The voice of a generation?: If ‘Girls’ was set in Lewisham

Chiara Rimella

Chiara Rimella

Every mention of Lena Dunham, creator of TV sensation “Girls”, seems to be accompanied by the unshakable assumption that she is “the voice of a generation”with a finger on the pulse of  “the real-life problems of modern twenty-somethings” in the grip of painful duties such as paying bills, trying to find a job and generally growing-up.

My world-weary 23-year-old self connects to such feelings, I too have often thought “that is SO me”. But the only reason I understand the concerns of aspiring writers having their parents’ support cut off is because I, like Hannah Horvath, come from a middle-class background.

Of course there is nothing wrong with writing about your own patch, which is why I don’t give much credit to the suggestions that “Girls” should be dealing with race. The series has done enough to bring grim sex, reasonable amounts of body fat and humiliating public wees onto the screens. We can’t expect it to disrupt all stereotypes, especially those that are probably outside Dunham’s realm.

Yet, over-identifying with a show that claims to be finally reflecting reality can be dangerous. It makes us forget about the subtlety of fiction.

We don’t need to go into how “Girls” does not really speak to the single mum from Croydon nor to the financial intern at Canary Wharf.  I doubt “Girls” would be the same even if it focussed on the comparable lifestyle of Goldsmiths design grads. Lewisham isn’t Brooklyn, and if TV was reality, we wouldn’t enjoy watching it so much.

If Hannah Lived in New Cross, she’d work late-night shifts at the Amersham Arms and would be just about able to break even with rent in a house-share on the edge of zone two – pretty far-off from a two-bed flat in the heart of Brooklyn. She may end up at warehouse parties in Hackney, but she would probably spend half of her night worrying about how many night buses she’d need to get home and whether kebab house Sefa would still be open when she gets back.

The Swedish raw foodist who, many years ago, wanted to take me on a date to a screening of “Antichrist” did not look like Adam Driver. And as far as I’m aware, my best friend who works in a gallery did not sleep with Damien Hirst, the real-life counterpart of Booth Jonathan.

Claiming that “Girls” is more true to life than its precursor “Sex and the City” seems obvious but should not be taken for granted. Carrie Bradshaw & Co are high-flying Manhattan professionals and live their life accordingly. They wear Jimmy Choos because they can afford them. Their feats sound idealised only because they are far from what we think “normality” is.

“Girls” is full of situations that feel oh-so-familiar, but that shouldn’t tempt us to believe it’s a faithful reflection of real life. Lena Dunham’s mastery lies in being able to gain her audience’s trust and let their wish-fulfilment feel legitimate. Let fiction be fiction, and rightfully so. As long as we acknowledge it.

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  1. Steve Jobs January 28, 2014

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