On Being Your Authentic Self

I watched the first half of Season One of Lena Dunham's much discussed series Girls last night and generally found it to be a riot. I think the best thing you can say about a comedy is that it's really, really funny. I'm a little sad that Girls never was allowed to be just that. When the PR people roll out a show they're generally trying to get as much bang as they can, and being dubbed the "voice of your generation" is quite a bang. But as an artist, I doubt that this the sort of weight you want.


Subjectively speaking, it seems like Girls got way more shine than say, Louie, Mad Men, The Wire, or even Sex and the City. The result was that all of those shows were allowed to blossom in the first few episodes away from the critical din, a benefit Girls never enjoyed. I don't know how much should be made of that--again, this sort of impact is exactly what PR people at HBO want.

But it's been good to watch the show away from controversy, and away from the discussion. This clip is the funniest scene I've seen on television in a long, long time. ("I'm going to have the last word in this situation." "It was nice to see you. Your Dad is gay.") Just judge Girls as a show--which is the way it should be judged, PR aside--it is really, really good. 

Circling back to that the most cringe-worthy moments actually come when there are people of color on screen. I won't be watching Season Two for another year or so, and I am hoping that the Donald Glover thing works out. I have never met a black Republican in all my time in New York. And I'm black. So I have trouble believing that Hannah is found that one black dude in Brooklyn who is anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion, pro-guns, and anti-health care. 

It feels like both an answer and a middle-finger to Dunham's critics. I would just prefer she plug her ears and keep moving. We must tell our stories. And others must tell their's.  It may well all be great, but it takes me back to my initial thought that white people who know few, if any, black people should write that way. The first rule is to write what you know. More next year--along with that review of Django.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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