Panpopticon

Popcultuur vanuit alle hoeken

On being just a little fucked up.

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I haven’t written about GIRLS since its pilot, about a year ago. I was reluctant to like the show, then, bristled against it’s assumptions about “my generation”, resenting it for not representing my very specific situation better, and was a little jealous in a way I couldn’t quite articulate. But I kept watching. And somewhere in the course of the second season, I started to truly love it.

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Many moments this season made me consider writing. The much-spoken-of episode with Patrick Wilson, and especially the response to it. The episode that followed it, which showed that for a show called GIRLS, it certainly has a lot to say about boys, too. The second-to-last episode, which featured a scene that chilled me to the bone – and no, I’m not talking about the was-it-or-wasn’t it rape scene*.

I’m finally writing about it now because I’ve been working on a special for the magazine I write for, Schokkend Nieuws, about Kier-La Janisse and her book House of Psychotic Women. In the epilogue of that book, Janisse says the following about why she watches horror films about psychotic women:

[…]; when I see bad behavior paraded before me, and I shake my head.: I don’t want to be like that. I couldn’t possibly be as bad as that, could I?

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This describes my GIRLS fascination perfectly. On the one hand, watching GIRLS makes me feel like I have my life together. I have a salary, I’ve never gone more than a day without showering or doing dishes even in my least happy periods, I’m in a stable, functional, happy relationship, and I’ve never had a former drug addict call me out for being narcissistic. I had a party last weekend and served my guests an elaborate cheese platter with fancy fig jam (some of which somehow ended up on the ceiling, but details).

On the other hand, I sometimes empathize with Hannah (and occasionally Marnie) to an almost painful extent.

Take that horrifying incident in the penultimate episodes – some spoilers, obviously. Early in the episode, Hannah accidentally ruptures her eardrum with a Q-tip (the inspiration apparently came from real life). She freaks out, understandably, and goes to the hospital where she is treated by a wonderfully sarcastic nurse. She keeps the Q-tip. At the end of the episode, bracing herself, she proceeds to puncture her other ear drum. With the other end of the same Q-tip.

I’ve had that impulse.

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 Now, Hannah, in that scene, was motivated by a desire for symmetry stemming from her OCD. I don’t have OCD, so that can’t have been the reason I thought about it. I can only speculate as to where the thought came from in my case. I suspect it’s a kind of morbid fascination with the vulnerability of human bodies, combined with a simply “I wonder what that would feel like”. More crucially, I – unlike Hannah – didn’t act on the impulse, because the dry, sarcastic voice in my head answered the above question with “It would hurt like hell, dumbass”. It also prevented me from acting on many similar impulses, such as letting my keys fall in the canal (“It would be mighty inconvenient, dumbass”) or even sticking my wet fingers in a socket (“That would probably kill you, dumbass”). I don’t think I’ll ever act on any of these impulses, because well, I’m not a dumbass. And aside from making it impossible for me to watch so-called “fail compilations”, they have no significant impact on my life. I can’t be the only one with fleeting thoughts like these, though, can I? It’s hard to know, because things like this are almost never depicted in pop culture. In literature, sure, but on TV? I can’t be as bad as that, can I?

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Moments like the one with the Q-tip are one of the things I appreciate about GIRLS. There’s a side effect to them, however: they tend to make me wonder if I’d be a better writer if I was just a little more fucked up.

I know, I know. This sounds terrible. But I sometimes feel like I’m in some awkward in between land. It goes back to that Kier-La Janisse quote, again. I am neurotic enough to empathize with Hannah, unbalanced enough to have something of the quote-unquote artist’s temperament, obsessive enough that I go back to writing again and again. But at the same time, I’m not so crazy that I’ll follow up on those impulses. Not strange enough to produce anything truly original. Not fucked up enough to ever produce anything as remarkable as GIRLS.

Believe me, I know this is disturbed. I am aware that I am lucky. I know quite a few people with mental illnesses, and I know that no amount of creativity is worth that.

When I wrote that first post, a year ago, I was working on my thesis, looking forward to where I am now, trying out the writer’s life. I’m not making any money with it, but I pretty much expected that. What I didn’t really consider was whether I was good enough. Whether I had enough inspiration. Whether I could mold those flashes of inspiration that I do have into coherent, well-reasoned pieces.

Honestly, that’s another reason why I keep watching GIRLS. Because I see Hannah, who Lena Dunham based at least partially on herself, struggle with the pressure to write, staring at the cursor blinking on the page. But I also realize that Lena Dunham herself wrote, amongst other things, a short-story episode as perfect as One Man’s Trash.

Who knows. There might be hope.

P.S. I couldn’t fit this into the piece, but I’m also grateful to Lena Dunham for introducing me to the phrase “not the babest”. It’s the best way I’ve found to describe my own looks without being negative or overly self-deprecating – and it’s less dry than “not conventionally beautiful”.

*Not that that isn’t worth talking about. For the record, I wouldn’t describe what happens in that scene as rape – but I do think that Adam purposefully initiates sex that he suspects (or even hopes) Natalia will not enjoy, and that’s pretty disgusting. It’s also self-destructive, in a way a lot of the shitty moves on this show are.

**On (dutch) news stands April 8th!

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