In today’s era, being in your 20s has shifted towards this state of purgatory. Those in their 20s are legally adults, are supposed to inherit an amount of responsibility that those in generation past have inherited. They’re supposed to pay their bills, cook meals for themselves, clean their own apartment, get a full-time job. Maybe they’re supposed to get married, have a kid or two. All of the things that we see as making somebody an “adult” are things that older generations expect those in their 20s now to accomplish. But it’s not that simple anymore. We see phrases like “adulting” because those in their 20s aren’t achieving those things as quickly and feel like they need to prove this abstract concept of “adult” or “maturity”. They Instagram dishes they’ve made that have more than 3 ingredients. They post on Facebook about buying that first car. They have to prove themselves because they’re still expected to hit all the benchmarks of adulthood in their 20s.
But the world has changed. People come out of college having to shell out $300 a month in student loans. Traditional communities don’t really exist anymore; people have a harder time meeting other people, especially since those in their 20s frequently move between jobs, making it more difficult to form long-lasting relationships. Even dating is more difficult. With online dating, expectations make it difficult to commit to another person. What if there’s somebody better out there for you? What if you haven’t made the best choice? The economy has created a bigger divide between the rich and the poor; a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee you a ticket to the middle class anymore. Not to mention the deep, deep political anxiety that those in their 20s have had to deal with their entire lives. There hasn’t been any overarching national identity for a long time now. There’s only right and left, a nation that has shattered its own dream and its own image through multiple brutal wars in the Middle East and the election of a man who is the antithesis to much of America’s optimistic image.
So why am I going on about this? Girls is a show about navigating that purgatory, about dealing with the deep anxiety of living in an uncertain time, where you learn that life isn’t as rosy as you had thought, where you’re desperately grasping for some notion of who you are. Why does Hannah go with Marnie and Desi to their insane weekend getaway? Why does Marnie sleep with Desi when she could be in a normal relationship with Ray? Why does Shoshanna desperately want to be accepted by the girls from Jamba Jeans? Why does Jessa have to attend the networking event with Shoshanna and Elijah, and why does she have to be snide about it? Well, all of them are trying to feed some idea of who they are, just like Hannah did in last week’s “All I Ever Wanted”. Hannah has to be the masochist in service of her work. Marnie has to sabotage her relationships in service of some self-flagellating impulse. Shoshanna has to be a popular and successful businesswoman. And Jessa has to subvert every system she sees. It’s not that any of them are awful people. They’re not, and to think they are is to shy away from looking in the mirror. They’re just trying to evolve outside of these preconceived notions of themselves, all while desperately holding onto the people around them.
There’s a certain narcissism that comes from desperate anxiety. Being anxious means constantly having to worry about yourself. Shoshanna is worried about being successful, so she blames Jessa for her shortcomings. Jessa is worried about what her friends think of her relationship with Adam, so she can’t even fathom why Shoshanna is so upset, or rather, she can fathom it but can’t empathize with it. There’s this thin barrier between the two of them that can’t be breached because of that fixation on their own insecurities. Hannah and Marnie, on the other hand, are able to have their moment because they’re both united against Desi, their focus on some anxiety that doesn’t come from within. Of course, that might change, since Hannah told Elijah about the affair, and Elijah told everybody else, but it goes to show that it’s not necessarily that all of these girls are terrible. There are these larger forces at play pushing the girls into these narcissistic boxes, anxiety pushing them inward, keeping them from breaking free of these preconceived notions of themselves.
I didn’t really dive into every little detail from the episode. I could go on for a while about the insanity of that networking event and how it comments on the unchecked narcissism that goes on at those events. I could go on for a while about the store owner giving Hannah the tea pot and how it’s a little problematic that people of color are tokenized in Girls. But what I really want to drive home is how we demonize people like Hannah and Marnie and Shoshanna and Jessa, all without really thinking about what it is that makes a person in their 20s the way that they are. It’s not just the individual experiences that a person goes through, it’s the cultural, political, and economic shifts that they are a part of. It’s the way that they’re forced into this period of purgatory where they’re not a child or an adult, where they’re forced to reckon with the fallacy of dealing with labels in a world that doesn’t easily define them. And what Girls attempts to answer is this question: How do young people today react to the way that the world pushes them around? Hopefully, by the end of the series, we’ll have some clarity.
However, judging from the show so far, clarity is a rare commodity these days.
So what do you think of the final season so far? Do you think Ray will find out about Marnie and Desi? Let me know in the comments!