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Backlot Bitch: Lena Dunham Doesn't Care What You've Got to Say

My photo of Lena Dunham's kiss-off  at SXSW 12
Erstwhile It/perennial fall girl Lena Dunham is on bloggers' hit lists again thanks to her latest interview with Esquire. This time, what's pissing folks off is her response to the question of how she deals with envy and ill will toward her. To wit:

"I kind of get off on it because I had a liberal-arts education and a huge part of that is just like sitting in class with people who are saying, "You know nothing, my godfather died of AIDS!" It's a really self-righteous, annoyed, argumentative world. And I loved it. But I don't wanna engage with people. I think you look crazier when you engage with someone who doesn't have a fully formed argument."

Where's privilege denying dude when you need him?

This isn't Dunham's first brush with controversy, as you probably know. This past Halloween, Dunham posted an offensive tweet for her Canadian fans. Then there was that not-so-hilarious time she faked wearing a hijab and said she had a "real goth/fundamentalist attitude when I woke up from my nap." Adjacent to this, of course, was former Girls staff writer Lesley Arfin's tweeted response to the Girls-is-too-damn-white criticism that accompanied the show's premiere. I'm starting to wonder if Dunham is perfecting a "sorry I'm not sorry" curtsy for these incidents.

Many sites have discussed the myriad of reasons that she's being singled out by critics and haters. Despite the fact that she's acknowledged these claims before with an "I'll fix it next season" mea culpa, now it's a cool "I don't care." But a casual dismissal of what dozens of respected writers pointed out to her hardly seems mature. And it not just a case of singling out Dunham; I'd say exactly the same to the writers behind supposedly progressive sitcoms like Modern Family and 2 Broke Girls.

Just because the omission of diversity that's going on Girls isn't anything new doesn't mean it's okay. Pretending like black and brown folks don't exist in Brooklyn isn't just a matter of equal representation in media—it's an ethnic whitewashing of the area onscreen that reflects a real threat of gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing families.

So while I think she's right in ignoring the critics who call her "fat," not all criticism is created equal, and the problematic erasure of race isn't something to be blown off with a snarky interview response or pointed tweet. Sure, the tradition of all-white leading actors and shows started way before she was born, but it doesn't mean the trend should go on unabated and unexamined. And shutting down dialogue—despite her brush-off, plenty of Dunham's critics do have fully formed arguments—isn't conducive to building an audience. I do have hopes that season two of Girls won't repeat the same mistakes as its first, but you can't change what you don't see as wrong.

Previously:

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Comments

22 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Lena

I like the show. I liked her movie. I like HER.
Ok, as a 54 year old college student who currently resides in ultra-white rural Wisconsin, sometimes I just watch shows that entertain me.
I also watch lots and lots of "serious" and "important" tv, docs and movies.
So much of this feels like Mean Girls.
It Just Does.

Okay, and?

No one's saying you can't like her or her shows and movies. A lot of the reason people are disappointed in her response is because they like(d) her at one point.

But this is in no way like Mean Girls, because it's about erasure of POC and not "oh wow we just hate lena because she's like such a loser okay." It's just not even comparable.

Oberlin is better than that.

You know, i went to Oberlin too -- it's actually where I began to learn to be a feminist. And yes, there was a lot of arguing -- it was the first time for a lot of people that they had their ideas challenged, and the first time for others that they felt like they were in a safe enough space to express their frustration with oppression -- and there were times when things got more than a little ridiculous. But I think it takes a special talent at sticking your fingers in your ears and singing loudly while others are talking to have come away from an environment like Oberlin with the idea that anyone who calls you out on your privilege is self-righteous, and that people who don't like you must not have thought through their ideas. There are a lot of alumnae -- Alison Bechdel leaps to mind -- who make me proud to claim that we went to the same college. But I wish Lena Dunham had gotten her "self-righteous, annoyed, argumentative" education somewhere else. >_<

Yes!

Yes! My sister is also an Oberlin grad who, along with several of her Oberlin-alum friends, lives in Brooklyn. And they're all thoughtful, intelligent people, who are really good at expressing their views (and defending them, if necessary), but I wouldn't describe any of them as "self-righteous, annoyed, argumentative."

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I totally agree, and I'm so

I totally agree, and I'm so glad you wrote this, because it articulates most of my issues with Ms Dunham. I think she's bright and talented, and I want to support young women who are doing brilliantly... but I'm also wondering if she's really this insensitive, or if she's just trolling us.

Dunham is the best writer on tv

Did I miss 'Girls' claiming to represent everyone in New York City? I don't think so. In my opinion, 'Girls' is the best show on TV and the best I have ever seen about life and relationships among young women. It is not always pretty or comfortable and it doesn't claim to be anything it is not- so why do you need to get angry at it for not being about what you want? There should be more shows made that are written by smart people and hopefully many of those will be about different characters- including those of color and age. This isn't that show though and that doesn't make it less good. (If Dunham wrote black characters in her show you'd probably criticize her for not writing what she knows- just trying to get people like you off her back.)

