Four Atlantic staffers sound off on whether the portrayals of their generation's quirks in the first episode of Season Two of Lena Dunham's HBO show ring true.
Girls: the HBO dramedy that spawned a thousand think-pieces and even more in-person arguments about the Way Kids Are These Days. While the show certainly doesn't represent all city-dwelling young adults, some of its observations about post-college behavior undeniably ring true for a lot of them.
To get the op-eds, barguments, and narcissism about narcissism out of the way for last night's second-season premiere, we had four millennial Atlantic staffers respond to a few of the key—and not-so-key—phenomena depicted in the episode. Below, 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) weigh in on Hannah and co.'s penchant for karaoke, emojis, and opposite-gender sleepovers. They're not the voice of a generation, but rather four voices of one.
Too-friendly parents: After a newly fired Marnie gets irritated with her mother over lunch, Marnie's mom asks why the two of them can't just treat each other like friends. Resemble anyone you know?
Eleanor: I think it may be more of a pop-culture obsession (dating back to Regina's "cool mom" in Mean Girls, perhaps) than a widespread social phenomenon. Most women I know have been out of the house long enough that their relationships with their mothers are cordial but distant—it's hard to establish a "friendly" relationship with your mom if you don't see each other all that often.
Chris: It depends on what kind of "friend" we're talking about. Marnie's mom seems to think that "friendship" means gossiping about her love life as if she's auditioning for a Sex and the City spinoff. There's nothing wrong with an older woman acting immature, but when she's directing it toward her daughter, it seems like an oddly self-satisfying way to bond. When she tells Marnie, "Frankly, I'm hurt that we can't just be friends," it's just a pleasant way of saying "Don't treat me like your mother. Treat me like your BFF." That's an irresponsible way to abandon her role as a parent.
It must be tough for parents to adjust to their adult children—especially when those kids spent the last decade (or so) fighting for independence. I'm friendly with my parents and our relationship is strengthened by the way we share our lives with each other, but it's a unique kind of friendship. I'll never talk to them the way I talk to my friends—and I'd never expect them to talk that way to me. That doesn't mean I'm not close to them. It just means it's a different kind of intimacy.
James: The overly sexual parent dynamic reminded me of Adam Sandler's (yes, Adam Sandler's!) old sketch "Do It For Your Mama" (NSFL(Life)). There's a difference between being friends with your kids and sharing gritty unsolicited details of your sex life with them. I don't think it should be off the table, though, if the kid comes to the parent wanting advice and it leads to the sorts of anecdotes that most Americans wouldn't consider sharing across generations. Overall, though, preserving the leader-follower parent-child dynamic is important on both ends, and being a leader means not coming to your followers with every sign of your own vulnerability. To be FRIEND friends with anyone, there has to be parity, which would undermine the necessary hierarchy of an effective parent-child relationship.
"Next time at karaoke, I'm going to copy Shoshanna and do 'Beautiful Girls' by Sean Kingston. There's something hilariously subversive about a woman singing it."
Ashley: I know some parents who want to be besties with their kids. I know a few women my age who are best friends (like no-filter, Sex-and-the-City gabfest-style friends) with their moms. And anecdotally, I would say I personally know more dads and sons who have friend-style relationships than mothers and daughters.
A karaoke comeback: George, Shoshanna, Elijah, and Marnie all partake in karaoke at a house-party. Is karaoke really a staple among millennials?
Eleanor: YES! Not so much at houseparties, though (I've never seen someone set up a karaoke machine in their home). I know people who go out to karaoke bars semi-regularly ... and next time I join them I'm going to copy Shoshanna and do "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston. There's something hilariously subversive about a woman singing it.
Chris: I've never been to a house party with karaoke. The last time I can even remember being around a karaoke machine was in Cape Cod several years ago, when a drag queen encouraged me to sing "American Pie" on stage at a bar that sold very generous rail drinks. It was very, very fun.
That said, I've never heard of a karaoke trend. It seems like it'd be loud and distracting thing to have at a house party—unless you didn't live in a small place, which, ha ha—and it'd probably get on peoples' nerves. Until everybody got drunk, anyway. Then it'd be fun.
James: Yeah, I think it's because of all the normal-people-singing TV shows we grew up with.
Ashley: The last time I went to a party where there was karaoke, I was 16. Maybe I've been going to the wrong parties since then.
The emoji war: Ray admits to Shoshanna that when she sends him "texts full of emojis" he can't take her seriously. A plausible conflict?
Eleanor: Yeah ... though in my experience it's usually women who veto men because of their annoying texting/emailing habits ("he can't spell" or "he doesn't ever call me—he only texts"). I didn't think men noticed or cared about these sorts of things.
Chris: I'm not too familiar with emoji, save for this amazing adaptation of Les Misérables. If a girl I hooked up with started sending me emojis, I would definitely be confused. In Ray's case, I think it's not just the emojis, though. He "can't take her seriously"—or, at least, he claims he can't—because she's mad at him and won't express her frustration in words. (Also, it's a little weird.)
I don't see anything wrong with expressing yourself through emoji, GIFs, memes, or any of the other silly emotional framework that Internet culture's given us. But, when you've got something important to say, you need to actually say it.