*I aim to be spoiler free in case you haven’t seen the show yet.
I recently have had the urge to rewatched the HBO series Girls in an attempt to mentally prepare myself for watching the last season for what would be the first time. During my preparation to rewatch the show, I am reminded of several things; being a young person in their twenties is difficult (especially in New York City), friendship is super important when surviving in New York City and I love to hate Hannah Horvath.
“Though Hannah embodies all that traditional media hates about millennials…Hannah herself is a parody or homage to this ideology.”
Hannah Horvath is played by show creator Lena Dunham and she is not the most likeable character to ever grace television screens. However, that is part of her character’s charm – you can still watch her life turn into a car crash through a voyeuristic lens and walk away unharmed, yet glad to have seen the accident unfold.
Though Hannah embodies all that traditional media hates about millennials: self entitled, ignorant, lazy and drifting through life, Hannah herself is a parody or homage to this ideology. Lena Dunham created rounded and three-dimensional characters that are all desperately flawed, but it is in their short comings that we see their strength and resilience begin to flourish. All of the characters are as bad as one another, but that makes it even more real and fascinating.
I also see parts of me in Hannah – or rather parts of past me. As an aspiring writer, Hannah believes that she is going to be the voice of her generation, that what she has to say matters. While I have never suffered from delusions that grand, I know how it feels to have an idea you think will change people and make an impact on their lives somehow. Or rather to want to be able to have that impact on people through something you have created. Unfortunately, a lecturer at college was pretty quick to assure us that individuality and originality were concepts that were just not true. Hannah’s creative endeavours are often struck by tragedy, which ultimately leads us to the conclusion that Hannah is in actual fact a bad writer. From things we see throughout the series, she constantly falls over her own self-worth, and her almost perfect view of writing becomes her worst enemy. Dunham’s portrayal of Hannah’s character development throughout the five seasons I have seen evokes a sense of maturity about her own experiences during the early days of her career.
“Her ignorance – or rather pride – is the thing that most viewers found cringey at best and just petty and annoying at worst.”
Dunham’s independent short film, Tiny Furniture (2010), mirrors some of the minor themes that Girls would later explore in more depth, such as graduating college and trying to find your footing. Both Tiny Furniture and Girls were written based on Dunham’s own experiences of living and trying to work in New York City after college; both have a different ton, with the television series feeling more dramatic than the more dark humoured film.
We follow Hannah and her friends as they negotiate love lives, jobs and everything that they could have to possibly face. Hannah herself does this with the perfect mix of wit and vulnerability. Her ignorance – or rather pride – is the thing that most viewers found cringey at best and just petty and annoying at worst. For example, Hannah gives herself a pep talk in the mirror and tells herself; ‘The worst stuff that you say sounds better than the best stuff that some other people say.’
“Lena Dunham gives us some pretty serious (if also seriously entertaining) art.”
Vulture argued that Hannah Horvath may actually be the most selfish television character ever back in 2014. Alyssa Rosenberg, debating with Matt Zoller Sietz, claimed; ‘Over the past two seasons of Girls [Seasons 3 and 4], I’ve felt like Lena Dunham has been so determined to clarify that she is not on Hannah’s side that she’s lost the will to make the case for the character, if that was even what she wanted to do in the first place’. This is most notable with what happens between Hannah and the editor of her ebook in season 4 and the aftermath of this event.
There’s a lot to hate when it comes to Hannah, but there is also a clear reason we have such strong feelings about her: every reason we have to hate her reflects something about ourselves—as individuals and a society. That is pretty annoying.
By creating and playing Hannah Horvath with such fearlessness, Lena Dunham gives us some pretty serious (if also seriously entertaining) art. We have been living in a veritable Golden Age of Anti-heroes and, yet there is quite a double standard at play. Look at how easily we forgive the murderous Tony Soprano and Walter White, and the lying, cheating Don Draper? Hannah hasn’t come close to any of these things. Her worst crime is being irritating.
But as long as white men have been our protagonists—which is to say, always—they have been allowed to do anything. Women are finally entering the pictures, literally, with vehicles built around them. They are making strides as heroines now, but not to the point where they are allowed to actually play full-on anti-heroines. In the meantime we will always have Hannah Horvath to be the voice of our generation.
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