t, I think her characters and her plots are lazy, predictable, and boring), b) if at least some of the characters were privileged but not entitled (they aren’t), and c) if the episode where she visits her parents in the first season didn’t have her mother saying to her father that they cut her off not because they couldn’t afford it but so she would have something to write about. Also hate hate hate hate hate the virgin shaming in season one.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

But the characters in Girls *aren’t* privileged, beyond the standard privilege backpack they got for being born white, female, able-bodied, and to middle-class(ish) parents. That’s part of the show’s joke, and part of what makes it so real. Hannah and Marnie both thought they would automatically enter their desired careers after graduation, just by virtue of being educated and the whole “we girls can do anything” myth taught in schools.

They don’t realize that the actual game is being played on a whole different level; that attaining the success that they want requires, say, Judd Apatow taking you on and mentoring your work.

Hannah in particular lacks the type of class education that might teach her not to make rape jokes in interviews. Her parents may be moderately affluent by midwestern standards, but they could not give her the type of privileged inheritance that includes family connections, networking skills, and the other boosts that help young people get good jobs.

The girls in Girls have some privileges, but overall they’re part of the falling middle class.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@HelloTheFuture I agree with this, and I can’t think of another show that’s ever provoked this much lofty conversation based on how people simply dislike the characters in it. Like, quit lampshading it, everybody. You hate them all and that’s fine. That’s the point.

@HelloTheFuture That standard privilege backpack is a pretty big one.

daysgoby (#3,610)

@HelloTheFuture But……………being white, female, able-bodied and of middle-class is a HUGE privilege.

chic noir (#713)

@HelloTheFuture incredibly well said. The best comment I’ve ever read about the female characters from Girls.

jfruh (#161)

I don’t disagree with this overall and this is my own history crankery but ugh ugh ugh to “this is the first time in American history when kids can expect to do less well than their parents.” “Living memory” is not the same thing as “American history.” What about the kids who were hitting the job market in, say, 1929? Or in 1873, when the Long Depression, which probably has a lot of similarities to our current malaise, kicked in? Fuck, what about peopel who graduated school into mid-to-late ’70s stagflation? Probably all of these people have lessons for our current predicament!

Non-anonymous (#1,288)

@jfruh Not to mention that just 20 years ago, it was Generation X that was being described as the “first generation that can expect to do less well than their parents,” to the point where it became a cliche.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

@Non-anonymous well, so far I’ve found the cliche to be true… also @jfruh, I agree with the principle AND I want hard data. What does it mean to do “less well” than one’s parents? Are there actual economic statistics on this?

Non-anonymous (#1,288)

@HelloTheFuture Oh, yes, I too have found the cliche to be true. (Especially in my own case!) Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

Poubelle (#2,186)

@jfruh Fuck, what about peopel who graduated school into mid-to-late ’70s stagflation?

You mean the Baby Boomers? A bunch of them are the parents of today’s 20somethings.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@jfruh it is partly explained by the fact that we don’t understand or even care to understand what Americans went through in history to make this great country of ours. Alot of people think that they and their friends have the “worst job prospcts in history!! America is doomed!!

jquick (#3,730)

Can an entire state (michigan) have a suburb?

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I wanted to post a more thoughtful response to my initial “but they aren’t extraordinarily privileged, just average privileged” comment.

Here’s a better response. Discussions of Hannah and the other characters on Girls being “affluent” bug me because that word does not describe the reality presented on the show.

Even Lena Dunham’s “sure, they’re not on welfare:” yes, they’re not, but they all qualify for low-income tax credits and at least a few of them might be eligible for food stamps. (An episode where Hannah discovers that she can get food stamps would be HILARIOUS, btw.)

It may be the difference between “poor” and “broke,” but they’re at the crucial stage of life where their decisions will determine whether they are middle-income or low-income for the rest of their lives.

Hannah’s cool about working at Grumpy’s because she has aspirations of being a writer. But Marnie? That Grumpy’s job is literally the best one she can get. Despite her education and training.

Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa are all working in service. They’re the downstairs part of Downton Abbey, not the upstairs. Yes, they’re educated and pretty — so are the Downton workers, who are often specifically hired for their appearance, just like Marnie was hired at that cocktail waitress job. It is a privilege to get that job but it is also a downstairs job.

Discussions of Girls that do not include that, discussions that persist on assuming that the show is somehow about people living affluent, comfortable lives, feel like they’re missing the point.

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