These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Girls. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. #2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and example responses.
1. Lena Dunham has been described as “the voice of her generation.” Her generation’s other contributions to American culture include artisanal house-made infused vinegars and responsibly sourced small-batch chocolate bars. How is girls Girls the premium-cable equivalent of a pizza from Roberta’s, and how is it not?
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘generation’ as, “A body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor.” That doesn’t really seem to apply to Girls, since Hannah is an only child. Marnie and Shoshanna are cousins, so perhaps that’s it.
In this essay I will compare and contrast Girls to a pizza from Roberta’s near the McKibben lofts in East Bushwick (Slogan: “What, your restaurant doesn’t double as a radio station?”), using examples from both real life and the show. I will also compare and contrast Girls to the general aesthetic of what our culture defines as quote-unquote hipsters.
There are two questions here: Is Lena Dunham’s cultural zeitgeist a byproduct of hipster culture, and does the content of the show deal with inherently hipster subjects. The answers are “maybe” and “not as much as you’d think, but sort of, I guess.”
When Brian Williams went on Morning Joe in 2010 and mocked Williamsburg for being a magical land of artisanal cheeses, ironic eye wear, and an economy based on trading colorful beads, he probably did not expect that his very own daughter would soon be the Times Square poster child for the post-hip landscape. Hipsters, once thought of as flighty, superficial creatures who peacocked around creating terrible art while living off their trust funds, have been giving a makeover, thanks in large part by shows like Portlandia. Fred Armisen and Carrie Bradshaw’s portrayal of the West Coast Williamsburg emphasize the “hippy in hipsters. They make art projects. They put birds on things. They might be subjects of ridicule, but unlike previously held stereotypes, Portlandia showed us that hipsters create, not just judge.
But the entertainment industry is not created, or funded by hipsters. Indie films could ostensibly fit into a definition of hipsterdom, but HBO doesn’t. Nor does Judd Apatow, no matter how funny his movies are. Just look at the tragedy of hipster artist James Franco, who tried to straddle the line between mainstream success and the hipster duality of eternal academia and incomprehensible art openings.
So while Ms. Dunham’s first film, Tiny Furniture, might be considered a hipster product (it is Criterion after all), the anti-corporate condescension of a culture who refuse to pay for TV, let alone premium cable, exile Girls from the land of Crystal Castles and freegans. So much the better.
As to the second question: The hipsters of today are not like the hipsters of previous generations, although they have common attributes, such as creativity, a love for atonal music, and lots of speed. The general consensus of millennial hipsters (henceforward: Hipsters) is that they love to make art projects by hand, don’t eat meat, and define all their handcrafted exports as “artisanal.” They look down on Normals (a catch-all pejorative terms Hipsters use to define “Otherness,” or anyone who has a job with health insurance), graduated from a liberal arts college, and dress in the uniform of their subculture to convey their uniqueness. (Example: Rompers, ironic t-shirts, weird hats, suspenders, pork pie hats, anything that can be worn on a fixed-gear bike.) Despite common misconceptions, not all Hipsters live off their trust funds: Some of them get really famous for their art and only use their parents money to throw lavish parties in their galleries while dressing like the homeless. They can be identified by their apolitical, anti-theological belief system that everyone who believes in that crap is a “Normal,” and should be shunned. Unless they are into Buddhism or something, which is okay because yoga pants are cute.
The characters in Girls are, for the most-part, not Hipsters, though each embody some of the aesthetics from their generation. Shoshanna, the least “hipster” of the bunch, went to Jewish sleepaway camp, and references popular culture as entertainment, as opposed to camp. (See: Baggage, a show not even its producers knew was a real program until it was featured on Girls). Shoshana is also only girl to show any interest in producing: her inspiration board is the only hobby or artistic endeavor–outside Hannah’s journal writing–that we see on the show.
Jessa may be the most hipster of the bunch, as evidenced by her dress (weird hats, bright red lipstick, unkempt “bedhead,” a loosely interpreted wardrobe of Diane Keaton’s outfits in Annie Hall), and choices of mates (father figures; mixologists who date girls named Gillian; men with facial hair popularized in the 18th century), and disdain for bourgeois society. She also has a cool accent and daddy issues. But on closer inspection, Jessa is not a Hipster, because hipsters hate children, as the latter generally receive more attention for their cute outfits and finger paintings than they do.
Marnie, whose job is the most Hipster (a receptionist in an art gallery), also defies the social paradigm by being way uptight and not being able to handle a goddamn pot brownie. She also wears suit dresses to work, like, unironically. Marnie is sexually uptight and her ethos is feminine without a feminist agenda, which goes against the Androgynous sexuality and alt-worldliness of modern day Hipsters, all of whom know the importance of a good blowjob. Her only Hipster cred came from dating a soft-spoken guy in a band, the card of which she relinquished this episode.
Hannah, the star, might seem like a hipster because her body type makes her unconventionally attractive. However, by showing her breasts on premium cable, she’s just about as “subversive” as a SuicideGirl. (Or more specifically, those ‘documentaries’ about SuicideGirls that occasionally run on late-night premium cable channels.) Hannah lacks self-awareness while being the human embodiment of solipsism is a credit to her Hipsterism, as does her co-dependent relationship with a shut-in who demands to be dominated sexually (see also: the illusion of agency), though her botched seduction of her boss with the line “I want you know that it is okay to act on this fantasy, because I am gross and so are you,” belies a level of self-awareness and a total lack of discerning taste that is very Not Hipster.
