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!