Girls, Girls, Girls: “I Don’t Live in a World Where There Are Divisions. But You Do!”

Donald Glover, as Sandy, sits on a couch

Beginning a conversation on sexism, racism, classism, ageism—really, any -ism—is never an easy undertaking, especially from a standpoint that illuminates the invisible privileges that haunt and infect the discourse. If last week’s season premiere was the leadup to the inevitable conversation about race that Girls has needed, last night’s episode, “I Get Ideas,” finally delivered, with mixed results.  

After Hannah and Elijah watch Adam’s deliver, via YouTube, a heartwrenching song he’s written for her, Hannah says that the end of her relationship with Adam will allow her to date the kind of “sexy, responsible boyfriend” that she’s always wanted. Apparently Sandy is both, but his political views—he’s a Republican—bother Elijah more than Hannah. Interrupting Sandy and Hannah’s adorable talking-while-toothbrushing exchange, Elijah makes it blatantly clear what he thinks about Sandy’s politics and what he assumes Sandy thinks of him. Hannah remains fairly neutral, mostly because she’s focused on making sure Sandy reads an essay of hers.

Hannah brings her concerns to Jessa’s sunny loft, where, after Jessa receives a box of puppies from her new husband, they talk it out. Hannah thinks that Sandy really likes her, and she really likes him—when they have sex, she reports, “there’s not part of me that wants to pretend I don’t exist, which is a rarity.” But there is the whole Republican thing, the discussion of which gives Jessa the unexpected opportunity to school Hannah in politics: In her opinion, Sandy’s politics don’t really matter since all politicians are dirtbags, and after all, it was Democratic fave Bill Clinton whose repeal of the Glass-Steagall act was the catalyst for our current economic climate. When Hannah doesn’t know what that means, a puppy-covered Jessa tells her “Just read the newspaper. Just read one newspaper.” Jessa’s more concerned that Sandy isn’t creatively supporting Hannah, given that he hasn’t yet read her essay.

Reviews and comments on last week’s episode considered whether the choice of Donald Glover to play Sandy was merely stuntcasting, or something that would pan out into a substantial character arc.  Hannah’s naiveté in her discussion with Jessa serves as a red flag before the disaster of a conversation that she starts with Sandy later in the episode. Unsurprisingly, it’s Hannah’s essay that kicks things off: Sandy didn’t read it. Well, actually he did. He read it, and he didn’t like it: It was well-written, he says, but “nothing happened.” (Similar criticism was leveled at Dunham’s New Yorker essays; I’m expecting to read identical accusations about her upcoming book.) Though Hannah insists that she’s glad that Sandy didn’t like her essay, claiming that it has opened a dialogue between them, her defensive is palpable, and things get interesting.

In a series of rapidly escalating comments, Hannah first goes to asking Sandy if he has any feelings on whether or not Elijah should be able to have a wedding like the ones they’ve just watched on Say Yes To The Dress. When he doesn’t respond, Hannah pushes further, saying, “I’d also love to know how you feel about the fact that two out of three people on death row are black men.”

Sandy responds with the correct amount of bite, thanking Hannah for enlightening him on the plight of minorities. But before the discussion even begins to reach peak heat levels, Hannah tells Sandy that she can’t see him anymore because of their differing political beliefs. It’s an odd contradiction, given both her earlier comments to Jessa about the sex and the fact that, just that morning, she’d seemed at ease with their differing political beliefs—but given the self-sabotage we witnessed at the end of last season in Hannah’s relationship with Adam, it’s not totally unexpected.  So much for the guy she claimed was the kind of boyfriend she’d always wanted.

Sandy isn’t taken aback so much as he is resigned to the fact that this was going to happen. Wearily and angrily, he says, “I knew this. This always happens. Oh, I’m a white girl and I moved to New York and I’m having a great time. I’ve got a fixed gear bike and I’m going to date a black guy and we’re going to go to a dangerous part of town. All that bullshit. I know this. I’ve seen it happen a million times. And then they can’t deal with who I am.”

Hannah’s extremely poor response comes in three parts. First, she claims to have never thought about Sandy being black; she goes on to protest, loftily, that she doesn’t live in a world that has those kinds of divisions; finally, she says that when she brought up the prison stat, is was in reference to “black men who aren’t like you.”  Watching this conversation go down is equal parts exciting, since the show is—finally!—acknowledging race, and nauseating because, ugh, Hannah is so clueless. However, the episode approached race in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  Like so many other situations in Girls, it’s hard to tell whether Hannah can even acknowledge the ways in which her conversation with Sandy was problematic. (Immediately after, she goes home and tells Marnie and Elijah that she broke up with him because he wasn’t an ally to gays and women.) However, it’s clear that Dunham and the other writers recognize the absurdity of Hannah’s responses to Sandy—especially since, after their argument, Hannah asks if he still wants to have sex. (That’d be a no.) While the conversation itself made me cringe and feel uncomfortable, it acknowledged the place of white privilege in discussion about race in a way that few TV shows have. It’s a recognition that whiteness allows people like Hannah—not to mention people who consider themselves far smarter and savvier than her—to skate along in life without thinking about how race functions in the world. In 2013, we need as many of those conversations as we can get.

One commenter on last week’s episode remarked that it was refreshing to see Elijah return to the show as more than a token gay friend, and hoped that his bisexuality would be explored more. In this episode, Elijah ends up telling George that he slept with Marnie, reminding his irate boyfriend that he was always open about his bisexuality. George breaks up with Elijah, stating that he doesn’t want to date anyone who is confused or bisexual. It’s a reaction that reinforces Elijah’s flip comment from last week about bisexuality being seen as an invisible or incorrect form of sexual preference. Indeed, there isn’t a lot of representation of bisexuality on television, particularly not male bisexuality. But Elijah’s main concern this episode is that he can’t be honest about the breakup because it would mean telling Hannah that he slept with Marnie.

