Girls is perhaps one of the saddest TV shows ever made. Hannah (a proxy for writer Lena Dunham), her friends, and her misogynistic kind-of-boyfriend Adam, live in a world divested of both meaning and consequence. In next month’s First Things, Alan Jacobs calls the show out. Contrasting it with the rich world of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, he points out that:
The two moral worlds I have been describing do not, as far as I can tell, touch at any obvious point. To hold one is to reject virtually every premise of the other—though in fact, while Austen’s understanding of human behavior consists of a complex set of interlocking propositions, the moral world of Girls may have only one premise. It was articulated some years ago by Woody Allen, when he was in the news for having commenced an affair with his long-time lover Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. Asked by a journalist to account for this, he had but a brief explanation: “The heart wants what it wants.”
How to respond? You can’t decry it as the blind nihilism it is – that criticism makes no sense in the world of Girls, and you just look like a bigot. Nor can you hope that such a story will peter out in time – to what will fans turn, and more importantly, how much harm will they do themselves and others in the meantime? Instead, we need to offer an alternative. We need to tell better, truer stories than Girls:
What we need is not condemnation of Adam, or condemnation of Hannah for liking Adam, but better art and better stories—better fictional worlds, by which I mean fictional worlds that rhyme with what is the case, with what is true yesterday, today, and forever. Not the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths: fictive spaces in which Hannah can do better than Adam, and Adam can be better than what he is, a bitter prisoner of past angers and resentments.
Better stories than a TV show about over-privileged Brooklynites doing things over-privileged Brooklynites imagine they would do if they didn’t live in a world where jobs and hearts and minds are actual things? I think we can manage that.