It's been a pretty dramatic week for HBO's Girls, the critically-acclaimed, much-anticipated show from Lena Dunham that debuted on Sunday night, which feels like ages ago with the many precaps, recaps, backlash, and then backlash to the backlash. If this week's wall-to-wall Girls debate is any indication, we can only expect more after episode 2 airs Sunday. How do you keep up, and how are we supposed to feel about all of this, anyway?
Here's a recap of what went down:
On Sunday, following a series of precaps, including one from The Atlantic Wire's Richard Lawson—he kinda liked it!—and Capital New York's Genevieve Smith's look at what the show got right and wrong about New York City, Girls finally aired. (It's worth noting it had already been the subject of a New York magazine cover story and a huge New York Times 'Arts & Leisure' spread, a New York Times Magazine "riff," a New York Times column by Frank Bruni, and a New York Times party report.)
This blogger watched it with a friend in the comfort of her own home, following Mad Men, another show we all love to talk about despite many of us not actually watching it. People tweeted! According to a company that tracks Internet chatter, a ton of people tweeted, making the show "an instant social-media phenomenon," writes Kate Storey in the Post. (Trendrr.tv, the company following these tweets, reports that more than 200,000 people tweeted about Girls on Sunday, which seems high considering that only 875,000 people watched the show's initial airing. Maybe there's just a huge Twitter cross-over audience here?) Either way, according to Trendrr's Mark Ghuneim, these viewers were high on the "tastemaker" chain: “The very high end of audience influence were tweeting about ‘Girls’ — a lot of celebrities,” Ghuneim said.
Perhaps that explains what happened next. Reactions, oh, there were reactions! We ourselves reacted. Gawker's John Cook wrote an epically curmudgeonly post about it, which he followed by another that raised the question of nepotism, which was pithily visualized by World of Wonder's remixed Girls poster. Slate asked girls to weigh in; it also asked guys. Somehow Newsweek managed to shoehorn the show's awkward sex into a laugh-inducing attempt at trolling by Katie Roiphe, who'd already written about the show for Slate, as did her colleague, Troy Patterson, who also saw fit to refer to Roiphe in his review.
The conversation around Girls changed notably, when The New York Times' Jenna Wortham wrote a great piece on the Hairpin headlined "Where (My) Girls At," in which she said that she liked the show, but made the fair point that she wished she'd seen herself (e.g., a woman who is not white) in them a bit more. "They are us but they are not us," Wortham wrote. "They are me but they are not me." Per Wortham:
"So Girls is like indie SATC," I wrote. "Yeah" she replied. "And everyone on the show is white," I responded. "Yea,” she typed back. “Lots of White."
Thus began an onslaught of reactions as to race and the show, with Kendra James writing in Racalicious and Jezebel's Dodai Stewart adding her take. Because not only had the show been taken to task for the lack of diversity represented, there was also backlash against show writer Lesley Arfin, who responded to criticism over the lack of non-white main characters in Girls in perhaps the worst possible way, with a tweet on Monday that read: "What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME." The typical stuff we expect in this day and age of media rage and outrage ensued. Arfin deleted the tweet on Wednesday and apologized after much fervor. Then she deleted the apology. Maybe, she's learned a lesson about ironic racism—and maybe not.
Friday, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates offered a measured response to the diversity discussion, writing:
With that said, I think storytellers--first and foremost--must pledge their loyalty to the narrative as it comes to them. I don't believe in creating characters out a of desire to please your audience or even to promote an ostensible social good. I think good writing is essentially a selfish act--story-tellers are charged with crafting the narrative the want to see. I'm not very interested in Lena Dunham reflecting the aspirations of people she may or may not know. I'm interested in her specific and individual vision; in that story she is aching to tell. If that vision is all-white, then so be it. I don't think a story-teller can be guilted into making great characters.
As for the more micro diversity question, the show has been written, produced, and is in the can, so to speak—so debate, while good for the sake of debate and bringing these discussions into the open, isn't likely to change it.