Democracy Dies in Darkness

Arts and Entertainment | Perspective

Of course 'Girls' spoke to my life. Its brilliance is that it could speak to everyone's.

By Elizabeth Wurtzel

April 17, 2017 at 12:11 PM

“Girls” creator Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in the HBO series that had its finale this week. (Mark Schafer/HBO)

In the pilot of "Girls," Hannah and Marnie watch "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and when Hannah exits the Warwick Hotel at the end of the episode, the closing sequence is an update on Mary Richards's hat toss. We see the pileup of yellow taxis in midtown Manhattan, soon to be outmoded by technology, and Hannah rushes the crosswalk into traffic. Her freshly cut bob blows into loops, she's got cash stolen from the chambermaid in her crossbody bag, she is surefooted as all get-out, she's gonna make it after all.

I will miss "Girls." It is about a time of life when we figure out what it means to be alive.

There is no more consequential age than your 20s. It is when you become who you are. It is when you do the work that establishes your place in the world — all the while seesawing between madly in love and too heartbroken to brush your teeth.

I am scared of my 20s. That decade took me down. My Room 13 is being 25 again. I spent every day getting over the night before. I lived downtown in New York City, in every neighborhood south of 14th Street, because I moved all the time, as I ran rampant through life. I had boyfriends who broke lamps to make a point. I ordered in morning coffee at 2 in the afternoon. I did not understand a schedule. My heart had a black and blue mark on it all the time.

I could not believe there was enough room in my life for me and all my pain. I would try to stop myself from the pursuit of trouble, but I could not resist the impulse toward a bad idea. "Do you want to know who else is in emotional pain?" Hannah's mother asks her in the series finale. "F—ing everybody."

I had to write about what I was going through. There was nothing else for me to do, because all that was happening to me was everything that was happening to me. I was stuck with myself and all the ways I felt overwhelmed. In other words, I was deep in the human condition. I went through much of what has taken us through "Girls."

Related: [HBO’s ‘Girls’ goes out as the one thing it always wanted to be: A good TV show]

Over six seasons, Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the series, made serious characters out of people who started out making excuses for themselves. Hannah Horvath was leading the pack on avoiding whatever it was, with her fake showers and her imaginary eardrum infections and concocted symptoms like the ones she came up with when she sicked out of fifth grade.

"How can I be manipulating you if I don't even know I'm being manipulative?" Hannah asked her father, as he puttered around a hardware store in East Lansing, Mich., as if he would ever be handy. Hannah was hitting her dad up for money so that she could not write her book, even though all she wanted was to be a writer, and she loved boasting about the deal she had inked.

Hannah liked the idea of being a writer more than she liked the job. Marnie liked the wedding more than she liked marriage. Jessa liked what the Labour Party stands for more than she liked an honest wage. Shoshanna liked marketing more than she liked any product. Of course. These were unreasonable people, surprised by the untoward results of their great expectations.

The six seasons of "Girls" were about the discovery of a work ethic.

At the beginning of the series, Hannah's parents cut her off financially, which she didn't like. She went through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief in one episode — well four stages, minus acceptance. "Girls" was the career misadventures of Hannah Horvath on the way to getting it right, with assists from neologisms like "squanderization" and "pantsaholic." Five years later, Hannah is a professional writer with tenure at a college in Upstate New York.

Forced to figure it out, Hannah does. Yes, there was a moral to the story. Hannah becomes herself because her parents let her go.

Also: All problems are boundary problems. On "Girls," they took baths together.

Everybody was in each other's business. It was exes galore, all dating whys and why-nots in a sexual quagmire that is the whole point of being alive.

We are all like this. We never outgrow it. We should all be on Tinder like decent people, meeting someone new and different. But we are stuck. We are ridiculous. We like what is familiar. We keep returning to the scene of the crime. We try again, thinking somehow it will be better now that we are older and even more stubborn. We pass people around, hoping to find true love. Look at the Bidens. Look at your office.

On "Girls," every character tells you the truth about yourself to your face. It is such a constant occurrence that even the polite version goes like, "I hate this restaurant, but I don't even care because I am just so happy to meet you people." "Girls" is a celebration of confrontation. On every episode that is all that goes on. When Adam tells Jessa how much Hannah hates her, Jessa is resigned: "Welcome to having a friend," she replies.

Related: [Now that ‘Girls’ is over, let’s rank each character’s fate]

People who don't like "Girls" are not much for the truth. Yes, on "Girls" it is a compulsion. On "Girls" the truth is a weapon. The truth is brandished in anger. The truth is honed and sharpened and refined. The truth is a bully.

They could not have all this confrontation if it were not funny. "Girls" was a comedy. "Girls" believed you had to laugh at everything or you aren't over it. "Girls" was in on the joke.

"I think that I may be the voice of my generation," Hannah announces to her parents. Beat. "Or at least a voice of a generation."

There it is. The dream. Revised for the Internet age. To be the whatchamacallit of something or other. There is too much content and not enough filter.

Lena Dunham does not have this problem. She is a star. (I do not believe Lena Dunham has changed the way we see the female body, but she has changed the way we see Lena Dunham. She is naked in every episode. We are used to her. We do not even notice. But the models in the Victoria's Secret catalogue still look the same way as they did in 1977.)

Lena Dunham is singular. Women should love her. But she arouses resentment. Women who should love Lena Dunham have issues with her.

Leave it to women to be in any available catfight. Women love to nitpick at women. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, which is just stupid. Now men have yet another white man confirmed to the Supreme Court, and what about women? Women are rearranging yoga mats on the Titanic.

Women feel like Lena Dunham is getting away with something. Women always feel that successful women are getting away with something. It just does not seem possible to women, overwhelmed by sexism, that a woman in an exceptional position is not at an unfair advantage.

Of course, talent is an unfair advantage.

Lena Dunham gets away with being herself. She knows she is right. She does not need you on her side, because she is on her side.

Women resent this. Shame on women.

It is always like this until it's not. In 1994, "Prozac Nation," my account of my depression, was introduced to a public stunned that a 20-nothing could write a memoir. It was megalomania. It was the most gobsmacking crazy idea that a woman who had only just started life had already written a book about her life. The New York Times Book Review accused me of being "Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna." Can you imagine that they meant that as an insult? I love that. I will take it.

Now look. Memoir is a category. I had a good idea.

Hannah Horvath is a memoirist. It is a job. It is something you can choose to be.

Oh well. I was right. I knew all along.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is a writer and lawyer in New York. Her 1994 best-selling memoir "Prozac Nation," published when she was 27, will be reissued in June. She is on Twitter at @lizziewurtzel and Instagram at @elizabethwurtzel

Post Recommends
Outbrain

You obviously love great journalism.

With special savings on our Basic Digital package, you’ll never miss a single story again.

Already a subscriber?

Secure & Encrypted