|The Group, 1966 (source)
||Girls, 2012 (source)
Girls suffers the burden of an overwhelming critical response—a series of writings that project significant intellectual and artistic questions onto its half-hour form. Essays and reviews betray the false collision of a humorous portrait of several young women with a much larger aim: that of generational definition, or representation.
Following the 1963 release of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, a novel presenting the lives of eight Vassar girls who just graduated from college, Norman Mailer published a rather cruel review. He wrote, in the New York Review of Books, ‘She [McCarthy] has eight well-to-do young ladies moving through the thirties on the very outer fringe of events, and none of them has an inner passion large enough to take over the book and make it run away’.
If McCarthy’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly presented Vassar graduates resemble Dunham’s girls in their varied struggles and reflections—and share with them a vivid New York as setting for these tribulations—so Mailer’s criticisms evoke contemporary responses to our HBO program:
But while Mailer assumes, perhaps falsely, that in writing, Mary McCarthy must fundamentally engage with the tradition of her form—the history of the novel and its pitfalls and ambitions—Lena Dunham need not be understood in the context of that project. Instead, her work contributes to the elaboration of a modern archetype: that of the young woman in the big city.
It is a familiar scene—New York somehow the locus of ambitions and social machinations, the stage for a woman’s venture into independent life. The television show—and the shared apartments and entry-level jobs it depicts—engages with this urban saga. The city now is also the place of a particular, feminine story. There will be a girl who works in publishing, a girl who works at a gallery; there will be a girl who is naive, another who is world weary.
Tours of television and film shooting locations abound in New York City, introducing visitors to previously unknown places, locally celebrated spots and world-famous landmarks. Films like Manhattan, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather along with television shows such as Law and Order, Sex and the City and The Sopranos are a few, of the many, well-loved productions that have inspired this real-world format for indulging fans.
Tripping in and out of Manhattan into the surrounding boroughs, with its recession-era motifs, Girls’ locations typically avoid glossy upscale settings in favor of average or run-down spots. The validation of these sites—particularly the latter variety—is often dependent on their occupation by young adults. Is it possible that inclusion on a pilgrimage route might promise longevity to these modest venues in the form of enduring physical existence, financial success or memory? As a result of Girls‘ popularity, can the cupcake shop Babycakes look forward experiencing a similar sort of preservation and recognition as Katz’s Delicatessen? Will Tom and Jerry’s, the bar where the character Jessa has a pre-abortion drink, be guaranteed years of business serving busloads of fans? And what will become of those sites that are excluded from the tour?
For those locations that do make the cut, they will become nodes in a circuit—a series of spaces which create another layer in a set of unique routes, locating the stages of fictional narratives set in New York City.
Erandi de Silva
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