In conclusion, Girls is not pizza from Roberta’s. It’s a late-night diner owned by a family of Greeks and has an obscenely extensive menu that can be enjoyed by Hipsters and Normals alike.
2. Ray is a barista at Cafe Grumpy who criticizes a female customer’s attire and tells her, “I don’t even want to hate fuck you. It’s that real.” Imagine you are the owner of Cafe Grumpy. Would you allow HBO to film in your establishment? Why or why not?
If I were the owner of Grumpy’s, I’d allow Girls to film in my establishment. It is free advertising, and its a well-known fact that the meaner the reputation of a coffee shop’s baristas, the more Hipster clients they attract. I wonder if there’s a FourSquare Girls badge I can get for checking in to Cafe Grumpy’s? Cross-promotion!
3. After Jessa discovers that Shoshanna has been watching her have window-sill sex with her hat-wearing ex-boyfriend, she accuses her of being a “batshit little perv.” Given that the television audience is also avidly watching this sexual encounter, are we not also “batshit little pervs”? Should someone step on our balls?
Jessa is most likely on meth, and if the argument is that by watching a (fictional) sexual experience, we are somehow all voyeurs, than we have a lot bigger problems on our hands. I would probably be thrown in gross jail already for all the To Catch a Predator marathons I’ve sat through. Anyone who watches Law & Order: SVU would be chemically castrated. Also, the news.
Part two of this question deals with Adam telling Hannah to step on his balls. For this, I will refer to a “Savage Love” column from 2005:
I’ve been sleeping with this man for two months. The sex is phenomenal – he loves to eat pussy, he tosses my salad, there’s some digital anal play. That’s all good. My problem is, he’s into rough ball play. It turns him on when I knee him in the balls, punch them or squeeze them. I’m OK with all this, but he wants me to “pop his balls.” He’s a young-ish doctor, so he knows this is dangerous. I don’t want to make him a eunuch but he’s hell bent on me “destroying his manhood.” Should I do it for him? He says he doesn’t want to have kids and that he doesn’t care if he loses his ability to have an erection or ejaculate. Should I do this for him? I’m 23, if that helps.
Before you destroy your boyfriend’s manhood, RBP, there’s one question you need to ask yourself: how will you feel if five years or, hell, five minutes after you do this for him, your boyfriend decides it was a big mistake? And I promise you, RBP, if you go through with this, your boyfriend will come to regret it – and when that day comes, he will resent and/or blame you. So just say no to ball popping, RBP, OK?
And while I don’t think it’s possible to have a healthy, long-term relationship with someone so insanely self-destructive, RBP, I can understand why you might want to keep seeing this nutjob in the short term (phenomenal sex, enthusiastic cunnilingus, tossed salads, etc). There are ways to indulge his castration fetish without destroying his balls. Buy him a male chastity device (just Google “CB-3000″) and throw away the key. If that’s not extreme enough for him, chemically castrate him by injecting him with Depo-Provera, a drug that sexual predators are sometimes ordered to take and one he could, I presume, prescribe to himself. Maybe after experiencing a short-term, reversible castration, your boyfriend will conclude that castration is a better fantasy than it is a reality.
In conclusion, never step on a man’s balls, unless it is figuratively. Even if he asks you too. It could literally kill him. Hannah’s reaction “Are you fucking kidding me?” was an appropriate response. So was taking a $100 from his dresser, because she deserves it!
4. A flashback sequence is set at the Galactic Safe Sex Ball at Oberlin in 2007. Were you at this particular event? Is the party favor that makes Marnie so fucked up really called a “poprati” with a Jell-o shot on top, or did I hear that wrong? What is it? Can you hook me up?
I think it’s a pot brownie with a jell-o shot on top, which is something I’ve never personally experienced. However, if you look closely in the background of that scene, you can see me and my taking turns being blindfolded and swinging at a Klonopinata, which is like a regular pinata but filled with delicious pills. It is also true that all our parties were in someone’s off-campus basement, and we only listened to the Scissor Sisters. Every three months in Brooklyn, alumni gather for a reunion where they drink 40s, eat too much pot, and then spend the rest of the night giving one another panic attacks. Maybe that was the “poprati” or “pot party” being referenced?
5. Hannah invites her boss, Rich, to have sex with her because “I am gross and so are you.” But seriously, why does she do this? Why does she subsequently quit what seems like a pretty good job?
Hannah tries to sleep with Rich because Jessa told her too, and Jess is the expert when it comes to healthy boundaries at work. Hannah believes that sleeping with her boss will give her great material for her upcoming collection of personal essays, which she is not wrong about. (“The time I slept with my gross boss” is definitely a New Yorker piece in the making.) After being rebuffed by an older man who had previously shown sexual interest–or at least was really touchy–Hannah is understandably upset. No one wants to be the person to gross to get molested, especially if the molester looks like a rabbi and is best known for playing the dad on Bored to Death. (Or ex-boy scout Stanley Uris in It, with Tim Curry as the scary clown.)
In this scene, it is Rich who acts nonsensically. No boss in history would continue to employ someone with no skill set because she’s “great.” Especially after said employee threatens to seduce her superior, quit, and start a class action-lawsuit against her boss for sexual harassment. In that order. Unless Rich secretly wants his balls crushed, Hannah’s behavior is not only nonsensical, but cause for a restraining order.