TV Review: Girls (HBO) – Intellectuals without Intellects

Girls, nothing more, nothing less.

Girls. Nothing more, nothing less.

Critic’s Pet

For those of you who don’t have premium cable or get HBO through public TV as I do, the network has a show called Girls that has created a lot of publicity since its launch in 2012. It is a half hour show about a twenty something struggling writer in New York named Hannah Horvath. Her life revolves around her friends, work, boys, family, parties etc. There are no murders, no vampires, no spies or exotic locations (unless you think of New York as exotic). Just the everyday humdrum that we all share. This may sound painfully trivial, but most critics beg to differ,

“Lena Dunham’s [the creator of the show who also does the role of Hannah] much anticipated comedy about four single women in New York is worth all the fuss…” (Alessandra Stanley, NYT)

“Girls represents an exciting moment in television history because, like a handful of other shows (MTV’s ‘Awkward,’ most notably) it not only makes great use of the medium but has the creative guts to realign it for a new century and a new generation.” (David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle)

“It’s the distillation of a distinctive, incisive and brutally funny point of view and most importantly, it’s its own thing.” (Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post)

“Girls has potential to become a once-in-a-generation work that helps define a shared era.” (Hank Stuever, Washington Post)

“From the moment I saw the pilot of Girls, I was a goner, a convert.” (Emily Nussbaum, New York Magazine)

Millennials, SWPLs, Hipsters

A recurring word in the reviews is “generation.” Critics love to think of Girls as the voice of the so-called Millennial generation. But only the part of that generation which they think of as socially relevant – the White, liberal, urban people, sometimes referred to as SWPLs. This reminds me of Judith Rich Harris who I wrote about in my previous post, and her ideas of how we develop from children into adults. We don’t think that much about who we are as individuals but more about which social category we fit in. That social category becomes our tribe. Which explains why critics love the show – they are just cheering for their team, or in this case their junior team.

This tribalism is made painfully obvious when Hannah dates a Black guy but breaks up with him because he turns out to be a conservative. By that happy accident her world is again as White as that of any SWPLs watching the show, who can appreciate her effort to fraternize and be liberally inclusive while at the same time be ok with the fact that all their friends are White. The ethnic friend fantasy should never become real. At least not unless the friend in question has been properly whitewashed. Needless to say, SWPLs see racism everywhere.

The Genius Working at the Coffee Shop: From Modernity to Hipsterity

But in spite of the boring social and political correctness, Dunham does try to portray the Millennial SWPLs unique situation – with both sympathy and criticism – although she says little of why they are in their particular situation; it’s just some existential backdrop that works as a common denominator for the characters. Their world is one of economic recession, in sharp contrast to when they were kids, and it’s socially confused; no one seems certain of what is right and wrong or how to behave. This insecurity occasionally creates some much needed nervous energy to the show, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying because it lacks meaning and never leads to any conclusions. It’s just weird rather than interesting.

At any rate, the young SWPLs in Girls find it hard to navigate this increasingly confusing and harsh reality. But they aren’t mere victims, but also pretty full of themselves. Dunham’s self-criticism (because she must be counted as a SWPL herself) is evident: this tribe is deluded and narcissistic. That insight saves the show from complete disaster, but it doesn’t save it from a clear failure in my view. Dunham tries to go for brutal honesty, but the question of where this delusional and inflated sense of self-worth comes from is left glaringly unanswered.

My personal guess is that the unflattering aspects of SWPLs have emerged gradually over a long period of time. An early incarnation of this tribe arose from Enlightenment, the modern people as I call them for lack of a better word, who in the 1700s embraced the new thing called science and wanted to implement the same rationality to society. These radicals were smart, creative and principled – an elite in many respects. But they were also naïve and blank slatist, not understanding that they too constituted a social category or tribe and were governed by the same psychological mechanisms as other tribes. So the moderns allowed more or less anyone admission to their tribe thinking the newcomers were genuinely like themselves. And being financially successful and generous they could bring in a steady stream of new members most of whom weren’t as intelligent, creative or civic-minded as they were, but instead more traditionally tribal and hostile towards outsiders.

And so the modern tribe became today’s SWPLs. They live in gentrified White neighborhoods (if they can afford it), and wear clothes that scream gay casual friday to mark their tribal distinctiveness. They get their degrees in sociology, arts or some other subject that doesn’t require too much brainpower. They eat organic food, recycle and perform all their other rituals but have much less of the inner qualities of their original modern ancestors. And this dumbing down, I believe, is the unique situation that Dunham doesn’t want to look into too carefully – the growing gap between an intellectual, elitist self-image and the horrifying reality of being a mundane, average person.

