LUMPENPROLETARIAT—With Lena Dunham standing out amongst recent Netflix late night fare at the end of the working day—Netflix, increasingly becoming the poor man’s HBO—for those interested in independent film, one may have noticed a tiny film, yes, let’s admit it, with a big heart. It’s called Tiny Furniture (2010). It seems to be like one of those works of art, like a first hit album, which becomes tough to follow. Then there’s Girls. Surely, it’s a good show, despite the critique. Many of us haven’t really seen it because we haven’t been able to afford cable TV (mostly in terms of the expense of time, but also, yes, because being members of the working class and the redundant class means the expense of cable is a luxury). But what we have caught from Dunham’s contributions to the world of art, of film and television have made indelible impressions like few before.
Lena Dunham seems to have already experienced a rise and fall, with controversy reaching new extremes with the recent publication of her new book of memoirs, Not That Kind of Girl. Time will tell. Dunham shows great promise as a voice of a generation, despite all of our complaints.
ROOKIEMAG—I met Lena Dunham when I was in sixth grade. For a long time, I knew her as just this ridiculously kind person who was working on some sort of television project with my dad that I was not allowed to see. Then I got old enough to watch that project—her HBO series, Girls—and now I know what an important artist Lena is and why she inspires so many people. I admire her so much as an artist and a person. I don’t know if I am a good older sister, but I think I would make a good younger sister to someone like her. She is the big sister I have always wanted.
I was supposed to interview Lena about her new book of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl, but I’m in 11th grade, and when I’m not doing homework I’m worried that I’m doing high school wrong. Frankly, I needed advice. Who better to ask than Lena, who is so good at turning her own experiences into perfect cautionary tales for younger people like me? Listening to her talk about her time in school gave me some much-needed perspective. It is so comforting to have someone you look up to tell you that everything will be OK and that you’ll probably look back on all the horribleness of high school and laugh, as impossible as that may seem right now.
NPR—Lena Dunham’s character on the HBO series Girls would be envious of Dunham.
Dunham, who created and stars in Girls, not only has a new collection of personal essays called Not That Kind of Girl, she also received a great review from Kakutani, who described the book as “smart” and “funny.”
“By simply telling her own story in all its specificity and sometimes embarrassing detail, [Dunham] has written a book that’s as acute and heartfelt as it is funny,” Kakutani wrote.
The essays are an unwavering account of Dunham’s past relationships, current friendships and things she’s learned from her parents.
Dunham, 28, says her biggest concern when telling all was to protect her loved ones.
“I feel very, very conscious that my parents, my boyfriend, my friends don’t feel in any way demeaned, exposed or abused by the work that I make,” Dunham tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “I think we all have enough content of our own that we don’t have to expose the people in our lives to these dark forces.”
Dunham also describes writing her own character on the show — and how that’s changed since it began in early 2012. She says some of her characters are more destructive than the people she’s drawn to in real life.
“I think at a point I really liked the concept of the lost girl, the girl who was sort of moving through the world — she had a bit of a Zelda Fitzgerald lost, broken woman quality that is not as charming to me as it used to be,” she says.
Girls [began] its fourth season in January .
Interview highlight: On what feminism means to her
“My version of feminism is at its most basic level — it’s about equality. I think that so many women have been misinformed about what feminism means. They think it means growing out your armpit hair, burning your bras and storming through the streets with a skewer ready to get men.
What it actually means is you believe in human rights and women should be fairly compensated for the jobs that they do and that they should be [offered] the same opportunities and they shouldn’t be discriminated against or hurt because of their gender.
There are more women than there has ever been before and each one is unique and there’s a lot of ways to express your femaleness. And we can’t limit each other in that department; all we can do is support each other. So what I love about feminism is that it seems like an irrefutable concept, which is equality, caring for each other, supporting each other, looking out for each other and being strong in the face of a lot of societal factors that are telling us to sit down and shut up.”
Lena Dunham vs. Roxane Gay: “Roxane Gray Talks to Lena Dunham About Her New Book, Feminism, and the Benefits of Being Criticized Online” by Roxane Gay for Vulture.com, 2 OCT 2014 12:35
VULTURE—Lena Dunham is not that kind of girl, and we know this because she tells us so in the title of her new (and first) book, Not That Kind of Girl. But the title is ironic and not ironic; she is that type of girl, too, and doesn’t really give a shit if you’re onboard with it or not. The writer Roxane Gay, an associate professor of English and creative writing at Purdue University, is and isn’t that kind of girl, too, with a similar undeniable frankness and her own best-selling book of essays also bearing a title with a dual meaning: Bad Feminist. Over the phone from her home in Lafayette, Indiana, regular Vulture contributor Gay spoke for the first time with her New York–based Twitter friend Dunham, and they talked about feminism, diversity, and what can be learned from internet criticism.
