The Irascible ProfessorSM
by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - May 22, 2012: "Girls" and the Post-College Blues. Guest commentary by Sanford Pinsker.
There are times when TV shows are a way of gauging just how out of it I have become. HBO's new comedy series, "Girls" is this season's exhibit A. At first glance this show looks like a spin-off of "Sex and the City," the four women in their mid-twenties are, well, "girls." Put another way, they are clueless about everything -- not only about how to make their way into, and through, adulthood, but also (gulp!) about sex. What they have, of course, is each other, and that is the glue holding "Girls" together.
"Sex and the City" works on much the same formula: Four very different (dare I say, "representative?") women -- one a lawyer, one a newspaper columnist, one a PR person, and one an art gallery director -- talk candidly about their lives, their aspirations, and of course, about sex. The result is well-written, bright chatter. By contrast, "Girls" strikes me as not quite ready for prime time, pay cable -- this despite the rave reviews from usually reliable media outlets.
Let me simply admit it: entering my eighth decade, I am not an ideal viewer of the high jinks that Lena Dunham, the show's everything (writer, director, producer, and star) serves up. Take the opening scene of episode one in which Hannah's parents (both professors) fly into New York City to make the following announcement: "No more money!" After graduation (she was an English major. Why are such mopey types always English majors?), she now "works" as an unpaid intern on a literary magazine. Mom and Dad have been picking up the bills since they heard "Pomp and Circumstance" at their daughter's college graduation. She is ostensibly working, after hours, on a memoir, a tell-all book from a life that, thus far, has little to tell.
Hannah's neuroses are a variant of the disease that afflicts Woody Allen's characters, as well as a whole host of others who have marched in the endless parade of comic sad-sacks. I get it -- honest I do. But for a show that presumably is putting its finger on the nerve of contemporary post-college culture, I would simply point out that according to recent estimates from the Pew Research Center about 42% of recent college graduates move back home to (re)take residence in their old bedroom, the family basement, or the attic. What they don't do is move to Brooklyn and set up apartments their parents pay for.
Hannah expects that her folks will pony up what are now called the "necessaries." At one point, again in episode one, she tells them that, after giving the matter a good deal of thought, she can pare her expenses down, way down, to $1100 a month. With this help, Hannah assures them, she'll be able to finish her book. After all, she has written four pages in the past two years.
Granted, it's a funny scene, exactly what a comedy series should be, but the laughs come, at least as I reckon it, at Hannah's expense. She gives whole new meaning to the word "spoiled." My hunch is that many of HBO's viewers will so identify with Hannah that they will buy into her hare-brained schemes and thread-bare reasoning.
The show is called "girls" for good reason. There's not a woman in sight, with the exception of the female doctor who calls Hannah out for being "silly" when she goes on a tear about how and why contracting AIDS might not be so bad. In the same way that Hannah indulges -- and overindulges -- herself about sexually transmitted diseases, she runs her mouth (in episode two) by telling a lame joke about date rape at Syracuse (where her prospective boss went to college). The interview had gone swimmingly and Hannah is set to sign on the dotted line when her unconscious (suicidal?) wish to fail kicks in. Kiss the job goodbye, which brings up the whole issue of where Hannah will park herself without parental dollars to pay for it.
"Girls" has enough juice behind it to succeed, whether I end up a fan or not. That said, however, let me hasten to add that I think comedy shows should be judged on whether or not they make one laugh. "Girls," so far, has had its moments, even though there are also moments when I just want to slap these selfish, overly-coddled twits.
© 2012, Sanford Pinsker.
Sanford Pinsker is an emeritus professor at Franklin and Marshall College (located in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania). He now lives in south Florida where he thinks about weighty issues on cloudy days and occasionally reviews manuscripts for publishers.
The Irascible Professor comments: Ordinarily, the IP would refrain from publishing a review of another vapid HBO comedy series. These shows, generally, are intended only to entertain; and, usually include little in the way of social or intellectual substance. Sanford, of course, is correct about characterizing Hannah and her friends as "overly-coddled twits." But, the real story here is the sad statistic that about 42% of recent college graduates move back in with their parents. The corresponding number for 18 to 29 year-olds who do not have a college degree and are not enrolled in college is 49%. These statistics point to the painfully bleak job market for both recent college graduates and for those young people without a college degree. Most of these young people don't have parents wealthy enough to fund the lifestyle that the characters on "Girls" enjoy. In reality, the characters on the show "Girls" don't represent contemporary post-college culture at all.
One might expect to find an increase in "inter-generational" families during times of economic hardship particularly among those with children who do not have college degrees. But these numbers also suggest that having a college degree has done little to insulate recent graduates from hard times. The fact that recent college graduates are moving back into (or never leaving) their family homes at nearly the same rate as those without degrees suggests that in the current recession a college degree is far from a guarantee of finding a job that pays a living wage. Recent anecdotal information suggests that the job market for college grads may finally be improving somewhat, but there still remains a substantial cohort of recent grads who are unemployed or under-employed and at the same time up to their eyeballs in student loan debt.
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