The Inexplicable Tragedy of Regression to the Mean

A phenomenon related to this decline is that of regression to the mean. This refers to the way intelligence (and probably a lot of similar traits) is inherited. Children don’t just inherit the average of their parent’s respective intelligence. Instead they’ll average somewhere between their parent’s level and the average of the larger population they belong to. So two SWPLs with IQs of 120 will have children whose average IQs might be around 110.  And being blank slatists, they can’t just accept this as a fact of life but will be disappointed or blame themselves or try to convince themselves that their little Hannah, working at the coffee shop is just as smart as they are. It’s just the economy, or all the existential issues that this new and highly complicated world entails. Or it could be a psychological problem. SWPLs have a lot of psychiatric conditions that supposedly make them look interesting rather than just dumb. (In Hannah Horvath’s case it’s OCD.) Because if all that’s wrong with her is an IQ of 105 then she is just like a regular White girl who listens to Taylor Swift. And Mom doesn’t like Taylor Swift, partly because her fans are the wrong kind of White people, and partly because Taylor Swift has talent and intelligence, and in the back of her head she knows that her daughter has neither.

The Modern Storyteller Fail

While you could make a decent show about a plain Jane and her equally plain friends, Girls also suffers from the modern kind of story-telling that I’ve mentioned in a previous post which fails to recognize that good meaningful stories have a basic archetypal structure – good versus evil and such. Instead Dunham just makes up little sketches and when she has enough to fill half an hour that becomes an episode. I’m in no way exaggerating when I say that these episodes can be seen in any random order. There is no beginning, no end, no one is really good and no one is really bad, no strong conflicts. It’s just one trivial event after another.

The critics don’t mind this because they are the small clique who love the modern nonsensical crap, and they also look at Hannah and think their deadbeat daughter really is special after all. The rest, I imagine, look at Dunham’s perky boobs that the camera lingers on for long periods of time in every single episode. One critic, Tim Molloy, had the audacity to ask Dunham about the purpose of all the nudity (more than I have ever seen in a TV show) and got this vitriolic response from Dunham,

Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem…

On top of this, producer Jenni Konner asked Molloy why he thought he could talk to a woman that way, and producer Judd Apatow wondered how things would go with Molloy’s girlfriend after his misogynistic question. Which supports my idea that the gap between self-image and actual performance among the SWPLs has been growing for a long time and is not a problem exclusive to the Millennials.

But ultimately, boobs, even real and perky ones, will not keep the audience interested. Only storytelling can do that. That’s why no one really cares about the films from the 1960s and 1970s. And this is why no one really cares about Girls either,

Viewers (in millions) of the latest ten episodes of some HBO shows.

Viewers (in millions) of the latest ten episodes of some HBO shows.

This lack of interest is also interesting in that it shows how little people care about what these SWPL critics think. In spite of all the superlatives from all the big media, the Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards etc, the ratings haven’t even momentarily risen above the abysmal level that they been on since the show started. That’s gotta hurt.

I’m thinking if Hannah hadn’t wasted her time on that sociology degree, and practised really hard she might have been able to be a backup singer for Taylor Swift,

30 Responses to TV Review: Girls (HBO) – Intellectuals without Intellects

  1. JayMan says:

    I’d say that the simplest explanation for the rise of “SWPLs” is HBD Chick’s hypothesis: outbreeding, which fostered the evolution of universalist sentiments.

    As well, Dunham and her character are Jews. Not exactly true “SWPLs”.

    Kinda sad that Girls has nearly as much viewership as Veep. That is actually an entertaining show.

    I haven’t watched Girls enough to figure out how smart Hannah is. Though it is fairly obvious that she is not horrendously bright.

  2. Staffan says:

    Yes, the universalist sentiment is why more or less everyone can be a member which then inevitably caused the dumbing down.

    Dunham claims two of the girls are wasps, I’m guessing the pretty ones : ) I can’t say I know what secular NY Jews are like, but they seem similar to SWPLs.

    Given the hbd context, it’s interesting to notice the allegation that the whole project was born out of nepotism,

    Haven’t seen Veep, but I’m pretty sure it’s on public TV here too (most HBO shows are) so I”ll check it out.

  3. Everything on television is repetitive and nothing changes. I haven’t owned a tv set for many years, but I know the shows are just as stupid as they have always been.

