Voice of a generation trying to find its place

Exposed ... Adam Driver and
Lena Dunham in Girls.
Exposed ... Adam Driver and Lena Dunham in Girls.

THERE'S a line delivered by Lena Dunham in the first episode of the first season of Girls that, for good or bad, will follow her to the end of time.

Dunham's Hannah, a struggling writer high on opium tea, is begging her parents not to cut her off financially when she boldly declares that she's ''the voice of a generation … or a voice of a generation''.

Given the very autobiographical nature of Dunham's work, she thought critics would see it as a joke. ''I assumed that because the character was on drugs, people would understand,'' she says. ''But apparently, no, people did not get the joke."

In a way, Dunham has become something of a voice of her generation - whether she wanted to or not. Girls focuses on the hapless romantic and professional lives of the erratic Hannah, the responsible Marnie (Allison Williams), the irresponsible Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and the innocent Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), four twentysomething women living in Brooklyn, dating inappropriate men, living in cramped apartments, and facing the daunting possibility that, as college graduates, they won't get anywhere near the sort of jobs they thought they would.

This is not the aspirational world of Sex and the City, quite the opposite; Girls is so incredibly gritty and emotionally raw, it's occasionally difficult viewing.

''If I can enlighten anybody about what it's like to be a young person - part of the first generation raised on instant messaging and graduating in a recession,'' declares Dunham (herself a Twitter and Instagram enthusiast), ''then I'll be happy if that experience is illuminated by what I'm doing.''

In person, Dunham, not surprisingly, is verbose, engaging, and whip-smart. And with her put-together clothes and precise make-up, she's like a more polished version of her alter ego.

''I tend to think of Hannah as a version of me that has no sense of when to shut up and exists about two or three years behind where I'm at emotionally.''

There is much about the character of Hannah that polarises: her propensity to over-share; her inability to stop talking long after she probably should have; her initially degrading and emotionally abusive relationship with Adam (Adam Driver); and the fact that she spends a lot of time naked.

The fact that there's a ''normal'' woman showing her body on screen shouldn't be revolutionary, but it is. This, Dunham declares, is what a woman looks like. For her, the nudity is not gratuitous, it's important, which is not exactly a mainstream approach to the subject. Things, however, are about to get entirely more mainstream for Dunham. She recently signed a $3.5 million book deal to write Nora Ephron-esque essays about, yes, being a young woman in 2013.

So can she, with all her success, still relate to the struggles of the young women she's writing about?

''I've had that question quite a bit, including from my dad, and the fact is, I feel as though there are certain emotions - lostness, not knowing what your place is in the world, feeling a little bit disconnected from yourself and the people around you - that it would be great if a book deal or a TV show could solve those things, but they don't,'' she says.

''No matter what, I am a 26-year-old trying to figure out what my next move is. Am I responsible enough to have a dog? Why didn't I take my trash out for three days? Who am I?

''All of those things are still completely part of me and I feel like I'm able to tap into that enough that, hopefully, it won't become an issue, but I'm sure that if it is, people will let me know on Twitter.''

Girls, Showcase, 8.30pm, Mondays

This story Voice of a generation trying to find its place first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.