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.
James: No, I've never known anyone who used emojis in serious relationship discussion. I mean, I object to text for any serious discussion, much less relationship discussion, but it happens. Emoticons also happen.
Ashley: Yes. I don't emoji (do emoji? use emoji? speak emoji?), but it seems like it takes a lot of imagination to compose a message in just little tiny pictures. So I can see how a sender might think a well-crafted emoji message is a cool, creative accomplishment, while a receiver who's not as enthused might only think, "Wow, you spent a whole 20 minutes on one text. That's... really weird."
Facebook and exes: Shoshanna unfriends Ray on Facebook because she doesn't want to see him all over her news feed. What's the etiquette here?
Eleanor: Good move. I generally think it's a bad idea to try to remain friends with an ex, on Facebook or in real life, for the first few months after a breakup. You gotta move on. The person who was unfriended shouldn't feel slighted and definitely shouldn't say anything to the ex about it. Let her (or him) move on.
Chris: I'm vicious when it comes to unfriending people. Every couple months, I try to cull down my list of friends on Facebook—it seems silly to me to stay connected with people I'm not interested in seeing. So, mark me down for Team Shoshanna on this one. If she doesn't want to see him on her newsfeed, she's right to unfriend him.
Of course, if she still wanted to peek at Ray's profile occasionally, she could've also just changed her newsfeed settings to not show his updates. I do this a lot and I have absolutely no shame about it.
James: Ah I could go ON about this. Never unfriend anyone. The sensation of eliminating someone with the click of a button is a dangerous one. Well, unless there's a serious issue like they assaulted or stalked you and it was necessary that they not have access to your profile. Because that's what UNFRIEND says: I don't trust you with knowledge of what's going on in my life. If you just don't want to hear about someone on your feed, you can hide them. Unfriending is above and beyond necessary. I've even argued (anonymously) in favor of—if you do have to unfriend someone—reconciling and refriending at a later time.
Ashley: Poor Shoshanna. Being spontaneously ambushed with unwanted details about your ex's life post-you has been depressing for generations—and Facebook has made surprise bummers like these a frequent and routine part of our lives. Not wanting a former "lover," as Shoshanna puts it, to keep popping up on your Facebook feed is totally normal and, I'd say, justified.
But: I feel like she would have benefited from knowing there's a setting that allows you to simply hide certain friends' activities from your feed. Something tells me Shoshanna would have loved to retain selective snooping privileges.
The last persecuted groups: As Elijah ponders whether he might be bisexual, he posits that the only groups of people you can still make fun of are bisexuals and Germans. True?
Eleanor: Mmm. Good question. I guess I'd add hyper-religious people? Southerners? People who buy stuff from infomercials?
Chris: What about gingers? I pity the red-haired, bisexual Germans out there.
[Puts on serious pants.]
There are many, many groups of people in the world who are still regularly mocked, teased, and downright abused for their appearances and life choices. Elijah's line made me laugh, but only because it was so absurd.
James: No, you can make fun of anyone.
Ashley: Answering this question feels like walking through a minefield. But some people might add Republicans.
Platonic boy-girl sleepovers: Hannah and her gay ex-boyfriend Elijah wake up spooning in a twin bed at the beginning of the episode; at the end, Marnie crawls into bed with her spiteful ex-boyfriend Charlie because she "just needs to sleep next to someone tonight." Hot new trend?
Eleanor: I think this is where I start to show my age. This happened a lot in college, when everyone was living on top of each other and no one was married. Now that I'm a late twentysomething in a big-ish city with a good deal of friends who are married, people seem to have grown out of the co-ed, non-sexual cuddlefest.
Chris: I haven't heard of a platonic spooning trend that's sweeping the nation. Although, I'd love to see a 60 Minutes expose on it: "TEENS CUDDLING! Are your kids doing it?
When Hannah and Marnie lived together last season, they slept together spooning so Marnie could avoid Charlie. This episode shows them both doing it for the sake of narrative consistency, I think. Hannah's always down to cuddle with her roommate. Marnie's rendezvous with Charlie seemed to be more about missing him—or the intimacy that a relationship with him provided—than it did anything else. If you can't feel close to somebody, you want to feel close to some body.
I've got an idea: why don't we just blend all of this together as the trend-to-kill-all-trends for aimless twentysomethings? Let's open up a karaoke bar called Spoon. The logo can be a spoon emoji. And don't worry about the money—our parents will help out. That's what friends are for.
James: I mean I've done it a few times, minus the spooning. I don't think it's a trend. If I may take this show unduly seriously for a minute, though: Marnie needs to leave Charlie alone! Just because she's sad for a minute doesn't mean she should mess with this dude who she's already proven she can't love! No, it's not okay for her to go spend the night in his bed, in this case! Okay, that's all.
Ashley: Yeah, that's a real thing.
I like the point that Chris makes about how spooning is actually a recurring element on Girls now. It fits with the show's whole post-grad-millennial-problems refrain. The world is becoming a lonelier place all the time, apparently, and some say the whole span of a person's twentysomething years can be especially lonely. Lonely people often like to snuggle with people they're fond of (or at least very familiar with, in Marnie's case). Human touch is something we, as a species, crave, and something many people get less and less of once we're not little kids or college students anymore—so featuring some snuggles on the show seems real and appropriate.