I really, really have tried to love the show Girls. I think Lena Dunham is smart and funny. She has written things in the New Yorker that have caused me to laugh out loud. The movie she made right out of college; Tiny Furniture was clever and witty. The other night, Colin and the kids were gone and I decided that I would watch Girls. I downloaded a bunch of episodes really wanting to find myself in one of those glassy eyed, zoned out states that occasionally feels really good. I applaud the use of regular bodies, and I do remember feeling and creating situations that were dramatic during that stage of my life. I think it attempts to be honest and accurately portrays that strange in-between stage that well educated women in their twenties can have. They are smart and motivated, but not totally sure what they should want.
The thing that makes it almost un-watchable for me despite my best efforts is the cynicism and the sarcasm. Being cynical means that you fundamentally believe that people are completely motivated by self interest. It means that you live in a perpetual state of distrust. It is the combination of distrust and lethargy that weaves through every episode that makes the show unsatisfying to me.
Distrust and lethargy are the antithesis of an awake and calm mind. Part of being able to really see and accept what is around us is trusting that the ordinary is extraordinary. When we approach things with cynicism we start with a closed door and don’t believe it can be opened. When you are in your twenties, the world is filled with possibility. If you approach it with cynicism you miss it. Girls does not seem like a coming of age show to me because the girls all seem so world weary already.
There is one character, Shoshana who rather than approaching things with the Eeyore like attitude of her peers is made into a cartoon. Her optimism and sweetness seems to make her a punch line, an innocent fool who somehow managed to sneak into the cool crowd. Edgy and cool seem to only exist at the expense of generosity and kindness. I can’t think of anything edgier and more dangerous than living life wholeheartedly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Instead, nudity and tattoos is passed off as groundbreaking.
I have learned that the more difficult life becomes the more important it is to greet it with an open mind. Things can get very hard: children get sick, parents get older, financial situations change. If we greet these changes as if we expected them, then we don’t really learn from them. Instead we are bulldozed by them. Periods of calm and good health in life are a gift if we respond to them with anything but appreciation we are cheating ourselves. The expectation should never be that the good times will always roll. They most definitely will not. In every disappointment there is a chance to grow and learn and change but only if we don’t live life protecting ourselves with cynicism and lethargy.
Being cynical does not protect you from life’s disasters big or small, but it does prevent you from seeing and delighting in the ordinary. When we stop connecting with the happiness of an ordinary day then a kind of spiritual paralysis sets in. Girls is the kind of show that perpetuates the notion that to be smart, cool and urban you have to be totally self interested. I refuse to believe that’s true, I believe that you can be intelligent and funny without being cynical and mean. I think that waking up every morning and expecting that people are doing their best is a much better outlook than deciding that everyone I meet is lame and a liar.
These days I think that life’s challenges are best handled with optimism and humor. It is both more effective and more fun than the alternative…It just may not make for good television.