What do “Girls” and “Silicon Valley” TV shows say about young adults?

An HBO series about four young women several years out of college, inspired by Sex in the City (1998 to 2004), Girls (began in 2012) strengthens the narcissistic side of the debate, a devolution away from the confidence and humor of the older friends show. (Another spin off of Sex in the City by the same writer was a prequel launched in 2012 called The Carrie Diaries about the fashionable star as a high school student in the early 1980s.) The creator and writer of Girls and lead actor, Lena Dunham, stated in an NPR radio interview, “each character is a piece of me or someone close to me.”[i] Dunham described the character she plays as a brat who usually makes the wrong decisions, as when Hannah bombs a job interview by making a joke that the rape rate went up after the interviewer entered his university and drinks opium tea and then passes out while trying to convince her parents to continue supporting her two years after graduation. The narcissistic wrong decisions continue in Season 3 when Hannah gets fired from a writing job at GQ magazine and springs news on Adam just before his Broadway debut as an actor that she may leave NYC, Shoshanna fails a college class so she can’t graduate, Marnie has sex with Shoshanna’s ex-boyfriend (who Shoshanna wants back) and flirts with a musician who is in a committed relationship. Hannah says the last four years of her life were “a total wash.” More examples of self-absorbed and foolish characters from Girls are on the book website.[ii]

Another HBO series that began in 2014 features equally self-involved men about the same age as Girls. Three techie geeks live in Silicon Valley in the “Hacker Hostel” home of a more experienced app creator, Erlich, who gets 10% of what his tenants sell. Jared, another partner in their startup Pied Piper lives elsewhere. Erlich is arrogant and insulting. The guys are socially awkward, struggle with masculinity, amazed if a dozen girls show up at a party and that they always end up together at one side of the room. Only one of them has a girlfriend. Richard programmed the algorithm that created Pied Piper; he has anxiety attacks and vomits. One woman is an assistant to her boss, but we don’t see other employed women. Youth is valued: the guys call in a high school boy to help them with their cloud technology. He scornfully asks how old Richard is, as if 25 if over the hill. The teen relies on the ADHD drug Adderall to stay alert, and says half the kids in Palo Alto are similar. To keep him going, Erlich threatens to kill a boy’s mother unless he gets six pills and he complies. Another value is “disruption,” the theme of a conference on the show. Shows are available online.[iii]

A similar focus on foolish buddies who have recently graduated from college, a popular Indian film called Dill Chatham Hay (2001) tells the story of their relationships with each other and with the women in their life. Twelve years later, some Indian Speak Out students mentioned to me they wanted to change their Chita Hay attitude, meaning being too carefree and irresponsible. The three friends live with their wealthy parents in Mumbai and are respectful to elders. The most sensitive of the guys, painter Siddhartha falls in love with Tara, an older divorced alcoholic woman, although it’s impossible to show their love because of their families. She tells him, “The trouble with your generation is they think anything is possible.”

In the usual Bollywood style the friends dance with lots of hip trusts and sing: “We are unaware of fear” and “Our paths are full of glory” as they reach for the stars. In a more realistic vein, the lyrics also note, “Everyone seems to be lost,” and “We’re a little crazy.” Also typical of Bollywood films, we don’t see any physical contact between men and women, but the guys hug each other. Akashi limits his romances to two weeks because he doesn’t believe in love—until he did fall in love but risked losing her to another man because of his reluctance to act. Samper is foolishly romantic, often falling in love as with a Western girl who robs him while the guys are on vacation in Goa. He next falls in love with a girl his parents introduce him to for an arranged marriage. The pair initially agreed they wanted a love marriage and were not going to have an arranged marriage to each other. After Tara dies of liver failure, Sid meets a woman at a Goa reunion two years later and all three guys are shown eating in a restaurant with their girlfriends, presumably ready to begin responsible adult life.

The US and Indian film characters illustrate Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s description of a new emerging life stage in between adolescence and adulthood, as when Dunham said about her Girls characters, “There’s no such thing as age-appropriate behavior.” When Jenna got married, Hannah asked her, “Do you feel like a real adult now?” Like the character she plays, Dunham is dependent on her parents—living with them half the time. Another character, Ray, observed, “its not adult life if your parents still pay for your Blackberry.”

 

[i] http://www.npr.org/2012/05/07/152183865/lena-dunham-addresses-criticism-aimed-at-girls

[ii] http://earthhavenchico.wix.com/theglobal-youth#!millennials-are-narcissistic–anxious/c1fyr

[iii] http://www.hbo.com/silicon-valley#/

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