The New York Times today offers a review of a new television show which centers around the lives and careers of four young, unhappy New York women. Though the back page of the arts section features a typically suggestive full-page advertisement for Girls, what’s rather remarkable is the way in which the actual review, written by critic Alessandra Stanley, gently but surely indicts the series, and (even more so) the cultural conditions which make such a series plausible and relevant today:
For all the talk of equality, sexual liberation and independence, the love lives of these young women are not much more satisfying than those of their grandmothers. Their professional expectations are, if anything, even lower.
[A main character's] liaison with Adam (Adam Driver), an out-of-work actor, is debasing.
Adam lets her visit his apartment for sexual gratification—his own—and ignores her desires; most of his sexual fantasies seem borrowed from video games and porn videos. He is just as callous about her feelings, grabbing her stomach rolls and asking why she doesn’t lose weight.
Those sex scenes are shocking not because they are graphic, though they are, but because the sex is so unsexy: they are clinical and [cold].
Were this review not appearing in the Times, one could almost be forgiven for thinking it was a press release from the Patriotic Alarmed Mothers of America, or some such organization. The reviewer even confesses to appreciating traditionalist impulses a bit further on in the article:
The depiction of slacker life in New York, which includes tattoos, drugs, casual sex and abortions, is presented with wry humor, but it could easily be interpreted as a cautionary tale written by the religious right: the lifestyles of these modern women, untethered to responsibility, faith or morality, are parables that could scare Amish youth away from Rumspringa and wayward Mormons back into their temple garments.
Of course, as the reviewer notes, the series still takes every opportunity to push whatever boundaries remain circumscribing the public depiction of such activities. But perhaps this series–evidently foreordained as some sort of touchstone for the Millennial generation–is useful for what it reveals about our exhaustion with the legacy of the sexual revolution. Girls appears on the scene like a Thermidorian Reaction, hailed as revolutionary for being tired of the revolutionary ideals and bitter at the terror they’ve wrought. After the initial shock, the predictable (though diminishing) fuss and the critical and morbid interest in such obscenity comes the strange, terminal feeling of boredom.
Boredom is in some ways an indicator of profound unhappiness, even a kind of lamentation. It’s a surface manifestation of the restlessness of our hearts, an indication of the emptiness of throwing ourselves into fits of passion when our deepest longings remain unmoored from meaningful (or, in this case, really any) answers. And while boredom doesn’t necessarily point to the Cross, it does, sooner or later, force us to make decisions and re-evaluate our circumstances. So perhaps the emerging awareness of our collective boredom, even if it comes in vulgar little packages like this TV show, provides a possible opportunity for renewal.