    • Staffan says:

      I’m shallow compared to you, hehe. I like some light entertainment once in a while, although it’s increasingly difficult to find something that can hold my interest. You can only watch so many murder investigations and talent shows. But I like movies and the general idea of an artform that brings together the visual, music and storytelling. I can’t see film in theaters for various reasons.

      And most things have their compensations. Even this crappy show had Zosia Mamet, whose character, Shoshanna, is pretty periferal and timid, not very easy material to work with. But Mamet manages to steal the show, at least I like to think so. Actually reminded me of Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress.

      • Well, at least you like something, which is better than not liking anything. My idea of good cinema or “entertainment” is watching Werner Herzog’s Herz aus Glas repeatedly or something of that nature. I guess I am just strange. Most people do not like those who are too snobbish about their tastes though, so it’s better to have something to be able to relate to others about.

      • Staffan says:

        There is snobbish and snobbish. A famous gay guy came out of the closet and became gay of the year here (in Sweden) and exclaimed “I love you all!” On a dinner afterwards a politician came up to him and reminded him that they had met in the military and that the gay guy, who was very upperclass, had asked the politician, of the socialists, if he spoke French, which he didn’t. After that they gay man didn’t want to associate with him anymore. Gay or not, I hate people like that.

        But having a refined or highly individual taste is something else than just a social status marker. I don’t usually watch Herzog. I like his ability to create unique atmosphere but it’s too reflective and slow for me. I have some kind of adhd type brain. I really liked Kaspar Hauser though, one of his more eventful movies.

        The disconnect always bothers me (being a bit of a sap), but it’s better than mainstreaming because then we only connect each others personas, which is a stupid charade.

      • then we only connect each others personas, which is a stupid charade.

        –Very true, but do you think that most people are aware that it is all a charade, or are they that dumb?

      • Staffan says:

        It probably varies a lot. We had kid where I grew up who would torture animals. All but five or six of the adults adored him. They could only see the front. It’s like with paradigms: they dismiss anomalies until they reach a breaking point – only then will they choose to wake up.

        It’s perhaps our evolutionary nature. Not getting along has no doubt been very dangerous until the modern era. Which is probably why extraverts outnumber introverts.

  4. Rifleman says:

    What’s your opinion of Portlandia?

    Many clips on YouTube and the files are all available on torrent where I saw them.

    I hate left/lib/”Girls”/SWPL etc etc but Portlandia was very smart and very funny. And I don’t know anything about Portland or those types of people.

    The show is at times insanely bright. But in no way cutesy, ironic, passive aggressive or smug.

    You should know that Dunham’s Jewish mother and WASP? father are “artists” known for their avant guard paintings of genitalia.

    • Staffan says:

      I only saw a few seconds of it before switching channels because it looked so overly smart and contrived, but maybe I’ll give it a chance.

      I didn’t know of her background until last night. I think maybe Jews constitute one reason for how the original Enligthenment project, the people I call the modern tribe, became the tribe of SWPL. Not dumbing it down obviously, but probably making it more traditionally tribal, no doubt more commercial and less civic-minded. It’s easy to think of Jews, at least the secular ones, as the most modern people on Earth, but they had nothing to do with the creation of Enlightenment, at least that I know of.

  5. Gottlieb says:

    Some of his descriptions of the SWPLS, look extremely similar to my personality, LOL. I always saw myself more as a liberal than a conservative. I believe that the classic archetype of the successful conservative is the athlete and popular girl, the films of American nonsense, while the nerds appear massively as a cultural arms of the liberals. Obvious that i fit with ”unpopular” and ” weird”. I’m in the middle ground between the rebels and the Socialists. At the most, I have a tendency, even abstract, to be environmentalist (and misogynistic) if I could I would recycle and eat organic and vegetarian food but I’m kind Hippster and most bands I like (post rock, 90s rock) are overwhelmingly leftist, i think that i have some ”mental discrepancy”, well i’m performing a exaggerated self diagnostics (= some months later. I agree with almost everything that liberals have proposed, except in relation to equality. And the funny thing, this is precisely the fundamental totem of the Enlightenment. And I’m narcissistic and doubly disappointed.

    • Staffan says:

      I don’t think this is a mental discrepancy but more a quality of HBDers and probably the original Enlightenment – to honor the truth and be willing to face the consequences. I recycle, eat a lot of organic food and I’m a vegetarian. My DNA is probably more similar to a liberal than that of a conservative. But the contemporary liberal/SWPLs are not into the truth; it just how they think of themselves by comparison to traditional conservatives who rely on religion and traditions. That’s why they are so categorically saying HBD is racism – they don’t want a discussion because they have already figured out that they are in trouble.

