Finding Comfort in Loserdom
By Anjulie Rao
There are very few cases in which I would ever categorize television as being intelligent or relatable. After taking a long hiatus from the boobtube, I have reemerged with some serious skepticism about the quality of television programming. Never before did I think that I would ever be able to relate to any of the chiseled-jawed-bright eyed-soft-haired heads I see bobbing around the screen.
Never before, that is, until I watched “Girls.”
The show sounds vapid. And complicated. But that is not what this is about — this is about me.
After spending three years out of school, disenfranchised by art and engaged in the nonprofit sector in a city I detested, I did the one thing any aspiring arts professional would do — I moved to Brooklyn to “make it” in the art world.
My experience was anything but successful; every day was a kick in the ass. I took on a barely-paying gig with a pop-up gallery, watched my housing situation dissolve before my eyes and ended up sitting in parks for two weeks, sleeping on couches, until I found myself living in someone’s hidey hole in Bushwick.
I remember the day I called home. I had lied to my parents much of the time I was there: Everything is great, I love this place, I’m starting to feel at home. I remember because I traveled to the Brooklyn Bridge to make the call; if it went poorly, I could have just thrown myself off and saved the $2.25 subway fare.
Fortunately, it did not come to that. My father seemed happy — a sensation which did not translate to me as I was still, at that moment, operating under the belief that anything my father thought was “good” was actually inherently capitalist, short-sighted and disgustingly pragmatic.
Regardless, I left Brooklyn, angry, mostly with myself.
To this day, I still feel chills of failure. It is one of those memories I look back on and shudder at my inability to create a functional world for myself in New York City. I feel shameful for running away, for not sticking it out longer and for letting the city chew me up and spit me out.
However, the story behind “Girls” offers me some solace in my sentiments. Hannah’s unwavering self-critique mimics my own; in one case, during a blowout fight, with Marnie, she says to her, “You can’t say a single mean thing to me … every mean thing you could say to me I’ve already said to myself in the last half hour.”
And that’s what this is about.
This summer, culture slut James Franco wrote a short editorial about “Girls.” His writing, which can (at best) be described as a stream-of-consciousness meandering through the wilderness of language, offers some critique. He said: “Hannah can be as big a loser as Lena wants because, in the end, Lena is anything but a loser: she is a writer-director-actor spearheading a show on HBO. No matter how many stupid things Hannah says to strangers, how embarrassing her sex scenes are, how awkward she is with adults … Lena will always shine through as the admirable creative force behind everything on the television screen.”
What he says is true to some extent; Dunham is in no way a “loser.” But what he fails to realize is that real-life successes do not always translate into real-life self-esteem. Lena Dunham is still overweight, small-breasted, and is hardly the picturesque celebrity presence we are all so used to. Being human means recognizing your own loser-dom, regardless of whether it exists only in your head.
That is why this is about one’s ability to locate that place inside him or herself that causes the most pain — the source, the well, that delivers buckets of suffering. It is about opening yourself up, to unzip your very flesh and expose your most vulnerable parts to a critical, ravenous public. After all, to be a young, creative person in a world of economic precariousness is akin to wandering, bleeding, through a forest full of bears.
Finally, this is also about the idea that television can validate us — our vulnerabilities — when written with the same honesty that Dunham writes with in “Girls.” Young people of my generation who feel disenfranchised by social or professional gaps can take heart in Hannah’s self-loathing. She punishes herself frequently through pursuing mediocre romances, by lying to her parents about being financially stable, and she finds respite only in small encounters with the women in her life.
“Girls” is an introspective meditation on the struggle of young people through a third-person lens. After finishing the first season, I feel no more hopeful about my own life than I did before. But that is the beauty of it; in the story of Hannah there is no satisfactory ending with resolute lessons learned. There are only more moments of despair, self-flagellation and fear. Or, fleeting moments of joy that result from small successes. And that is my story, as I am certain it is the story of others.