And speaking of Marnie, it’s unclear whether her life is getting better or worse. After a job interview in which a gallery owner (played by Lena Dunham’s mother, photogrpaher Laurie Simmons) decides to not hire her because she simply “doesn’t see her” in the art world, Marnie, at Shoshanna’s suggestion, gets a “pretty person” job as a hostess at a club. Marnie’s new job, and new-job uniform, leads to an interesting exchange between her and Hannah. Minutes after delivering her pro-woman rationale for breaking up with Sandy, Hannah dishes out some major judgment of Marnie, saying that she would never cash in on her sexuality for a job. Marnie’s brief look more than does the job of responding. It’s a tiny moment that really illustrates the competitive and jealous nature that can infiltrate female friendships even with someone we really care about.

So far, so good: While this episode made me feel hugely uncomfortable at time, it was perhaps the most substantive of Girls yet, opening the door for imperfect discourse on things beyond awkward sex and relationships.

Favorite/Important Things:

Shoshanna and Ray’s post-sex conversation about bathing a pig is ridiculously adorable. Clearly, from the expression on Ray’s face, he’s fine with getting those emoji texts now.

Hannah continues to stand her ground with Adam, who shows up uninvited in the middle of the night. She finally gets him to realize that their relationship is actually over. Yet, in true Hannah fashion, she also sort-of accidentally calls 911 to get Adam out of her apartment, and is genuinely surprised when the police show up and arrested because he has two unpaid parking tickets and a summons for public urination.

Thomas John is still the worst.

Got your own Girls-related thoughts, insights, and frustrations? Leave them in the comments…


by Kerensa Cadenas
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14 Comments Have Been Posted

That Marnie Look

I'm glad you mentioned that scene with Hannah and Marnie and the small dig that Hannah may or may not be consciously dishing to Marnie. I worked as script supervisor on Tiny Furniture, and it is sometimes hard for me to watch as Lena's dreams come to fruition. It's a feeling I am ashamed of, but a human one. It's also surface. Because, of course, there's room for every woman's dream, that's one part of my feminism. I think Girls remains a sjow of a specific socioeconomic perspective dealing with more global, inate human emotion and relationships - much like 'Sex and the City,' a comparison which takes nothing away its success.

Agreed entirely. I catch

Agreed entirely. I catch myself doing this and feel terrible doing it because I know these are talented women who are friends of mine, yet sometimes it's hard not to feel like that. So I was glad that, while brief, it was acknowledged in this very small yet poignant moment.

What about Hanna's other

What about Hanna's other comment to Sandy "Maybe you're fetishizing me" ? I thought that was interesting, and worth taking a look at.

Oh it was totally

Oh it was totally interesting, that whole conversation was so loaded and uncomfortable. But I almost felt like it was another thing Hannah said defensively almost to try to deflect on the previous terrible things she had said.

fetishising fetishes

I agree, Kerensa. It was as if Hannah was using the token vocabulary of a well-educated, liberal arts writer. At some point in Tiny Furniture there is a line about 'hegemony' and how people use just to show they are critical thinkers. Making her specific experience connected to these larger issues is a way Hannah gets out from under the microscope.

The most telling line fot me

The most telling line fot me was when Sandy pointed out that she brought up race and incarceration stats and Hannah says something like "not black men like you" I was stunned. I think Lena is trying to do a mirror of that generation and show all the problems. The biggest problem will be that no one sees the flaws. I commented this on the facebook page but I see Hannah as Carrie for my generation. Everyone seems to think Carrie is this empowered positive feminist hero when she is not. I think Hannah will and already is seen as a relatable hero.

You have such a good point

You have such a good point here. I remember watching SATC when I was younger and loving Carrie, and now when I watch as an adult I think she's kinda terrible. It'll be interesting to see how Girls is viewed when it's outside it's time ala SATC.

I really likes this episode.

I really likes this episode. Not because I liked the character of Hannah in it, but the way it reminded me how I thought my opinions were so 'balanced' at the age of 24. While in fact, I had never really looked deep into my own privileges because it's so uncomfortable. At least that's how I took it, that it's Dunham showing that she's aware of how at that age you often think you're so deep and critical, while in fact you're really not (yet).

Ugh, I don't know. I was

Ugh, I don't know. I was excited for the conversation between Sandy and Hannah, but it was a complete disappointment for me. It seemed to highlight the tokenization of Donald Glover—Sandy seemed like a great character that could really add something to the show, yet he only had a two episode stint due to one messy conversation/fight. I don't find it believable that Hannah would've broken up with him after that kind of fight. Not to mention the fact that the fight itself seemed glossed over and rushed. I feel like Lena Dunham wanted to get this conversation about race out of the way and continue focusing on the white, middle to upper class issues that this show centers around. I can't relate to shit in Girls. Everyone is living in a fantasy where one can get a hostess job without any skills or work experience in one day in New York. Like...I'm sorry.

I feel the same way about

I feel the same way about Sandy. I'm hoping this isn't the last we see of the character either. And I don't think Hannah would have broken up with him after that, especially since she was the one who initially didn't seem to care that much about his politics, which at the time were the only sort of dealbreaker.

Can a show relate to everyone?

Who says the show has to relate to everyone? It makes sense to me that the show mainly focuses on white upper-middle class issues because that's who is writing it, and that's also the perspective of the main characters. It doesn't mean that race cannot be addressed, but it will probably be looked at through a filter. It is on HBO...I don't relate to anything on BET.

What an unbelievably stupid

What an unbelievably stupid and racist comment.

Girls, Girls, Girls: “I Don’t Live in a World Where There

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But Elijah's primary priority

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