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Girls, Ancillary Media, and Audiences

by Ethan Tussey

by Emanuelle Wessels for IN MEDIA RES

From Lena Dunham’s body to the show’s alleged lack of diversity, Girls has garnered much attention for its representational politics. Moreover, Dunham, and Girls' parent network HBO, benefit from a convergent media presence.

Girls is a cross-platform product, making appearances in venues including blogs, YouTube, and online news. Girls and Dunham’s multi-media travels function to manage the brand of the show and network, and to cultivate an audience for it. This extreme social media presence seems indicative not only of a savvy marketing ploy—clearly ongoing Twitter conversations, blog posts, product tie-ins, and write ups equal publicity—but an attempt to carve out an audience for the show that is female, tech-savvy, attuned to irony, and politically conscious. Girls' regular appearances on the feminist blog Jezebel are indicative of the gendering of the audience.

Television scholar Avi Santo has argued that “quality television” purveyors such as HBO brand their products through discourses of taste and class, crafting a "refined" audience who can afford to pay subscription fees. The upscale audience is enjoined to engage in highbrow conversation regarding the content, an invitation that is apparent from the show's complex narratives. Rather than working within this framework, Girls and Dunham shift HBO’s notion of the quality viewer away from one who is refined towards one who is young, savvy, and highly involved with social media (and streaming/downloading media content?). Although the "girls" are clearly privileged, their relationships with work, media, and money reflect a change in HBO's cultivation of its demographics.

Evidence of this branding shift is notable in show’s representations—Hannah and Marnie are repeatedly depicted browsing Facebook, tweeting and texting, and pondering how to write clever Facebook status updates. A viewer niche is also courted outside of the text, as seen through Dunham’s travels across a convergent, socially-oriented media landscape, including online political advertisements (such as the featured clip). In her hailing of a young, YouTube watching, female voter in this ad, Dunham further works to stitch together a niche audience for Girls.

Within this space of hyper-visibility, Girls unites progressive politics, critical attention and popular backlash, self-reflexivity and a painful lack of awareness. Out of these inconsistencies, a fascinating aspect of Girls is its ability to brand its own contradictions, and in the process court audiences designed to identify—either in a critical or sympathetic manner—with some element(s) of this bundle.

Lena Dunham: Your First Time

Lena Dunham ad for 2012 election

from Lena Dunham: Your First Time (2012)
Creator: BarackObamadotcom
Distributor: BarackObamadotcom
Posted by Ethan Tussey