You dismiss critique about

You dismiss critique about the lack of diversity in media because you have never had to deal with it. You always have someone on tv who looks like you.

Great for you, and I mean that. It feels good to never feel slighted about not seeing yourself represented in the media. To be so dismissive about the valid criticisms leveled at how a show like Girls handles race (or doesn't) shows you don't care what women of color have to say--a pretty crappy feminist.

BOOM

BOOM

lena, lena, lena

Lena Dunham is a rarity in showbiz. I love that she defiantly eats and looks how she wants. Can you believe that? It's insane! No one on tv does that, and here is a highly successful director and actor who is telling them all to stuff themselves (maybe literally).

I don't follow twitter really, but I think that maybe she's just a little unprepared for being a superstar, and now that she's been pegged as this tour de force on HBO, maybe she feels like she needs to keep saying things or doing things that will keep her fresh. Does that make sense?

Anyway, she's also kind of young, just graduated from college, although obviously very capable of doing big and wonderful things - but maybe she hasn't had time to make sense of the sudden fame. Heck, we're lucky if we ever figure our lives out. In other words, she is still figuring out how to fill the role of "spokesperson of a generation." That's a big job to take on post-undergrad, regardless of what ivy league school mill you put your brain through.

I am fascinated with her brains (mmmm, brains) - more brainiacs on the tube are good. She just needs to think before her fingers get twitchy and writes mean stuff about people. When you send stuff out into the world, the world usually writes back.

Yay brainy, normal-looking people on tv. I hope others agree that at least these 2 things are positive contributions she's made to at least one niche of the media world.

not a "recent college grad"

She's 26 and graduated 4 years ago. That's hardly some recent college grad trying to make a name for herself- it also helps that her parents are minor celebrities in the art world.
She is eating the fame up, and you can tell she loves it. She is constantly doing a song-and-dance of "I'm not sorry" and "I'm just sorry enough so that you guys will still like me and adore me."

Really? Lena Dunham?

I think the criticisms of Dunham are certainly fair, but I wonder whether the enormous amount of energy that progressives put into criticizing her are worthwhile. The truth is that Dunham's show (or Dunham herself) is no worse than ANY OTHER MAINSTREAM SHOW! Honestly, what sets GIRLS apart from other TV-shows so as to warrant so much criticisms? I can name 100 shows that portray women and minorities in a worse way than GIRLS.

And yes, she should be trying to make her show better. But, the level of criticism (in my opinion) is so overblown that I don't blame her for being resistant to change.

I see the level of criticism

I see the level of criticism as a back-handed compliment: progressives often seem to me to be most critical of works that get things almost right, or some things right, or seem to be really trying. Seeing the potential in a show like Girls makes it all the more painful when they disappoint, whereas other shows just seem totally hopeless from the start. Girls may not be any worse than those shows, but it could be so much better, which is what I believe sets it apart.

Also, those other shows and show-runners aren't being heralded as the "voice of a generation" and they're not on HBO.

Yawn

I love GIRLS. I get tired of over-analyzing everything in life. I admire that she's young and talented and yes, flawed. I look back at things I wrote/said/did at that age and cringe. Life is too short to be so negative, and if she doesn't feel the need to engage ever naysayer, so what?

I think that GIRLS is a

I think that GIRLS is a well-written show; it shows twenty something year old and their tremendous amount of growing pains. I believe that Dunham has captured what it is like to be that age for many individuals--especially for women.

However, despite that, as a person of color, an African-American woman, when critics, especially fans, point out that you don't realistically have people of color on your screen, I believe a writer/director better take that into serious consideration. In television alone, diversity has always been a historical and cultural issue among fans and everyone else in the entertainment business.

As a writer myself who wants to break out in the scene of taking her writing to the television media after I finish my current major project, in a theoretical sense, it is important to have a much representational diversity as you can. Also, what does it say when you make snarky comments or nonchalant comments about these criticisms and issues? I would hope that Dunham is learning from this respectively and will show that she is able to take constructive criticism about her show. I understand that you she in her early twenties and has never been in a position of fame as she has now, but she must realize that the incredible platform that she is given is a chance to illustrate how she does understand that diversity is an important issue. And that yes, she didn't include in her show because she thought that she didn't know enough about minorities. I can give her a quarter of a free card for that. However, if she doesn't put her money were her mouth is, well, then, it proves that she is stagnant in her thinking which is quite sad because she is a talented writer.

GIRLS is a great show. However, there is greater potential for GIRLS to be a phenomenal show if Dunham is willing to open up and listen to constructive criticism and take the show to the next level.

Dunham and Diversity

I think that GIRLS is a well-written show; it shows twenty something year old and their tremendous amount of growing pains. I believe that Dunham has captured what it is like to be that age for many individuals--especially for women.

