Further notes on Lena Dunham, after watching the pilot episode of Girls:
1. In spite of myself, despite the fact that she is my personal nemesis du jour, I almost (note: almost; girlfriend still has her own HBO show and a DVD on Criterion and makes work that I find totally problematic and objectionable) feel bad for Lena Dunham. While Tiny Furniture played like a calculated attempt to make me angry, it was at least coherent as a film; Girls just feels half-baked, underdeveloped, underwritten. The characters seem wooden, almost impossible to differentiate from each other except along the lines of stereotypes (post-post-ironic, self-deprecating quipster; uptight ice queen; international party girl trainwreck; clueless, virginal suburban ingenue). If I was a writer for the New York Times, I might posit that this is a comment on my much-demonized “Millenial” generation and our (supposed) generational lack of engagement, arrested development, over-educated over-entitlement, and preoccupation with the Internet and pop culture with neglect to all else - but I don’t give Girls that much credit. I think this is a clear case of HBO (and/or Judd Apatow) attempting to strike while the zeitgeist was hot, rushing this project into production before it was fully fleshed out. As a 25-year-old with one serious, half-finished short film to my name, it’s hard not to sympathize: if my stock suddenly skyrocketed on the indie film fest circuit, and HBO knocked on the door to ask if I wanted My Very Own TV Series That I Wrote And Starred In Myself, of course I’d say yes (note: it hasn’t, and they wouldn’t, because my mother isn’t Laurie Simmons). And of course it would suck, because I’m totally not ready to develop/write/direct a TV series at this stage in my career - let alone at a fairly quick turnaround (Tiny Furniture was released in 2010, with Girls premiering in 2012). Perhaps the next book in the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” series should be, “If You Give a 20-Something a TV Series, You Probably Want to Make Sure That She Has a Team of More Experienced People Working with Her to Make Sure it Doesn’t Totally Blow, and You Probably Also Want to Take Your Sweet Time in Development to Further Make Sure of the Above.”
2. The aforementioned “international party girl trainwreck” character type, played by Jemima “Daughter of the drummer from Bad Company” Kirke, appears in both Tiny Furniture and Girls. Putting aside for a moment the fact that this is just lazy screenwriting on Dunham’s part (or is it an environmental statement - character recycling?), Kirke steals every scene in both the film and the TV show. She plays the part to the hilt, to the point where it almost verges into self-parody, and in doing so is far more compelling and interesting than any of the other characters in either story. If either Tiny Furniture or Girls had focused on the toxic friendship between Dunham and Kirke’s characters, each secretly envious of the other’s lifestyle, I might have enjoyed them. This story would probably have also left a lot more room open for legitimate comment or critique of class/race-based privileges.
3. While critics seem to want to mark the presence of a large number of (upper-middle class, white) women, or simply shows with the word “girls” in the title (does “The Girlie Show” on 30 Rock count?), in comedic series programming as a kind of feminist coup, Dunham’s conceptions of sex and gender could use a serious update. The depiction of Hannah’s mother as a shrieking harpy willing to throw her daughter under the bus for the chance at owning a lake house falls back on stereotypes; ditto Marnie’s boyfriend, who is repeatedly mocked for being too much of a pussy (Dunham’s Hannah actually comments that he “has a vagina”) to just fuck her and then act like a jerk like a real man should. Girls strongly affirms normative views of gender roles, just like any good feminist work should (a side note: are, or will there be, any gay people on this show? They seem to have been written out of Dunham’s fantasy version of New York, along with all non-white and non-upper-middle-class people. Considering that she is herself a New Yorker, I would recommend Lena Dunham take a good, hard look at the cross-section of other New Yorkers riding the “elitist” subway with her - assuming she takes the subway). Way to get down with the struggle, L.D.!
Girls also highlights Dunham’s bizarre preoccupation with terrible sex - something she talked about to no end in interviews leading up to the show’s premiere. I acknowledge that I am speaking from a privileged (male) point of view, here: but there’s no way all of these people could be having this much bad sex. While putting the emphasis on the awkward, uncomfortable aspect of sex is interesting on the network that gave us the ridiculous parade of pale heaving bosoms and soft-lit Alexander Skarsgard ass that is True Blood (come back soon, please?) and that stupid brothel scene from Game of Thrones, the decision to focus more-or-less exclusively on bad sex reads as sex-negative. Watching these characters have sex makes me want to take a vow of celibacy, which is hardly progressive. Is it naive of me to want a show to attempt to depict the full range of human amorous/sexual experience? Or one that acknowledges that good sex is at least a possibility?
4. Making one of your characters the butt of a joke for wearing pink sweatsuits, watching Sex and the City, and living in an overpriced NoLiTa apartment isn’t actually funny: if you’re Lena Dunham, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
5. Judging from the internet response/backlash (see the hilarious Gawker recaps for reference), I’d say the zeitgeist is turning against Dunham and her circus of white privilege: weirdly enough, I actually feel a bit upset about this. While I am very glad to see that culture/the American HBO-viewing public at large don’t want to accept L.D.’s perspective on the world as the universal story it purports to be, it felt nice to be the underdog, to have something to push back against. I can still have my new slogan, though: “I hated Lena Dunham’s work when it was still underground!”