Downton Abby Ends in Feminist Dystopia of GIRLS?
Downton Abbey and HBO’s Girls seem to be talking to each other, says Anand Giridharadas in a New York Times piece.
The early 20th Century world of Downton’s British aristocracy knew “there is a way to do everything, from cleaning spoons to dressing for dinner.”
But then World War I unleashes its chaos, confusing notions about who is independent and where one stands. Thus,
The family driver, believing in equality and marrying for love, runs away with the family daughter; thus the men wear black tie instead of white to dinner one night; thus a new generation of servants is less servile, more willing to question.
HBO’s Girls yields the fruits of that push a century later — and it isn’t pretty, he says — as four young women navigate the stresses and opportunities of New York City: a world that “says you can be anything but does not show you how.”
“I don’t know what the next year of my life is going to be like at all,” says Marnie, a smart, pretty, rather lost twentysomething on “Girls.” “I don’t know what the next week of my life is going to be like. I don’t even know what I want. Sometimes I just wish someone would tell me, like, ‘This is how you should spend your days, and this is how the rest of your life should look.”’
And sexual agency?
“Girls” portrays a sexual dystopia in which those women seem to have negotiated poorly: Men now reliably get what they want, while women must often content themselves with scraps, as when the character Hannah celebrates “almost” satiation in bed as the best she is likely to get.
Mr. Giridharadas ends with this observation:
The creator of “Girls,” Lena Dunham, is a self-proclaimed liberal. But her show is, as some conservatives gleefully note, full of ammunition for their side.
With all that ammunition, which of these worlds would you rather live in?
The conservative Downton Abby at least holds clarity and security — even if you lose power and liberty. Meanwhile, you can get pretty screwed up in the messy world of Girls — but hey, the sky’s the limit.
I can relate to Girls. Before college graduation I always knew what to do. After graduation I faced a huge void — and little direction. I made unwise choices. And I experienced failure before figuring out what I really wanted and where my interests and abilities lay.
But I also learned a lot. And so, apparently, has Ms. Dunham.
“Hannah” was (in some ways) Lena then. But look at Lena now. Today she is an award-winning writer, director, producer and actress. She’s even in a stable relationship. And she has become a mentor of sorts, pointing out the potholes.
In today’s more egalitarian world I do see confusion, pain, suffering and messed up lives. But I also see plenty of people rising out of it all, a bit older, wiser and fulfilled.
And then there’s that old truism: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.