Why Commitment? Hannah Horvath vs. Jessica Day (Part 1 of 3)

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3827414_origHannah Horvath seems to be hanging on for dear life.

Okay, she and her love interest, Adam Sackler are back together, although Lena Dunham, Horvath’s alter ego and creator of HBO’s Girls, insinuates in interviews their relationship won’t last long when season 3 resumes in January. It took a nervous breakdown stemming from an awful haircut and death-defying experiences with Q-Tips (and for God’s sakes, where did this woman’s pants go?), but she eventually found comfort from Adam, himself recovering from an odd, borderline-sexual assault experience involving ejaculating on a girl’s chest. However, for the moment, Hannah and Adam are back together.

In some ways, Dunham writes a 21st-century sexual awakening narrative. Many stories, from D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover to 50 Shades of Grey (so I hear anyway; I couldn’t make it past page 15 due to egregious use of poor grammar), involve the protagonist expanding his/ her confidence and knowledge of the world via sexual encounters. Sex provides an arena for practicing assertiveness and control for the previously weak, ineffective hero/heroine. Our protagonist seems wiser, bolder, and stronger following his/her sexual experiences.

Hannah Horvath, despite her 48-hour rendezvous with Dr. Joshua and fling with the anti-Hannah, a black Republican named Sandy, doesn’t seem to be gaining control of her life though. On the one hand, Hannah gradually increases her confidence in her atypical (on Hollywood’s standards) body image, as signified by her increasing random nudity. I mean come on, who plays topless ping pong? However, she’s a perpetual mess prone to emotional breakdowns, self-deprecation, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Mary McNamara, LA Times television critic, writes the following: “But lately, watching Girls just makes me feel old. And impatient in a vaguely maternal way like when you see a lovely but irritating wild child running naked around the playground, shouting “vagina” at everyone and peeing in the sandbox.”

Hannah Horvath tells a brutally honest story, one that counters generic sexual awakening, and for that matter, pornographic narratives. Sex is messy, particularly when it involves minor characters. Sex can backfire when used strictly to salve emotional insecurities and wounds. Sometimes it brings people closer together, and sometimes Hannah wakes up the next morning refreshed and reinvigorated. Sometimes the vulnerabilities of sex leave people in a longitudinal state of nudity, both physically and emotionally, desperate for someone to pay attention to, to care for emotional wounds, Sometimes the risks of sex leave people longing to be perpetually clothed.

Though I chose not to focus primarily on sex for my blog and ensuing study on relationships, sex provides a valuable window into the quality of relationships. People with increased sexual quality tend to be more comfortable with asserting their intimate needs to their partners. Hannah Horvath’s narrative accentuates the conflict provided by the messages many in our generation have received about sexuality, that voluptuous body figures and sexual prowess automatically lead to increased self-esteem and happiness.

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