The 'Girls' Gut Check: Racial Tension, Artistic Differences, and YouTube

Four Atlantic staffers sound off on whether the portrayals of their generation's quirks in the second episode of Season Two of Lena Dunham's HBO show ring true.

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HBO

All is not right with the world of Girls—as per usual. This week's episode included a hefty share of 21st-century-problem drama: More unemployment struggles for Marnie, the politically charged end of the courtship between Hannah and her black Republican boyfriend, and some uncomfortable post-breakup Photo Booth antics from Adam. There were bright spots—Shoshanna pillow-talked, and, well, there were puppies—but this second installment of the season found some of its characters in crisis mode.

Below, a panel of millennials from the Atlantic staff—Eleanor Barkhorn (editor of The Sexes channel), James Hamblin (editor of the Health channel), Chris Heller (social media editor), and Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for the Entertainment and Sexes channels)—respond to questions raised by the show's depiction of song-writing exes, peer editing between romantic partners, and YouTube as a user's guide to life.


YouTube tutorials: Hannah's shown working out to and cutting her hair by instructional videos on YouTube. So that means YouTube is replacing higher education, gyms, and salons, right?

ASHLEY: Oh, man. I personally use YouTube for everything. Among the things I have done and learned recently under the tutelage of YouTube: Zumba, my New Year's Eve hairstyle, and some definitely pirated Jillian Michaels workouts; how to slice a mango using the safe and proper technique, as well as how to put frosting on cake pops (which was way more challenging than I would have imagined).

Starting in on your adult years in the age of YouTube is kind of great, but I see how it could also be sort of isolating. I find it's often a wonderful tool for learning how to do useful things—especially when it's too late at night to call my mom and beg for her practical wisdom. But while it certainly saves money to do our workouts and cut our hair alone at home in front of our laptops the way Hannah does (and I do), we're cutting down on our opportunities for human interaction at places like gyms and salons if we do.

CHRIS: I'm with Ashley on this one. Without YouTube, I wouldn't be a functional adult. (Sorry, mom and dad.) I can't even fold shirts without it. Still, I think it's silly to say that YouTube is "replacing" anything—it's more akin to an instructional booster than an out-and-out competitor.

JAMES: Generation (DI)Y. It's not just YouTube.

ELEANOR: The only instructional video I've ever watched is Chow's how to on trussing a chicken.

JAMES: Trussing?

ELEANOR: Yeah. It keeps the bird from drying out in the oven. Try it sometime.


The winback song: Adam's song for Hannah is definitely creepy (at least in part because, as Elijah says, the tools in the background of the video). But is this kind of thing ever not creepy? And do people actually do this?

JAMES: Was it creepy in The Wedding Singer when Adam Sandler sang "I Wanna Grow Old With You"? If Justin Timberlake was your ex-boyfriend and he sent you "Hallelujah" or a personalized acoustic version of "Sexy Back"—would that be creepy? No. So, first, there is a quality and production value factor. A crying shirtless guy in dark room on webcam is on the worst end of that spectrum.

The song winback (SWB) is at best sweet and at worst sad—and probably ineffective 99.99% of the time at resurrecting love—but not creepy. And not ineffective as an emotional outlet. Our generation is way too quick to call showing emotion creepy. Music might be our most expressive medium. Breakups suck. If someone is compelled to express themselves musically ... it might be futile, it might painfully highlight some super sad or dark emotions we'd rather ignore, but we should let it happen. We don't have to like it, but we're dicks if we call them creepy for doing it.

"The song winback (SWB) is at best sweet and at worst sad. A crying shirtless guy in dark room on webcam is on the worst end of that spectrum."

ELEANOR: Quick fact-check: "I Wanna Grow Old With You" was Sandler's attempt to WIN Drew Barrymore, not win her BACK. Of course it's not creepy—it's sweet, in large part because there's no break-up baggage between the two characters. The singer can focus on his dreams of a future with her, rather than all the crummy things she's done to him in the past. In contrast, "Somebody Kill Me Please," the song his character writes in the wake of his breakup with Lynda, is totally aggressive and scary. So I think the bottom line is, works of art created immediately post-breakup are almost always emotionally raw and often creepy. To apply this theory to the question of whether a song can ever non-creepily persuade someone to get back with an ex-lover, the answer is...only if it's composed after the initial bad breakup feelings have passed. That way the song has greater potential to be apologetic and wistful ("If I made you feel second best, girl, I'm sorry I was blind. You were always on my mind") rather than angry and resentful ("Give me my money back, give me my money back, you bitch"). Adam needs to get some distance from his breakup with Hannah before he can even begin to contemplate winning her back with song.

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