In Defense of Hannah


Oh, Hannah. Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. At some point during last night’s Season 2 finale of Girls — maybe it was when she called her dad, crying about money and in a panic, or maybe it was when she hid underneath her covers with her fresh, Quills mental institution-esque haircut — the thought had to have crossed you mind: Oh, Hannah. Get it the fuck together.

Ten bucks says that this isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way.

The moment I realized that I decidedly didn’t like Hannah occurred all the way back in the series pilot when, newly jobless and cut off from her parents, Girls‘ lead protagonist steals $20 from a hotel house keeper. “Who would do that?” I thought to myself, slowly filling with rage as I considered the insane selfishness that it takes to do something so goddamn shitty. One episode in and I was already starting to write off Girls, Hannah and the whole shebang, but I continued to watch in spite of that and despite the fact that Hannah kept acting in that who would do that way. It wasn’t until episode 6, when Hannah goes back to Michigan and gives herself an eye-roll-inducing mirror pep talk before going out to see high school friends, that I managed to find my way back on board.

“You are from New York,” she says, staring intently at her own reflection. “Therefore you are just naturally interesting. It is not necessary for you to fill all of the pauses. You are not in danger of mortifying yourself. The worst stuff you say sounds better than some of the best stuff other people say.”

Who would do that? Oh, god. I’ve done that.

A mistake people often make while watching Girls is assuming that each of the four main protagonists represent a specific type of girl that all young women can cleanly identify with by saying “I’m a Jessa” or “I’m a Marnie,” but this isn’t true. Most women in their 20s and 30s probably find that they’re less “a Shoshanna” and more a bizarre hodgepodge of all the characters (Ray, Adam and Laird with his dead turtle included) — plus a little something extra that comes only from being a real person who actually exists in the world.

Whereas identifying with three of the four leads on Girls can be potentially flattering — You’re a free spirit! You’re a type A! You’re funny and neurotic! — identifying with Hannah is determinedly not so because identifying with Hannah means that you pick the wrong men, are self-involved and awkward (and not in that charming New Girl way) or, at the very least, eat most of your meals in bed. But here’s the ugly truth — you probably have a little Hannah in you.

Since Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham has perfected her ability to push her audience past their comfort zones by forcing them to relate to or identify with someone who they’d rather not relate to or identify with. When people react negatively to her work, I think that‘s often what it is that they’re reacting against. Her artistic — yeah, I’m going to say it — genius is pushing the viewer from thinking Who would do that? to I’ve thought about that to I’ve done that.

No one wants to be the girl who comes up with oh-so-profound-yet-oh-so-terrible ideas during an all-night coke binge. No one wants to be the girl who acts like a child when she’s actually an adult. No one wants to be the girl who fucks up cutting her own bangs, eats Cool Whip for dinner or takes advantage of someone else’s feelings for her own emotional selfishness, but we’ve all likely been that girl at least once or twice. Strange then (or maybe it’s not that strange at all) that Hannah gets more often treated with reproach than she does with empathy.

On last night’s episode, after her neighbor Laird comes up to fix Hannah’s botched chop job (really — who among us can say that they haven’t considered what they’d look like with Carey Mulligan’s haircut?), Hannah talks about how as a child her dad would protect her from broken glass. “[Now] if I break something,” she opines. “No one says, let me take care of that…No one really cares if I get cut with glass.” It’s a very Hannah thought — self-pitying and immature — but there’s still something relatable about it. The realities of adulthood, the metaphorical broken glass, are something that a lot of us probably wish that we could occasionally be protected from only, unfortunately, that’s not an option. When things in your life get fucked, all you can do is grab a broom and a dust pan and try to be careful not to get cut while cleaning it all up.

“I get hurt on glass a lot,” Laird tells her and he’s right. All of us will cut our hands and feet as we attempt to clean up the shards of our adult life, all of us will cry about it, but what really matters is how you deal with the blood and this is something that Hannah has never learned how to do do. It’s pathetic, sure, but that’s only when you think of her as a real human being and not just a representation of the part of ourselves — the part that wants to deal with its problems by hiding under the bed or having mom and dad pick up whatever it is that’s broken — that, while we’d rather not acknowledge its existence, we should probably go a little easier on.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin