Good art should help us to find beauty, truth, and light. In Lena Dunham’s breakout HBO series Girls, the world is devoid of beauty and light but it is filled with truth. Over the course of six seasons (the series ended this spring), we watch and follow Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer, navigate her twenty-somethings through contemporary Brooklyn. She and her squad of friends struggle: In and out of jobs, romances, and friendships, they self-destruct through greed, vanity, envy, gluttony, and sloth but most of all through pure, unadulterated narcissism.
So why bother watching? Why should we care? In a series lacking redemption, should we stick around to witness truth?
Reluctantly, yes. To be frank, I don’t like these girls. But in their shrewd sense of egoism there is a captivating reality, a reality that maybe only a twenty-something privileged white woman from New York could capture. Commuting into Commonweal this summer, I’ve grown to realize how expertly Dunham cuts to the core of one of New York’s principal character traits: self-importance. A special brand of narcissism is front and center in this city. Here in the capital of the world, the center of the universe, we all walk around knowing that we matter. At Our Lady of Peace School, my first-grade teacher Sr. Jean taught me that God made each and every one of us individually, and loves us all as if we were the only ones in the world. In New York, you don’t need to look far for evidence of this radical sense of human dignity. Through well-crafted, humorous storytelling Dunham finds a way to make this captivating. Vulgar and crass, sometimes even cringe-worthy, the trials and tribulations of her millennials are worth watching.