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A Meaning of Minority in Girls

by Ethan Tussey

by Ashar Foley for IN MEDIA RES

In a 2012 Fresh Air interview, Girls creator Lena Dunham explained the show's focus on four white, middle-class girls as "an accident," a product of writing "from a sort of gut-level place," the issue of which were pieces of her or those close to her. "[O]nly later did I realize that it was four white girls [...], super-specific to my experience," Dunham stated, before alluding to Girl's second-season attempt to diversify its cast. In the interest of vindicating or censuring Girls for its lack of non-white principal characters, we must interrogate this appeal to the accidental, asking not only, What is the nature of the accident in Girls specifically, but also, What is the nature of accidents in artistic production generally?

Dunham's accident in Girls is her unconscious privileging of her own specific racial (and socioeconomic) experience—an omission a writer of color, ever-conscious of representing her own race to a "race-free" general audience, would be less likely to make. But indications of Dunham's privilege are not the only things to emerge from the "gut-level" of her writing. If we can drop the associations of "accident" with mistake, misfortune, and apology in favor of concepts—like excess, semantic drift, and talking cure—more appropriate to a creative context, we see that the accidental is, if problematic, also a quite interesting feature of Girls.

Hannah (Dunham), whose steady and anxious self-expression resembles the talking cure, is often interrupted by peripheral minority characters. To cite one example, Hannah's rambling exposition on her fear of, and possible desire for, AIDS—one she developed after seeing a white woman die of it in Forrest Gump—is promptly contradicted by her gynecologist and woman of color as "an incredibly silly thing to say. You do not want AIDS." The doctor then sums up the condition responsible for Hannah's ill-informed andself-absorbed utterances: her age. This instance of intervention is typical of how minority functions in Girls, outlining the show's construction of its subset of whiteness. Following Toni Morrison's point in Playing in the Dark that identity—and whiteness in particular—is negatively constructed, we may infer that the fleeting minority presences in Girls indicate what the girls are not: accurate interpreters of and responders to situations, steadily employed, slow to alarm, and more permanent and credible inhabitants of the city. In short, the minorities in Girls often represent the daunting competencies of urban adulthood.

Girls - Vagina Panic

Girls - Vagina Panic

from GIrls (2012)
Creator: Lena Dunham
Distributor: HBO
Posted by Ethan Tussey