ROXANE GAY: “Hello.”
LENA DUNHAM: “I’m such your crazy fan. I love both your books so much. I can’t believe they came out in the same year. And every time I read something about you or by you, I’m just screaming, “Go, go, go!” I’m so psyched! And I can’t say enough how grateful I am that you read the book so thoughtfully.”
ROXANE GAY: “I didn’t expect to not love it, but I was surprised by how it was an actual essay collection. Sometimes you read celebrity books and they’re more like stand-up routines.”
LENA DUNHAM: “That was my biggest fear about writing a book. Either that I would accidentally write one of those, or someone would bully me into writing something that was like, Well, I’m on a TV show, so now I’m writing the requisite book. I have so much respect for the medium, and writers are the biggest celebrities and heroes to me, so the idea of contributing something slack or light to the medium just made me feel pretty nauseous. After there was all the talk around my book deal, my publishers were really supportive of me taking my time, but some people were kind of like, “Don’t you want to get that book out there so the talk slows down?” And I was like, “No, I want to make the book as strong as I possibly can,” which was always my intention from the beginning.”
ROXANE GRAY: “In what ways does feminism influence your work?”
LENA DUNHAM: “I just think feminism is my work. Everything I do, I do because I was told that as a woman, my voice deserves to be heard, my rights are to be respected, and my job was to make that possible for others. And I am not saying I always succeed at that, but that is the value system that I was raised with and the one that I still hold dear, and it is one that makes all this possible, and it makes it possible for me to not shrink under a couch when there is criticism. It is what makes it possible for me to write about my experiences without feeling as though I am wasting everyone’s time or sounding hysterical. It is the thing that makes space for all of it. It means everything to me because it sort of is everything. It is the closest thing I know to being religious, if that makes any sense.”
ROXANE GRAY: “Of course it does.”
LENA DUNHAM: “And I think there are two parts of it. There is the part where we are fighting for social justice and equality, and hopefully there will be a time where we don’t need that, but then there is also like the mystical cult of being female. And I know that we are in a time where we are talking about gender in a complex way, and I would never want to subscribe to some outdated notion of a “magical female community,” but I feel very, very close to being female. It is not just a part of my identity, it is my identity.”
LENA DUNHAM: “It is hard to be criticized and it is hard to change, but it also feels good. The thing that allows you to keep being vital in your work is to open up to stuff and to be a permeable membrane. When I first started, the [charges of] racism around the first season of the show — I did not know what was going on and I had evil people telling me not to speak, but I also had people [saying], “You have to shut everything out, or you are going to go insane.” And it took me a little while to realize that it was going to be better for me to engage and learn and hear than it was for me to go into my house and wrap a blanket around my head. That was the beginning of a really, really, really important lesson for me.”
ROXANE GRAY: “So what do you think you have learned from the diversity questions that you have had to face about Girls?”
LENA DUNHAM: “I think the biggest thing that came out of it, just on a macro level, is that people need to see themselves represented, and that television is sort of a people’s medium. People need to see themselves represented in ways that are multifaceted and truthful and thoughtful and don’t make them feel like cartoons of themselves. It made me so keen of the fact that there are not enough people of color and people from varied backgrounds who are getting the opportunity to tell their story on television. I come from a very specific place and was given the chance to tell a very specific story, and I want that for so many more people.
“Your essay on Girls was my favorite one. [See THE RUMPUS below] It was great to read thoughtful criticism about it that just didn’t go, You’re an asshole, you went to private school, and your parents are racist, but a version that was more, “here is a thoughtful assessment of how this show is dealing with race and, more accurately, how the show is not dealing with race.”
Read the full interview at Vulture.
THE RUMPUS—MAY 2012: A television show about my twenties would follow the life of a girl who is lost, literally and figuratively. There wouldn’t be a laugh track. The show would open deep in my lost year—the year I drop out of college and disappear. With no ability to cope, and no way to ask for help, the main character—my character, me—is completely crazy. She makes a spectacular mess.
