Back in March 2013, a ‘commentary’ piece at the Onion achieved what can be best described as “viral” status. More than 200,000 people posted it to Facebook. More than 6,000 people tweeted it, and over 2,500 people shared it on Google +. Maybe everyone read it, maybe not. But the title was enough to get what was likely the desired laugh: “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life”.
“Because when you get right down to it,” the Onion explained, “everyone has dreams, and you deserve the chance—hell, you owe it to yourself—to pursue those dreams when you only have enough energy to change out of your work clothes and make yourself a half-assed dinner before passing out.”
Is it possible either Lena Dunham or this episode’s writer, Paul Simms, read that Onion piece? Probably. Even if neither did, they no doubt know what hundreds of thousands of others did. The truth at the heart of the joke is that the promise of finding a perfect job in what you love doing is reserved for very few people. For the rest of the world, the best that can be achieved is something close. But did Hannah Horvath see that Onion piece? One would have to assume that being the online maven she is, the answer would undoubtedly be yes. So, then, did she get the joke?
Hannah’s landed a job at GQ magazine thanks to someone spotting one of her pieces online. And it turns out she’s good at what she does—one of four writers for a Neiman Marcus-sponsored advertorial guide to eight different types of “urban male.” It’s no surprise that Hannah is so full of ideas for naming stereotypical urban males; from what little we know of her e-book (which apparently still hangs in limbo at Millstreet), she’s met them all. But when one new coworker, Karen, suggests Hannah might be good enough to one day replace their boss, Janice, Hannah objects.
“I’m just trying to get in, get out,” Hannah replies. “I’m not really looking to take Janice’s job.” Her reason? “‘Cause I’m a writer.”
The rest of the team (Joe and Kevin) are both there, too. Joe states that, “we’re all writers.”
“Yeah, but I’m like, no offence, a writer-writer,” Hannah clarifies. “Not like a corporate advertising working-for-the-man kind of writer.”
Joe reveals they are all indeed “writer-writers”. He, for example, had something published in the New Yorker before he even left college. Kevin, who moments earlier told Hannah he hated her face (“I’m just not into it, it annoys me, you’re mouth, it makes me want to rip it off your face. You look like someone I dated I hated even while I was dating them.”), once won a poetry award from Yale.
“But you all still write, like, your own pieces and stuff right?” Hannah tries to clarify, increasingly desperate. “Like, your own spiritually fulfilling work?”
The answer: sort of. Sometimes. After work and on weekends.
On learning this, Hannah has to take a moment and run her head under the tap in the bathroom. Moments later, she’s in Janice’s office, saying: “I’m just realizing how easy it is to get seduced by the perks and the money and the free snacks and then suddenly I wake up in 10 years and I’m not a writer anymore, I’m a former writer who works in corporate advertising and that is not my plan.” To which Janice calmly offers another painful truth: there are plenty of other people who will take the job Hannah has. Faced with the prospect of selling out or not having a job at all, Hannah finally opts for the more rational choice, and chooses the job that’s close to perfection, rather than a non-existent perfect one.
At what point are you just selling out?
Hannah’s decision to stay at GQ means she’s following the advice she doled out to Adam the night before after learning he’d walked out of an audition because he’d been asked to smile into a camera and say his name—something, he says, that’s not acting. Hannah suggests his new challenge ought to be going through with an audition, if for no other reason than they might finally have enough money to pay the bills, which they’re clearly not going to be able to do just from Adam’s sales of weird dream-catchers on Etsy.
Meanwhile, somewhere else in Brooklyn, Ray and Marnie are hanging out again, watching reality television and having sex. The afternoon takes them from Marnie’s apartment to a local restaurant for lunch, where they have an argument over whether Ray’s assessment of western aid to Africa (that it only exacerbates the poverty—“teach a man to fish,” Ray says) is racist or not. Somehow, in it all, Ray tells Marnie she’s dumb. Though she starts to leave after that comment, Marnie is persuaded to sit back down when Ray lays out reality: that neither of them have anyone else to eat lunch with. Is that the basis for a strong, long-term relationship? Probably not.
But that ignores the real issue: that Marnie is at home alone on a weekday. Despite her proclamation about there being fancy and important people desperate to work with her, these people have failed to materialize. And who might they have been, anyway? Marnie’s struggle is the same as Hannah’s, only removed slightly, perhaps back a few steps. Hannah might be weighing the prospect of selling out to the corporate writing world, but at least she has some sense of why that’s not what she wants—and, also, has a vague notion of what it might take for her to get it. Marnie—like Shoshanna, who tells Jessa she’s decided she needs a boyfriend who understands her values and goals—on the other hand, has yet to clearly articulate what her goals are. Put another way: at least Hannah knows what she’ll be doing on evenings and weekends for the rest of her life.
Such is the struggle of the generation for whom Girls aims to speak (and likely is, here), I guess: to achieve a point where an Onion headline no longer rings true.