Lena Dunham has been anointed as the “voice of a generation.” Despite the fact that she’s largely unknown, the media is gushing over the 26-year-old creator and star of the HBO series Girls and electoral virgin of Barack Obama’s “Your First Time” ad.
Glamour, which named Dunham as a recipient of the magazine’s “2012 Women of the Year” award, calls her one of the most “powerful women in Hollywood.” After an intense publishing bidding war, Random House is paying her a $3.7 million advance to share her wisdom on life. No joke.
The Hollywood Reporter calls her show a “brilliant gem…one of the most original, spot-on, no-missed-steps series in recent memory;” “Raw, audacious, nuanced and richly, often excruciatingly funny,” effuses Time. “Salon” burbles how her writing and acting on Girls is “loving, plausible, generous, nuanced…”
I’ll spare you the rest.
Here’s the deal: If Girls and Lena Dunham represent the voice of young America then all America has a problem. The privileged child of avant-garde artists Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham (whose work the Los Angeles Times described as “Vulgar beyond belief… It’s easy to see why many people find (Dunham’s paintings) offensive, demeaning and disgusting, as well as mean-spirited, malicious and horrific”), daughter Lena is following in her parent’s unconventional footsteps.
After graduating in 2008 from Oberlin College, Dunham wrote and directed the indie film Tiny Furniture about the sex life and woes of an entitled self-absorbed millennial woman living in New York’s artsy Tribeca neighborhood. It won Best Narrative Feature Film at the South by Southwest Film Festival and Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Soon after, HBO took notice and gave Girls the green light, launching the heavily hyped comedy/drama this past April. The premise—the sex lives and woes of entitled self-absorbed millennial women living in Brooklyn, (give her props for originality, the neighborhood has changed). What makes Girls distinctive is its shameless hedonism and narcissistic vulgarity. The liberal glitterati, however, are absolutely rapturous in Dunham’s “honest” and “realistic” portrayal of young urbanites.
Honest and realistic, indeed. The media is lovin’ the series’ graphic displays of masturbation, abortion yuks, crack smoking, borderline date rape, dueling couple doggie sex, or for a real laugh riot, a guy punching and urinating on his girlfriend. Not to sound like a repressed scold, but how is this even remotely entertaining unless you’re seeking a cheap thrill?
…Which leads us to the next question—who is watching Girls anyway? Well, this is where her oh-so-progressive fanbots might be a tad surprised. At the end of the first season, Nielsen reported the primary viewership were males over age 50, carving 22 percent of the audience; females comprised only 44 percent overall. Cheap thrill? Ahem. (Hang on boys, season two is merely a month away).
Beyond the show’s stomach-churning coarseness, Dunham and her cast are unrepresentative of any American demographic unless you include insufferable celebrity progeny: Allison Williams (NBC’s Brian Williams), Jemima Kirke (Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke), and Zosia Mamet (director David Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse). Even the peanut gallery is mildly critical of the lack of ethnic diversity; an oversight I predict will be tidied up by next season. Not surprising, there’s been no similar discomfort regarding Girls’ class elitism.
Ahh, but Lena Dunham need not worry. To borrow the Obama ad analogy, the young wunderkind remains chaste in the hearts and minds of the chattering class, an irreverent model for the progressive era. For some, maybe that is true. For many more of us, she is merely a caricature of a spoiled rich brat, or worse, a 21st century fishwife.
Whatever Ms. Dunham may be, the voice of any generation is not one of them.