A lot happens in the pilot. About ten days before the start of Junior year, my character gets on a plane and abandons everything. She runs away to Arizona by way of a trip to San Francisco with a much older man she has only corresponded with via the Internet. We’re talking about the old-fashioned Internet, in 1994—a 2400-baud modem or some such. It is a small miracle she isn’t killed. She cuts off all contact with her family, her friends, or anyone who thought they knew her. She has no money, no plan, a suitcase, and a complete lack of self-regard. It is real drama.
The rest of that first season is equally dramatic. Before long, she finds a seedy job doing about the only thing she’s qualified to do, working from midnight to eight in a nondescript office building. She sits in a little, windowless booth and talks to strangers on the phone. She drinks diet soda from a plastic cup, sometimes with vodka, and does crossword puzzles. It is so easy to talk to strangers. She loves the job until she doesn’t.
There is an interesting cast. Her coworkers are girls who are also messy. They are different races, from different places, but all lost together. They give themselves names like China and Bubbles and Misty and at the end of a long shift they hardly remember who belongs to which name. My character has many different names. She wakes up and says, “Tonight, I’m Delilah, Morgan, Becky.” She wants to be anyone else.
This is late-night television. Cable. China does heroin in the bathroom at work. Sometimes, she leaves a burnt strip of tinfoil on the counter. The manager calls them all into her office and yells. The girls will never rat China out. Bubbles has baby daddy problems. Sometimes, her man drops her off at work and the girls smoking in the parking lot watch as Bubbles and her man yell at each other, terrible things. In another episode, the baby daddy drops Bubbles off and they practically fuck in the front seat. Misty has been on her own since she was sixteen. She is very skinny and has scabs all over her arms and never seems to wash her hair. After most shifts, the girls go to Jack in the Box and then lay out by the pool of the house where my character is staying. The girls tell my character how lucky she is to live in a house with air conditioning. They have swamp coolers and live in crappy apartments. My character stares up at the sun from the diving board where she loves to stretch out and think, bitterly, “Yes, I am so fucking lucky.” She is too young to realize that, compared to them, she is lucky. She ran away but still has something to run back to when she is ready. My character doesn’t come to this realization until the season finale.
Every woman has a series of episodes about her twenties, her girlhood, and how she came out of it. Rarely are those episodes so neatly encapsulated as an episode of, say, Friends or a romantic comedy about boy meeting girl.
Girls have been written and represented in popular culture in many different ways. Most of these representations have been largely unsatisfying because they never get girlhood quite right. It is not possible for girlhood to be represented wholly—girlhood is too vast and too individual an experience. We can only try to represent girlhood in ways that are varied and recognizable. All too often, however, this doesn’t happen.
We put a lot of responsibility on popular culture, particularly when some pop artifact somehow distinguishes itself as not terrible. In the months and weeks leading up to the release of Bridesmaids, for example, there was a great deal of breathless talk about the new ground the movie was breaking, how yes, indeed, women are funny. Can you believe it? There was a lot of pressure on that movie. Bridesmaids had to be good if any other women-driven comedies had any hope of being produced. This is the state of affairs for women in entertainment—everything hangs in the balance all the time.
There’s another woman-oriented pop artifact being asked to shoulder a great deal of responsibility these days—Lena Dunham’s Girls, a new television series on HBO. [Season four premiered 11 JAN 2015.] In the past several weeks, we’ve seen a lot of hype about this show. Critics have almost universally embraced Dunham’s vision and the way she chronicles the lives of four twenty-something girls navigating that interstitial time between graduating from college and growing up.
I am not the target audience for Girls. I was not particularly enthralled by the first three episodes but the show gave me a great deal to think about which counts for something. The writing is often smart and clever. I loved the moment when Hannah (Dunham) is in her parents’ hotel room, and they’re reading her memoir manuscript. Her father says, “You’re a very funny girl,” and she says, “Thank you, Papa.” I thought, “I see what you did, there, Dunham.” I laughed a few times during each episode and recognize the ways in which this show is breaking new ground. I admire how Hannah Horvath doesn’t have the typical body we normally see on television. There is some solidity to her. We see her eat, enthusiastically. We see her fuck. We see her endure the petty humiliations so many young women have to endure. We see the life of one kind of real girl and that is important.
It’s awesome that a twenty-five year old woman gets to write, direct, and star in her own show for a network like HBO. It’s just as sad that this is so revolutionary it deserves mention.
Read the full article, “Girls Girls Girls” by Roxane Gay at THE RUMPUS.
[last updated 2 APR 2015 21:41 CDT]