However, despite that, as a person of color, an African-American woman, when critics, especially fans, point out that you don't realistically have people of color on your screen, I believe a writer/director better take that into serious consideration. In television alone, diversity has always been a historical and cultural issue among fans and everyone else in the entertainment business.

As a writer myself who wants to break out in the scene of taking her writing to the television media after I finish my current major project, in a theoretical sense, it is important to have a much representational diversity as you can. Also, what does it say when you make snarky comments or nonchalant comments about these criticisms and issues? I would hope that Dunham is learning from this respectively and will show that she is able to take constructive criticism about her show. I understand that you she in her early twenties and has never been in a position of fame as she has now, but she must realize that the incredible platform that she is given is a chance to illustrate how she does understand that diversity is an important issue. And that yes, she didn't include in her show because she thought that she didn't know enough about minorities. I can give her a quarter of a free card for that. However, if she doesn't put her money were her mouth is, well, then, it proves that she is stagnant in her thinking which is quite sad because she is a talented writer.

GIRLS is a great show. However, there is greater potential for GIRLS to be a phenomenal show if Dunham is willing to open up and listen to constructive criticism and take the show to the next level.

Two Broke Girls is supposedly

Two Broke Girls is supposedly progressive? Seems to me even less progressive than Two and a Half Men, if that's possible.

I have numerous problems with

I have numerous problems with "Two Broke Girls." While it shows characters of a variety of races and national origins, the characters who aren't the (white, US-born) protagonists very much conform to racial/ethnic stereotypes and are portrayed as weird or different from the. But, granted, it DOES show them. It's sort of ironic that "Girls" is the more serious and realistic drama yet, by looks alone, "Two Broke Girls" does more accurately reflect the "real" diversity of Brooklyn--albeit in an offensive and otherizing manner. I was shocked to find out that the characters in "Girls" live in Greenpoint--where the hell are the Poles and Puerto Ricans, then? It's like portraying Manhattan without Jews!

Speaking to her Personal Experience

When asked about GIRLS' lack of diversity during an interview on NPR, Lena said that she wrote the show based on her own personal experiences. I am a young writer who went to a liberal university in NYC and lived in Brooklyn after graduating, and in many ways my life pretty much mirrored Hanna's (Lena's character on GIRLS). I had ONE black friend throughout college. And we didn't hang out regularly. There were very few African Americans at my school. If I made a show based on my life and people I knew and relationships I experienced, I probably wouldn't include too many black people either because unfortunately, I didn't know many growing up. I'm aware that's not a good thing, but I met my friends through the classes I took and the people who lived on the same floor as me in my dorm. Was I supposed to seek out a group of black people and say, "Hey guys! My friend group isn't diverse enough! Wanna hangout?" GIRLS is a brutally honest show. It literally sticks out like a sore thumb in a society where everything and everyone you see on TV is plastic, processed, and artificial. Part of that honesty is admitting that Hannah/Lena is a privileged, white, liberal woman who grew up in a bubble, and her friends are just the same. And that's not necessarily flattering. Hanna's character can be quite a spoiled little brat. And her friends are rather snobby too. But that's how it is in the realm. And that's what Lena experienced, that's what she knows. One of the most important rules a writer must follow is WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. She doesn't deserve to be scolded for that. I still think she is a brave woman and artist who is making a huge contribution to feminism by baring her body on TV, engaging in awkward, realistic sex scenes, and exploring themes that our generation can relate to. She doesn't put her all-white cast on a pedestal--those characters are very flawed. Especially Adam, yikes. The show's got guts. And I respect the hell out of it.

What's the dealio with people

What's the dealio with people trying to defend Lena with arguments that she's just 'not used to this' or because she doesn't have a frame of reference yet.

Her show is very non-diverse and she made some stupid comments (and tweets) in the media. Deal with it. I don't see why criticism to her work and the way she expresses herself are 'not done' or not fair. She has to find a way to deal with it and her current attitude is quite childish. And that's OK to point out as far as I am concerned, regardless of whether I like her show or not.

You are right on Katy B. It

You are right on Katy B. It is not always up to us the people we are exposed to and often, once we are adults, when we go places they are not always diverse and it is much harder to make new friends. To go out actively searching for people different than me just so that I can say my circle of friends is diverse is not geniune and would be insulting. This show does not make these people always look good. In actuality sometimes you just downright hate some of them. Great post Katy, you really expressed what it is all about.

criticism about every other damn show about privileged whites???

feels like a waste of breath on someone who is bold enough to avoid appeasing the masses with color blind-we are the world- bullshit... at least she shows priveleged white college grad life in nyc ACCURATELY, at least.

please read
http://feministconscience.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/in-defense-of-girls-a...

a call to lena dunham to write in african-american female characters in the next season who explicitly provoke conversation on the girls about their nyc-white-privelege-lack-of-black-friends-ness-even-though-they-live-in-brooklyn-they-are-the-gentrifying-problem so we can have meaningful conversations and not aimless bitching

yesss ! i ENJOYED reading it

yesss ! i ENJOYED reading it :) thumbs up (y)