      (Also, most people who claim to have Asperger or even have a diagnose do not fit the description of this type very well.)

  6. Gottlieb says:

    When i talk about my ”mental discrepancy” i did want to say about this fragment of your text ” Or it could be a psychological problem. SWPLs has a lot of psychiatric conditions that supposedly make it seem interesting and not just dumb”.
    LOL, you did bad here, i think which is not exactly like that, i mean, some (or many) people fit with it, but many others not. I’m not ”just dumb” sorry (yes, i’m artificially taking it like personal offense,rsrs). Sincerely, ”normal” people are the really dumb, are like zombies, they aren’t essence, are ever on a kind of ”automatic pilot”.
    I continue with my theory about neoteny. People which believe in environment, indeed, are more influenced by the same and it related with intelligence, since the higher iq’s have more time with plasticity brain. Yes, they are very wrong today, specially about human biology, but it don’t mean they are totally wrong, c’e la vie.
    They have some very good qualities, non-well adaptatives! Anybody is perfect!
    I believe i’m very close to ”autism spectrum”, like a borderline to asperger. I have many traits, positive traits related to cognitive advantages (discrepancy between verbal and perfomance iq, i believe, never tested professionally) and some negative traits like difficulty with socialization. I’m against the continuation of pathologization of outliers, like, ”now not only the autistic people ‘are’ sick, but the people which are close to spectrum”, not. Well, in the end of day, i know that i’m not have autism but also know that i’m very close. More one a vaccine and…

    • Staffan says:

      I agree that the pathologization is dubious. Pretty soon everybody’s has a condition and need not take responsibility for their behavior – anger, alcoholism, sex addiction. I’ve even heard one reseracher claiming that crime is addictive so I guess we shouldn’t have any prisons either.

  7. Gottlieb says:

    Psychology have potential to become a monster as ”the state” also have. What the next? Pharmacology to ”much introvert people”???
    I will repeat but i’m boring about that, i live in a ”extroverted” country AND the people here not seems are really great people. Introvert ones are extremely perfectionists with social relations, only this, accept that some people aren’t obsessive with socialization.

    • Staffan says:

      Pharmacology for introverts is very common – it’s called alcohol. By the same logic that we give highly extraverted and impulsive kids amphetamine we could also give introvert something to loosen their inhibitions.

      It’s ironic how psyciatry has become so crazy. But sad that so many believe in this nonsense.

      • Gottlieb says:

        Yes, but many introvert people are manipulated to think they have a problem when indeed they aren’t. I believe seriously that introverts are extremely concious, much more than extrovert (”em-pathetic” people). Specially because of your greater self awareness they tend to think obsessively what how the other feel.
        Introverts, aspies and other similar peoples generally are very variable and many of the liberals ”more fanatics with politically correct” will composed by introverts but also of the modern opponents, us. Self awareness and less interest in social games canalize your energies to other interests like politics and sciences (intelectual things).

      • Staffan says:

        Yes, I’m beginning to suspect that guilt culture and the whole Enlightenment that followed may have a lot to do with introversion. It seems very plausible that an introvert should be better at policing himself. And the aspies seem like the neurotype most inclined to think in terms of ideas and principles. Although East Asia too a different route so there must be more to it than that. Possibly the outbreading.

      • Matt says:

        Cultural collectivism and shame / face relates to social sensitivity towards being included / excluded with the ingroup. There are genetic and neuroscience findings which broadly support this (e.g. see a paper by BM Way). Humility is sort of this concept, but that muddles up having a modest opinion of yourself, avoiding self promotion and being socially sensitive to others opinions (all these are separate).

        Trait extroversion relates to pleasure from external stimuli, particularly people, which causes more approach behavior and less avoidance.

        Shyness and social aversion is a mix of low extroversion and high negative emotionality. Again, less positive stimulus + more negative stimulus = less approach.

        Socially keen people can be sensitive to the opinions of others or insensitive.

        Introverts are rather independent minded, it is true, but this is because they do not mix with people, getting pleasure from them, rather than that they are secure or indifferent against the others inclusion / exclusion.

        Socially sensitive introverts can be independent thinkers in the similar way to socially insensitive extroverts can, but they are not going to be as able to be independent in the face of possible social opposition (like defending their ideas in public as opposed to say leaving blog comments), will have much strange schizoid thinking due to isolation and thoughts which are not publicly shared, etc.

