Like many people, I was excited for Season 3 of the HBO show GIRLS to air this month. The season is only two episodes in, and already, Lena Dunham, the creator and lead character, is receiving feedback from critics. If not for the show itself, then for the photoshopped images of her that appeared in Vogue. But that’s another story for a different writer. My problem lies with the portrayal of Hannah, the writer, who is played by Dunham.
In the second episode of the season, Hannah, Shoshanna, and Adam head out on a road trip to pick up Jessa from rehab. Before I go any further, check out the clip below. Note: Skip to 1:48 for the specific scene I’ll be referencing.
“We are picking our friend up from rehab, and I just thought there’d be something I could write about in my book. That seems like a very rich area, but I’m just realizing that this road trip is just not a metaphor. It just isn’t. Sitting in car is not fun.”
Part of my obsession with GIRLS stems from the fact that Hannah is a writer. There aren’t many shows that feature writers. One depicting a female writer would be even harder to come by. I enjoy watching her character’s writing process and experience getting published. Yet after listening to Hannah complain about the lack of writing material she’s getting from their spontaneous road trip, something occurred to me that I couldn’t ignore anymore: Hannah’s experience as a writer is unrealistic.
Sure, there is a period in every writer’s journey when they have difficulty pushing past their own experiences—when they have to abandon that “write what you know” advice each of us is given. But Hannah has already landed a book deal, so her statement seems rather naive and unexpected. This isn’t the first time Hannah has mentioned wanting to soak up different experiences so she can write about them, but, at this point in the show, we expect Hannah to have grown as a writer.
When Adam, frustrated by Hannah’s complaints, pulls over and begins hiking through the trees lining the highway, he tells Hannah:
“You want something to write about. Well, here it is. The glory of God is all around us Hannah…look how fun this is.”
Hannah takes a few strides before sitting down. She tells Adam:
“You know what Adam? I don’t want to do it, and it’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate. So you go ahead. You live your truth. I’ll be here, living my truth.”
But what is Hannah’s truth? It’s unclear. Because Adam loves Hannah, he tried giving her the experiences she hoped for, but Hannah turns down the opportunity. She sits and listens to NPR, while Adam and Shoshanna continue their spur-of-the-moment hike. I asked a fellow contributor, Amanda Riggle, and fan of the show what they thought of this scene:
“I think her truth was just an excuse not to try something new. Like her world of acceptable experiences are in this category and his are in another, and where they don’t overlap, she won’t participate.”
I see a lot of truth in that statement. What it comes down to is a lack of discipline and structure in her writing. If, as we have to accept, Hannah can only write about experiences she’s actually had, then a serious writer would have grasped the opportunity Adam gave her by pulling over. But she doesn’t. Her writing process has no structure; in fact, even though Hannah talks about writing often and has a book deal, viewers don’t see Hannah physically writing very frequently.
She doesn’t seem to work at a “real job” enough to afford rent or, for that matter, groceries. Dunham hopes to explain this by the fact that Hannah was given an advance (for her e-book deal), but even that seems unrealistic in an industry where new writers, untested, generally only receive royalties from actual sales until they have a proven track record. The list continues. Hannah’s book deal was given to her without even having a completed manuscript—almost unheard of.
It’s a show, you say. Dunham’s allowed some artistic license, you say. Normally, I’d agree, but for a show that prides itself on its realistic portrayal of life for twenty-somethings, for girls, in particular, I can’t ignore these “truths.” My truth as a viewer. By portraying the writing and publishing process in this way, Dunham risks alienating real writers. Writers, like me, who latched on from the very beginning, excited to see the way someone, who we thought we saw a part of ourselves in, would find her way in one of the most competitive industries.