As any Amish person will tell you, one of the best things about being alienated from popular culture is having something to define your values against. I do not like Ke$ha; ergo, when Ke$ha is materialistic and stupid, I am nuanced and wise. This phenomenon is made more versatile by ignorance. I am disconnected from radio and television, so by definition I don’t really know what’s on there. I can therefore impute to it any values I reject. It’s like the way the alien in Alien is really scary until you get a good look at it; your imagination makes it so. I have seen exactly one episode of Girls, and so Lena Dunham has come to embody everything I despise.
Although my viewership of the show is extremely limited, I read every article about Girls and Dunham that I come across. There are a lot of them. The recurring themes seem to be that she is A) 26 and therefore B) a Millennial or a member of the terrifyingly-named “Generation Z”, and C) very popular. Everyone your parents’ age agrees that Lena Dunham is the authentic voice of her generation, and Girls is an accurate depiction of how her generation lives in New York.
Then you watch Girls, and it’s about people who live in Park Slope but do not have jobs. The cognitive dissonance is amazing. As a person who likes realistic depictions of how young people live in contemporary New York and thinks there should be more of them, I watched my episode of Girls the way Mao watches Hong Kong Phooey.
It was about how all the characters in their really nice apartment in a really expensive part of Brooklyn were struggling to make it despite having everything that making it provides. Also, the Lena Dunham character was the object of continual male fascination. Everyone in the Dunham-written show wants to do it with the Dunham-acted character, despite her being socially awkward and incredibly self-absorbed.
In this respect, the content of Girls—young people get everything they want for no reason and regard themselves as pathetic—mirrors its context. Dunham has a show about herself on HBO at age 26 by virtue of making a couple of independent films and having famous parents. The show is an enormous critical success despite—here I use a technical dramaturgy term—sucking my ass, at least in that one episode. As a person who does not really know anything about Girls and sees its auteur through the lens of extreme prejudice, I can say that the central theme of both Dunham’s show and her life is unearned success, plus self-pity.
Which is why I was so pleased to learn that she got a $3.7 million advance on her book. It is ostensibly a book of “frank and funny advice,” but most of the advice therein seems to boil down to “be Lena Dunham.” The woman Random House calls a “rare literary talent” offers eight pages of food diary from 2010 and the news that “I’ve been in therapy since I was seven.” Hopefully she is joking. If she isn’t, she must be either incredibly self-aware or incredibly self-absorbed—a conundrum I will leave you to resolve for yourself in light of the sentence, “Cassie was a very fat girl we knew who we had nicknamed fat Cassie because she also wasn’t that nice.”
Do you feel the righteous anger? Are you ignoring the ugly implications of the “anger” part to focus on the “righteous?” It’s a good thing Lena Dunham exists, because otherwise I would have to invent her. It’s a good thing she has famous parents and a book proposal that paid $56,000 a page, or else I might go around falsely believing that mainstream culture is that corrupt and vacuous. That would be terrible. Without Lena Dunham, I would have no one to blame but myself.