Sunday night, we said goodbye to Girls, the program that has been as controversial as its star, Lena Dunham, since her character Hannah Horvath said those famous words, “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or a voice of a generation.”
I loved Girls, and I’ve written about it before. In 2014, I appreciated Hannah’s body acceptance. When the show first came out, I applauded its accurate look at the job prospects for millennials.
That realistic look is the main reason I was so disappointed with the show’s conclusion. As a writer myself, I found Hannah’s efforts at making a living through the written word illustrative and realistic. When the show debuted, Hannah was working at an unpaid internship. Later, she got a contract for an e-book that was then locked up after her editor died. She was successful as an advertorial writer for GQ, but so spooked by how that job channeled her creativity that she quit. After teaching high school English, this season she parlayed a "Modern Love" essay into some high-profile assignments. But rather than going after a staff writing position, somehow pregnant Hannah ended being offered a teaching position at an upstate New York college, complete with benefits. Here’s an article about how unrealistic that is. And it doesn’t even mention that Hannah, who dropped out of Iowa’s highly regarded MFA program, only holds a bachelor’s – one of the many reasons she’s unqualified for the position. But it does allow the series to wrap up nicely, implying that it’s not a career that turns a girl into a woman, it’s a baby.
It’s the same conclusion that Gilmore Girls’ Rory achieved at the end of the Netflix series revival. Although Hannah had often been compared to Sex and the City’s writer Carrie, that comparison never worked for me. Yes, both characters were New York writers, but SATC was always intended to be a fairy tale, and much was made over the value of Carrie’s apartment and shoe collection versus her probable salary at a staff writer at the New York Star. (Later Carrie published a book of her columns, which may have made her lifestyle slightly more realistic. Being bailed out by millionaire boyfriend Big also helped.) Rory, at least in the revival, was also trying to piece together a life in between writing assignments, before throwing in the towel to become the (unpaid) editor for the Stars Hollow paper.
The famous last words of the revival were “Mom, I’m pregnant,” thereby completing Rory’s de-evolution from a college graduate taking the job of a lifetime (seriously, covering candidate Obama’s presidential campaign is a direct path to the White House press corps and Rory’s dream of becoming the next Christiane Amanpour; what the hell happened to that?) to a self-absorbed, floundering millennial whose unintended pregnancy might force her to grow up as it apparently did Hannah.
I understand that the life of a writer isn’t nearly as compelling as other professions portrayed on TV and in movies, such as doctor or lawyer or fire fighter or lifeguard. But for those of us who are writers, seeing the profession realistically portrayed is heartening. When you’ve spent your childhood being applauded for your pithy turns of phrase, only to reach adulthood and find out that your creativity and self-direction are worth only a few freelance gigs on Fiverr, it’s shaming. It’s now impossible for a writer to support herself in today’s gig economy, with articles worth fifty dollars and copy editing maybe ten bucks. We’re the ones who are told to write for free because the exposure will be so helpful. Exposure doesn’t pay bills. I’m lucky my husband does. Seeing Hannah flounder, then succeed, sent a message to every writer that if we just keep writing, eventually the New York Times will publish that "Modern Love" essay. (And yes, we are all working on "Modern Love" essays. All of us.)
Hannah’s mother yelled at her for being a quitter, telling her the one thing she cannot quit is her son. But before last night’s episode, Hannah had never quit at being a writer. With her teaching job and single parenthood, is there any room left for Hannah to be the voice of her generation? Or, like Rory Gilmore, has the voice silenced herself because writing and “adulting” just no longer mix? And how many real-life Hannah Horvaths have made the same decision?