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What HBO’s Girls Is Telling Young People In Advertising

April 14, 2014

So I’ve been watching Girls for the majority of its 3 seasons. It’s the kind of show that I don’t technically enjoy, but somehow when a new episode is released I find myself watching it, wondering at its conclusion why I continue to do so. It has won Emmy’s and Golden Globes, and has enough nudity for it to not seem out of place on HBO.

Girls follows a group of 20-somethings who are living in Brooklyn and are (from my observations at least) doing nothing particularly interesting with their lives. The protagonist, Hannah, is wonderfully flawed and therefore oh-so-relatable to us insecure millennials. What are we doing with our lives? It’s all so hard! But don’t worry – other people haven’t got a clue either.  An aspiring writer, she goes about her life with no apparent purpose or career (for 3 whole seasons) while clinging dearly to her identity as a “creative” spirit.

In the third season (spoilers ahead), Hannah accidentally lands a job at GQ magazine. Trendy and hip, Hannah quickly discovers to her disappointment that she is not to be writing cutting-edge articles for the magazine, but sponsored advertorials. “But you guys, like, don’tunderstand,” she explains to her three trendy, young, hipster colleagues, “I’m a writer. Like, an actual writer. This job is totally just temporary while I work on my book.” When Hannah discovers that these colleagues were once award-winning poets and writers themselves, and have let their creative endeavours sit idle for years whilst enjoying the cushy perks of GQ life, Hannah ponders her fate and eventually decides to stick out the job, leaving her book by the wayside in favour of free chips and a pay check.

For a few episodes, Hannah and the team churn out phrases like “a need for tweed” and “totally a pants-a-holic” to sell the wares of GQ advertisers. Hannah meets Patty Lupone and stays a night at the Hotel Astoria. But one day during an ‘editorial’ meeting she quite unexpectedly quits, and with great finesse. She berates her colleagues and their squandered talents one by one – “did you think you would grow up working in a sweatshop factory for puns?” – “am I the only one who prides themselves on being a truly authentic person?” – then simply gets up and leaves.

A lengthy explanation perhaps, but this storyline got me thinking. Am I already a sell-out, working for a content agency and coming up with clever ways to tell stories for our clients? Is Girls trying to tell me that my choice of career is not worthy of personal fulfilment and self-respect? Worse still, Girls is pointing out that the marketing industry-at-large is a sad and pathetic waste of talent for people who are actually gifted. The creative industries are just too hard to make a living from – even in artsy New York – and writers, artists, poets and designers are forced to put their dreams aside and make a living from nasty corporate schmuck content.

So where does this leave me and my fellow young advertising industry hopefuls? According to Girls, it leaves us financially comfortable but ultimately unfulfilled and inauthentic. For many of us, making our way to New York City is the holy grail of our early careers in advertising – complete with a trendy Manhattan apartment and that perfect business-casual work wardrobe. Looking at pop culture’s portrayal of our jobs, this is the life we are ‘supposed to be living’ if we’ve done well, and by our late twenties we’ll have scored that agency job and work the big accounts.

When we ‘get there’, what happens next? We’ll while away our time trying to fit our creative talents into narrow boxes defined by tenuous clients. We’ll churn out clever lines that sell boring jeans. We’ll enjoy a comfortable living but let ourselves devolve into laziness and mediocrity. OK OK, this is really melodramatic, but on some level this is the picture that Girls is portraying. It’s definitely not the yesteryear glamour of Mad Men and as a modern and fresh voice in TV, it’s very easy to relate to the show’s plight. Essentially – Girls is telling me that my mid-twenties are a time to make a choice. Become a robot that is “creative-on-demand” for my clients and my agency, or be “authentic” and put whatever creative talents I possess towards more worthy pursuits.

Now, by no means am I going to be making major life decisions based solely on story lines from the same network that makes Sex and the City and Game of Thrones, but Hannah and her creative ideals have definitely struck a chord with me. Can I be truly fulfilled in this industry? Is it too early to tell? Should everyone adhere to the same moral compass when it comes to personal creativity? I’m left with a lot of questions, but what should always ring true is the mantra to just do whatever makes you happy. A little corny perhaps, but there’s really no arguing with it. There’ll be no impulsive quitting for me just now, and watching Hannah stay true to what really makes her happy is something of a comfort to a wayward millennial like me.