      • Staffan says:

        There seems to be two different views on extraversion. The Big Five and similar view it as a dopaminergic pleasure trait, but the way Jung and Eysenck describes it it’s more about attention and wakefulness and probably norepinephrine. I personally feel that the latter view is more in line with my experiences. You can actually find a lot of aspie type people of the introverted and pleasure driven variety, those known as geeks rather than nerds.

        When we talk of independent thinkers and people who can police themselves I think it’s important to look at the motivations involved. True, the introverted neurotics fear social rejection, but extraverts conform by simply by thinking of the outer world as more relevant – whether it be due to pleasure seeking or a hardwired direction of attention. They are not nervous but they still conform. Which leaves us with the introverted and emotionally stable person as the most independent thinker.

      • Matt says:

        Jung and Eysenck describes it it’s more about attention and wakefulness and probably norepinephrine

        Staffan, late response but, thought provoking comment.

        which leaves us with the introverted and emotionally stable person as the most independent thinker

        yeah, no doubt, in a sense. but in the sense where the person is engaged with others considers their ideas, yet thinks divergently nonetheless, not. and this seems like the most useful form of independent thought – i.e. independence without solipsism.

        thinking of the outside world itself being a sort of conformity seems to stretch the concept in ways beyond that which the word denotes in normal usage (this may be a rather conformist stance for me to take!).

      • Staffan says:

        Sure, they may not be the most interesting or productive people. You can find plenty of self-described INTPs building castles in the air. But some of them have a sufficient sense of how relevant their ideas might be to others. And they come in handy when there is social pressure involved – EO Wilson or Eysenck himself for that matter.

  8. Gottlieb says:

    Guilty culture there in whole world, but the problem about the europeans are the levels of guilty. All is great to europeans, are extrem. Part of the best and the same time, the worst there on ”us” (well, i’m more 90% european, believe).
    In neuropolitics, liberal areas in USA are more introvert than conservative areas. Recently, Jayman show us the distribution of personality types in USA, you also already show this subject.

    • Staffan says:

      Yes, liberals are more introverted but since this has become mainstream extraverts join in too. This makes them more extraverted and tribal and that I believe is why there is such a cultur war in America. Swedes are much more introverted so we don’t have the ability to start cultur wars. Occasionally militant atheists here try to start some controversy but the Christians don’t bite and other atheists are not joining in either.

      But we make plenty of other mistakes…

      • Gottlieb says:

        Well, i think happen ”cold kultur war” in Sweden. More elegant and less hysterical.(but with more profound effects)
        Introverts are like aspies but more soft, the majority of them are libs, atheists, environmentalists etc… but an important minority of them are true ”out of box” thinking and very rationalistic. Libs are the evolution of rational mind, but the ”darkenlightmen” are more evolved.

      • Staffan says:

        Dark Enlightenment, or at least parts of it, should be called Original Enlightenment because it’s closer to the spirit of the movement, now that liberals have mainstreamed and built their Cathedral of PC dogma.

        It’s not so cold in Sweden. Like I told blogger Santi Tafarella, Christians and atheists here wish each other merry Christmas and atheists have their children walk in the St Lucia procession. And no one gets worked up about it.

        But the PC police is like Gestapo. We had a candy here with a logo of a Chinese man with slitty eyes and buck teeth. One Asian objected to it so they changed the product. I remember reporters showing the candy to other Asians and asked them about it. They thought it was funny, or sweet. Some thought it was an uninteresting issue – but no one expect this Asian journalist objected. He also claim that people on the street said “ching chong” to him at least once a week, something no other Asians seem to experience. But they changed the logo just for this one nutcase.

  9. Gottlieb says:

    I think that put a estereotyped photo of asian men is a bulls**it, is a lack of creativity. (why not, a black man with slitty eyes and blonde wig singing ‘white snow” soundtrack??) But, already to put this photo, at least should have leave these photo or image.
    Well, you be right about ”dark enlightenment”…
    Leftpath are INTERnazis, only difference.
    Interesting about culture war in Sweden!

  10. Nelson Lynde says:

    Regression to the mean does not occur due to a “cross” between the IQ of a child’s parents and his or her culture, Regression to the mean is a statistical artifact that occurs because scores at the extremes are inherently less reliable than scores near the mean.

  11. cw says:

    This article is ridiculous. You clearly have horrible taste in shows and music, base your life on popular opinion, and want others to do the same. Taylor fucking Swift has some of the dumbest most pointless songs in existence. At least Girls is highly entertaining and very relatable, at least for some people, no matter whatever stupid acronym you choose to label them.

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