July 30, 2014

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham

Source: Shutterstock

Young Lena Dunham, the most talked-about writer of her generation, is finally about to publish something like a book. Oh, goody.

Prior to Not That Kind of Girl, an autobiographical advice book, her writing has comprised an autobiographical television show (Girls), an autobiographical film, and reams of girl-power pontification (and autobiography) on social media. There’s a dark joke in the fact that, in a country where thousands of obscure talents each year release inventive works of fiction and painstakingly researched journalism, the self-appointed voice of the millennials took almost two years after signing a $3.7 million dollar contract to wrestle 288 pages of overshare and misandry disguised as feminism onto paper.

Well, a pat on the back for finishing. She’s soon to toddle off on her book tour at last.

As usual, however, a couple of disturbances in the social media Force provoked by Dunham’s personality are getting more ink than her work could ever inspire on its own. Her Hobby Lobby-inspired Twitter birth control campaign is too dull to go into”€”but everybody loves a good fight. And she’s been carrying on an e-tussle with another famed sort-of writer, Emily Gould, who founded a career by telling people about her personal life on Gawker.

“€œThey”€™re both empty people, and it would be lovely to watch them rip one another limb from limb just to watch the sawdust spurt.”€

Gould is also launching a book tour; heroically, she has written a thing she calls a novel”€”though, as Friendship ends with an emoticon and includes lines like “€œBev had even maybe had a slight crush on him when she”€™d first met him,”€ feel free to come up with your own name for it.

They”€™re both empty people, and it would be lovely to watch them rip one another limb from limb just to watch the sawdust spurt. The trouble with rubbernecking this spat, however, is that after suffering through interviews and scribbles from both of them, I still can”€™t figure out what the heck they”€™re fighting over.

They mumble about envy, talk shows, PDAs, whether it’s feminist for us women to be pulling each other’s hair like this anyway, and Dunham’s spicy Tweet to Gould: “€œYou fully suck.”€ As far as I can tell, they are arguing about nothing whatsoever.

This is typical of the Dunham news cycle, though with a twist: she has continuously benefited from other people arguing about her, over all the wrong things, while the void at the center of her work continues to suck in money.

Her weight, for example, is a side issue that’s repeatedly dumped her into the shame spotlight (which is futile, as she has no shame and loves spotlights). Sure, nobody who lacked Dunham’s caliber of parentage and connections”€”her mother and father were Greenwich Village artists, apparently floated by old money”€”would ever land a television show with a looks-and-talent package such as hers. But if there was going to be an odd-looking girl with no chops on premium cable, then it stands to reason that her parents would be parlor pinks with a loft in the Village. When the demand is that low, the contest goes to the best-placed, quite like the rest of what passes for literature these days.

But whether the star’s thighs are of a “€œdeserving”€ dimension is not the question about this show that matters. Though Roseanne Barr was twice Dunham’s size, not only was Barr’s TV show fun to watch, I have never viscerally yearned to hit her in the throat with an old copy of Pulp’s A Different Class album tied to a brick.

Dunham has also been criticized for not writing enough black or nonaffluent characters into Girls. But that’s merely a symptom of her self-absorption. Why would she include anybody who’s not like her? Sure, she pays lip service to oppression and all that good stuff, but she’s oppressed enough herself to cover the bases: people call her fat, and she’s a girl. What more do you want from a writer, empathy?

The central problem is struck only a glancing blow when we complain of how she’s been catapulted by her family’s social station. The traditional American love of meritocracy should recoil instinctively from her cradle-to-HBO swaddling of cronyism”€”but it is her lack of merit that galls far more than her background.

For eons prior, aristocrats were, by grace of self-awareness and lessons in balance and composition, accustomed to alchemizing their elite educations into great, beautiful, even funny literature. Just last century P.G. Wodehouse, of noble lineage and a preparatory school, was able to turn his knowledge of the butler-master bond into a timeless comic duo, counterweighting Bertie Wooster’s higher station with his servant’s superior wit. Dunham, of Mayflower descent and a private arts high school, parlayed what she knows of the little people into a scene where a ditz ravishes an equally stupid high-rise doorman.


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