In the pilot episode of HBO’s Girls, the protagonist Hannah (played by the show’s creator, Lena Dunham) proclaims that she’s “the voice of [her] generation…or at least a voice of a generation.” In an interview with the cast, the hosts of The View wanted to know if this is true. Barbara Walters in particular seemed hell-bent on finding out if the girls’ “gritty” lifestyle is authentic. Dunham responded that the impetus behind the story was to show “a very specific breed of girl” that wasn’t being represented on TV. “They’re complicated, they’re self-aware, but they’re also naive. They’ve been in therapy since they were 12 but don’t know how to handle themselves in relationships,” and their stories weren’t being told, Dunham lamented.
Critics of the show rightly point out that if Hannah/Dunham is the voice of any generation, it is one that is blind to race and class inequities–-all four main characters are white and are from upper middle-class backgrounds. This homogeneity is significant in that the day-to-day lives of the four hipster characters tell us something important about contemporary race and class relations in the US. Even in a place as diverse as Brooklyn this “particular breed of girl” could easily walk through life without any real engagement with people of a different class or race background. So, yes, it seems Hannah/Dunham is indeed a voice of (this particular) generation.
Although in many cases the question of “authenticity” is rooted in a racist uptake of “the other,” to confirm the “authentic” hipster may actually provide insight into the ways in which racism manifests in the neoliberal, colorblind US. The writers’ responses to critiques about the lack of diversity illustrate what some commentators have dubbed “hipster racism” (see Lesley Afrin’s tweet), and Dunham’s promise to address the “accident” of an all-white cast in Season 2 will surely lead to more examples of this iteration of inferential racism (Hall, 2003). Thus, rather than dismiss Girls for being yet another television program about privileged white people, we might instead view these “authentic” portrayals as a way to better understand and work against contemporary forms of racism in society and popular culture.