The Diversity of Millennial Unity: Talking HBO’s Girls, again

Critics of HBO’s Girls (me included) have been giving Lena Dunham a bunch of crap for saying her show HBO show Girls, is the “voice of a generation”. Recently on HuffPost, she admits she never meant that phrase to take off like it has.

“The character [Hannah, Dunham’s character] was on opium! I think the ‘voice of a generation’ concept was lost with beatnik literature. Because of globalization and increasing populations, my generation kind of consists of so many different voices that need so many different kinds of attention. But if my writing can show what it’s like to be young, I’m happy.” Lena Dunham, HuffPost

It’s ok, Lena Dunham, I believe you, and I’m sorry for the reactive feedback you’ve received. But obviously the phrase ‘the voice of generation’ has struck a chord for some reason.

So what’s behind this sensitivity to defining Millennials. Here are a few thoughts:

1) We are diverse, so please don’t compartmentalize us: Diversity is a fact that needs to be accepted, and to not acknowledge this feels like ripping the entire Millennial generation apart. I have agreed with critics who have accused the girlsof being too similar in virtually everything but personality. Girls is not only stuck in one socio-econimic bracket, race, education level, but ideology as well. Millennials have the freedom of idealogical diversity, while still being part of the same generation. This is the most fascinating trait of Millennials, and it feels hallow to gut this generation by not recognizing this.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais (2011)

2) We are united in pragmatism rather than ideology: This is a plug for Wingrad and Hais book Millennial Momentum, that came out a few years ago now. It’s a fascinating read, and here is the basic idea I want to highlight: Millennials are coming of age during a shift from ideological focus (values) to operational focus (institutions, civic ethos). If Millennials are united, it will be around something beyond our own world. So to me, Girls is stuck in the past. It doesn’t show how personal values, different opinions, and different individuals fit together as a greater whole? Girls is only highlighting one piece of the puzzle (while still an interesting piece). As I’ve written before, it’s this sameness that’s diluting Girls as a strong Millennial voice.

3) Past generations (Boomers, and GenX) are focused on ideology. So where does that leave Millennials?: This piggybacks on my last point. Boomers were concerned with values of the individual, and wanted to free the individual from the oppressiveness of society. GenXers were born into, and raised only in an ideological era. They were concerned with seeking community as an anchor. People who had the same values and philosophy as them, since society wasn’t offering any structure. Millennials are getting outside of our own world, and uniting to define what this brave new world is going to look like. This is exciting!

crowd copyLosing sight of the whole is not a Millennials thing

And even though “the ‘voice of a generation’ concept was lost with beatnik literature”, as Dunham says, I think Girls is still striving to be a voice, and one that Milennials may not be looking for if it’s not connected to a bigger picture. So, maybe the direction Girls should take, is how “the girls” grow into a world that is bigger than just their own bubble (to repeat: ideological, socio-econimic, race, education background, whatever.) Maybe Dunham’s character, Hannah, wakes up from her opium stupor to see that she was high on her own worldview? Maybe her bubble is popped when she sees the interesting diversity of her own generation, and even to step into it?

Millennials might not be defined by any one voice, but rather the unity of a very diverse generation. So what is it that unites Millennials?

If Girls figures this out, they might win over a lot of Millennials. If not, this show may be doomed to be tribal song that is interesting to a few, but is horribly boring to Millennials as a whole. But, that’s okay if that is the point.

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5 thoughts on “The Diversity of Millennial Unity: Talking HBO’s Girls, again

  1. I haven’t watched Girls yet, and am not likely to, but the biting critiques I’ve read so far remind me of how I feel about this NYTimes article from Jan. —> http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/fashion/the-end-of-courtship.html

    Like you, I think the narrow perspective of Girls (heterosexual by and large, wealthy/semi-wealthy, white, upper class-ish) is an inaccurate portrayal of Millennials. Perhaps it’s valid, but it’s only a very small voice. There’s a a whole world of Black, Hispanic, LGB, trans, gender queer, and other folks that aren’t represented at all. If it’s the “Voice of a Generation” then it’s a very small, privileged generation and I can see why without an accurate cross section of Millenials it’s easy to write us off.

    • Thanks for feedback! This has been an ongoing back and forth convo with a few other bloggers. I also have not watched Girls. One blogger suggested that Girls might be a bit of a satire on GenY, which I thought was an interesting viewpoint. Also, I wrote a post on that NYT article, and got some feedback from other Millennials. Defining Millennials is a touchy subject right now, as we are still coming of age.

  2. I have mixed feelings about Girls. After watching the first season, I was really excited about the show and thought it was incredibly relatable (to a white, middle-class female, anyway). But I’m quickly losing interest in season two. It’s become too beatnik for me. I can’t relate to the uber free-spirited thing season two has going on. I also don’t understand how Lena Dunham’s character is surviving in New York on the salary of a part-time barista, and the fact that she quit most of her jobs is annoying to me. Actual Millennials work sh*tty jobs to pay the bills while applying for jobs related to their degrees. But that would make for a boring television show, I guess.

    I think people need to forget the “voice of a generation” thing. Everyone rips on Girls for not varying in race even though they live in New York (Friends, anyone?). But it would be incredibly difficult and unrealistic to bring together the hardships of every demographic in one 30-minute series. Could a show do a better job? Yes. Could one show perfectly define a generation? No. Girls is “a” voice of a generation. The only way to become “the” voice of a generation would be to do some sort of documentary during which Millennials of varying ages, financial backgrounds, races, etc. are featured.

    • I think that is part of the problem is maybe Millennials don’t want “a” voice of a generation, like u say. Interesting Dunham ended up taking the statement back, sort of. Still need to watch ‘Girls’ sometime! Thx 4 feedback.

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