In the very first episode of Girls Lena Dunham’s clueless Hannah tells her parents that she thinks she might be the voice of her generation.
The joke here obviously is that Hannah is in no way shape or form capable of such of thing. Nor is it possible to judge such a thing while it’s happening. But I was twenty four, I watched that pilot not long after running out of money and time, and moving from a windowless bedroom in a shared Brooklyn apartment back to the large, beautiful house that my parents built while I was in college. And something about the show felt vibrant and real, and close to who I was in that moment.
Girls taught me a lot over the past six years. Reading about and disecting it taught me even more. But the main lesson I got from the show, was that “representation matters.”
Now I’m not talking about the fact that Girls is problematic in it’s general diversity, I’m not talking about the fact that Dunham herself is a difficult personality to push past, because both of those things are true, I’m talking about the fact that I’d never seen something hit what my friends and I were going through in a specific moment so squarely as season 1 (and to a smaller degree season 3) of Girls did.
I am a rich white girl with artistic aspirations. (Though every character on this show refusing to get a day job always drove me absolutely bonkers) (Except Shosh. I mean obviously.) Girls is literally about people like me, and I’d never seen anything that was literally about people like me before. I’d related to characters and stories, but never had anything so specifically fitting my profile hit before.
Which brings me to representation. I never knew that I was missing representation until I saw that representation. And I want everyone to have that moment of recognition. To hear a character say something, even if that something is perverse and obtuse and disconnected from most of reality, that hits your reality so fricking perfectly that you will love that film, TV show, piece of music forever.
Cross identification in fiction is wonderful. It builds empathy and understanding and expands minds. I wouldn’t be the person I am, if I didn’t see parts of myself in characters that were nothing like me. But the sheer power of seeing someone so close to myself, even in four parts, as I did when I watched Girls is so overwhelming, so beautiful, such a call in the dark that “you are not alone,” that I want everyone to get that. Which is why I want to hear stories from all kinds of creators, and why I’ve been making a concerted effort to search out those stories in my life for the few years.
But I want to state for the record that Girls was what opened that window for me. I’d heard pleas for diversity before it, and understood, because I like stories from people who aren’t like me, but didn’t understand this need to see yourself on screen and in stories. Until I did, and it felt like magic. It felt like Lena Dunham, with her writing, and acting, as well as the acting of Allison Williams & Zosia Mament, (and to a lesser extent Jemima Kirke, because I don’t see a lot of myself in Jessa. Though I do see several of my friends) saw my heart, and suddenly the world was brighter.
Everyone should get that feeling, and Girls gave me that feeling, and I will miss it terribly now that it’s over. I’ll miss it the same way I miss the friends I had when the show started. A lot of those people are not in my life anymore, because adulthood is complicated.