“I think that I may be the voice of my generation... Or at least a voice…of a generation." -Lena Dunham, Girls.
Girls, a relatively new show that airs on Sunday nights on HBO, has received a skyrocket of popularity in the last few months, It's creator, writer, producer, and star Lena Dunham received two awards at this past Grammy's. However, the show has also drawn an uproar of criticism, at both extreme ends of the spectrum. Some websites deem the show "today's funniest show on tv", and view it as a vital addition to today's television programming, such as Rolling Stone Magazine. However, others have severely criticized the show's morals, sexually explicit content, particularly Dunham's almost guaranteed-per-episode nudity, and especially it's completely whitewashed cast. Dunham and fellow producer Judd Appatow have responded to these race criticisms, yet many are still unsatisfied. Dunham has explained that she's writing from personal experience, and what she knows. She has also cited the religious and personality differences of the characters, as if that helps the situation. However, critics make many vital points, such as it is incredibly unrealistic that in Brooklyn one would never run in to a person of color. Others also argue that maybe a lack of diversity wouldn't be such an issue if the show didn't have the extremely broad and inclusive name "Girls"
Another related issue with much of today's still unfortunately white dominated media is adding "token" colored characters, such as the "sassy black friend" or the intelligent, successful Asian coworker. As someone who is personally interested in writing and art, I have often wondered about the debate of whether there is a suggested "line" as to which characters to write about - for instance, because I am a girl, would I not have enough "first hand experience" to write from the perspective of a male character? Or a character of a different race? However, wouldn't writing from the perspective of a diverse array of characters create interesting art, that could potentially also reveal internal stereotypes about those who are different from the author?
In a recent episode of Girls' second season, Dunham added an African American love interest. However, not only was he African American, but he was Republican, which was an obvious, immediate contradiction to Dunham's character's and the show itself's values, and it thus wasn't at all surprising that he was written off after only one epsidode. Personally, this attempt at adding diversity on the show felt half-hearted and really quite pathetic.
I didn't initially plan to center my examination of race in today's media and culture around Girls, but I feel that it is a fascinating segway in to society's thoughts on this issue. Girls is blogged about and discussed online, in print, and in television far more than any other currently running television show, even though it is on HBO, a network that isn't even available on standard cable. Although the quality of the show is arguably higher than most sitcoms, sitcoms which are often obviously offensive and that thrive off of popular stereotypes, Girls appears to receive harsher criticism.
Although racism and outdated, offensive stereotypes continue to thrive in much of today's media, I do feel that media is beginning to improve, although far too gradually. Because so much of the world is able to voice its opinions to a large audience, such as through blogs, social media, and podcasts, this has inspired a trend of youth voices gaining substantial power in today's media. (The fact that most teen bloggers are girls is a whole other issue). OPRF student Tavi Gevinson's online magazine RookieMag thrives on a diverse writing staff and fascinating, sophisticated articles that more accutaly represent today's teenagers than the majority of adult-produced works. Girls creator Lena Dunham is only 26. I think that this trend of young voices permeating media and culture offers excellent opportunity to put an end to the outdated stereotypes and racist tendencies that still dominate in today's culture. Will they take advantage of this opportunity and produce high quality, possibly controversial art that more accuratly and fairly represents current American society? That is the real question, but from what we're beginning to see, I think it's safe to say they (we) will.