Friday, November 7, 2014

On Lena Dunham and Mining for Memoir-Worthy Material

By now many of you have heard about the firestorm surrounding Lena Dunham, creator of the television show Girls and lately memoirist as well. The controversy centers on two experiences Dunham relayed in her recently published memoir. One has to do with her exploration of her little sister's vagina (actually, labia - Dunham got this wrong) while the two were playing outside, and with what she found therein (pebbles, and huh? - but whatever). She was seven years old at the time, and her sister one year old. The other is when as a young woman she outed her younger sister to her mother without her sister's knowledge or consent.


I have watched Girls, and though I found it funny, it is one of the more inconsequential shows I've seen. In its way it's a successor to Seinfeld, the self-proclaimed show about nothing. In Girls the concerns of twenty-something females seem microscopic, banal, and entirely relational. I don't think the show does any service to the goals of feminism, but that's not its mission.

It is damn funny in spots, and Dunham herself has a sort of Lucille Ball self-deprecating wackiness that is compelling.

What Dunham sells is the narcissistic quirkiness that is emblematic of her generation. And she sells it well. Quirkiness has value, and appreciating it is the first step in humanizing others, in seeing them as we see ourselves, in developing empathy.

But quirkiness is not a very adult ending place. On a television show that is billed as comedy, fine. In a memoir, even one meant to be funny, it's not quite enough.

I get the sense that Dunham mined her childhood for quirkiness, and there was plenty of material to find. It's not the telling of the episodes that is problematic - all memoirists mine their childhoods for content (and c'mon, all of us explored our nascent sexuality with other children in some form or other) - but the framing of the episodes that is poorly handled. Dunham compares her childhood interest in her sister as that of a stalker in his subject, and needless to say, that is a tone-deaf comparison. She has admitted it and will, I am certain, move forward.

Telling her mother her sister's business was another mistake, albeit a youthful one. But who among us has not made mistakes like this?

Dunham is talented, so talented, but not yet all the way grown-up. She probably should have held off another few years on writing that memoir. When she learns to combine her trademark narcissistic quirkiness with a more inclusive and sophisticated view of the world around her - some might say when she realizes that there is a world around her, but I tend to be more charitable towards her - she will do great things.

Until then, try not to judge her so harshly. The principle difference between you and her is that she's made the choice to throw all her baggage outside on the curb where everyone can spot it and with a hefty dose of prurient interest spend a leisurely afternoon scrutinizing its contents.


Bibliomama said...

I haven't watched Girls, but I've read about the furor caused by the memoir, and I think you're spot-on here. I'd try to add something insightful, but it's early, and my daughter is blaring Dog With a Blog and I just don't think I'm up to it.

Mary Gilmour said...

I guess I am showing my age here, but there are some things that I wish people would not air in public.1357

Nicole said...

I haven't watched Girls, read the memoir, OR read the furor about the memoir. I am out of it.