Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Man! There is a lot of hateration for Lena Dunham out there in the world. It's interesting the amount of vitriol she can provoke. I am a little baffled as to why, in truth. I'm guessing that beyond the NYC area, most of America is indifferent to her and her show, Girls. I'm guessing most of the country doesn't check in with Gothamist daily. Probably not? But here in NYC, she definitely occupies a not small amount of brain-space for a particular segment of the population.

In the months preceding the start of Girls, there was a pretty aggressive ad blitz in NYC. Posters in train stations, on buses, at bus stops, billboards, ads on NYCcentric websites like Gawker and New York mag, etc. I remember being sort of aware of the buzz when it started because I had seen and enjoyed her film, Tiny Furniture. Which I was aware of only because I was familiar with her mother's work. Which anyone studying photography in the eighties/nineties would be, because she was part of the big deal Cindy Sherman Metro pictures scene.


I didn't have a huge interest in watching the show. For one thing, we didn't/don't have HBO. For another, I hardly thought I was the demographic the show was aimed at. Lena Dunham was born in 1986, my sophomore year in college. The buzz was that the show was like Sex and the City for Millennials, and I had hated SATC. So I figured, not for me.

But then there was so much freaking talk about it - and the conversations/articles circled around stuff close to my heart, like feminism and personal agency and body acceptance and trying to make art and also make a living, and so on. So, when it became available online I watched. And it hardly seemed like revolutionary stuff. Not exactly reinventing television, or feminism, or anything, really. But it was interesting to me. And funny. And I was surprised to find myself, if not identifying directly, then certainly being able to recall a time in my life that looked and felt a lot like what she was putting on the screen. It felt very. . . familiar.
During the time I was in art school and grad school - 1984 thru 1994 - I seemed to always have some friend going through a performance art thing. And for a girl/female, performance art always seemed to entail nudity in some form. In graduate school, where I studied photography, more than half the grads were doing nude self-portraits. Which is to say, people being naked was just a standing feature of my young adult experience. Additionally, I always had one or two friends who tended to drop their clothes at the drop of a hat, so to speak. Doesn't everybody have that one Naked Friend? The one who wakes up and answers the door half-asleep but fully undressed? Who spontaneously pulls off her shirt on a hot and sweaty dance floor? I definitely did. Which is just to say that Dunham's character's nudity on the show seems all of a piece to me. And I do find it pretty awesome to see a female body onscreen that looks a hell of a lot like the bodies I'm familiar with, including my own.

Additionally, the criticism about the narcissism of the characters seems absurd to me. Of course they're self-obsessed. They're 24 years old. And, yes, they are sort of awful, but people sorting out their shit at that age are often kind of awful. I'm pretty sure I was. I think I can add that everyone I knew at that age was as well. We were all competitive with each other - for admiration, for a professor's attention, for lovers, for opportunities - while also being fiercely loving and supportive of one another. I can remember feeling such intense pressure - to sort it out, to make a plan, to achieve, to not make any missteps, to calculate every decision with an eye towards the future. It was a time of so much fear. There was a line from a poem I had memorized in high school that would constantly recur to me during those years which really encapsulated that fear:

"...that no one, in the end, would grant them time to prosper or endure."

It's part of a poem by Jay Parini titled "After the Summer Lovers" or at least I think so, I can't find it online. At any rate, I remember it because it articulated the strange sense of panic that time held. So many decisions to make and the feeling that the clock was ticking. The irony being, of course, that at that age one's life was just beginning to unfold. I wish someone would have told me to take a deep breath and relax already. That I could trust myself and the world, that everything would unfurl in due course.

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