A while ago the Washington Post ran an article about The National Review‘s weird obsession with Lena Dunham. A friend sent the WP article to me ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/10/17/national-review-is-obsessed-with-lena-dunhams-sex-life-and-body/?tid=hpModule_1f58c93a-8a7a-11e2-98d9-3012c1cd8d1e&hpid=z15 ) and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I have come to several conclusions.
1. My writing a blog about an article about an article (about, more or less, a book) is a little mindboggling. I’d ask when the media themselves became fit matter for the media, but that sounds naive even to me. Even though I do remember very well a time when The Media just covered the news (and/or whatever was in the various genre or general publications–sports, recipes, boobs, poems&stories&cartoons…) and didn’t endlessly cover itself. It’s not that I’m claiming that those were better days–they were pre-feminism and a lot of other things that are good. And I’m not saying that one branch of a cultural apparatus keeping tabs on another branch’s behavior is necessarily a bad thing. But The Meta is not necessarily a good thing either. It both is and is not important that The National Review has a burr up its butt about Lena Dunham, but it’s hardly as important as what’s going on (or, horrifically, not going on there, like the indictment of a murderer in a police uniform) in Ferguson, Missouri, or in Marysville, Washington, or any number of other places around the world, not to mention larger, systemic horrors that should be covered by a supposedly moderate conservative political outfit like The National Review. But we are where and when we are, and, one way or another, keeping tabs on what goes on in culture around us is a way of staying awake. I’m glad enough that the Post called out The National Review, not that I think it’ll do any good. Frankly, if Lena Dunham is the best thing The National Review can think of to put on their cover (oh, yeah, it was a Cover Story) then they’ve gone to crap and should be out of business. Or perhaps, trying to find a way to cover their own increasingly bizzarro Republican Party has just fried their editorial brains over there, so they decided to pick on a Big Bad Liberal WOMAN instead of trying to figure honestly figure out what went wrong with American Conservatism that lead to Reagan and onward (downward) to Cruz and McConnell is more than they can handle by way of honesty, in which case, it’s time for them to go out of print.
2. Lena Dunham is a cultural moment. She is not a movement. She is not a “figure” in the same sense that, say, Katherine Hepburn was. She is not a watershed. She is not an issue. She is not that important. She is a very bright young woman who leveraged her gift for articulating a certain generational zeitgeist along with her elite-prep-school connections and her luck in being born into a foothold in New York to make a television show that is watched by enough people for it to have become a part of the larger American conversation for a while–or maybe for a long while, but it’s way too early to call that. Insofar as she represents her generation’s beginning to push back at the larger culture’s obsession with teeny-tiny-skinny (and therefore fragile-looking) femininity, I think she may turn out to be important. But I see plenty of 20-somethings tottering around on Impossible Heels (footbinding, anyone?) and tottering around in those heels in dresses that they have to keep pulling down in the back to keep their asses covered here on any weekend night at Pretty Good U, so I’m not sure how significant her discourse will turn out to be, though many of those same young women in the heels and itty-bitty bits of lycra do not have what Anna Wintour would consider appropriate bodies, so maybe something is going on here. Dunno. Too soon to tell.
I did like that the WP‘s Tim Herrera noted that Dunham is really only “Hollywood Fat,” which is to say that she is not, in most contexts, fat. She’s also “Hollywood Plain,” which is to say that she looks like most of us rather than like someone in her family was bribing the Genetic Fairy for Impossibly Gorgeous. Her eyes, though–she got some good Genetic Fairy dust there. They’re striking.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that not infrequently women who rise to unusual positions of power are not conventionally “attractive?” Margaret Thatcher. Golda Meir. Madeline Albright. Shonda Rimes. Betty Friedan. Lena Dunham. The possible first woman POTUS. Just as often, women who rise are conventionally attractive, but I suspect there is something to be said for not having it easy, for not immediately attracting attention because of your looks that lends some useful ferocity to the work of the “plain” ones, not that the “beautiful” ones don’t also need to find that ferocity, too, but they don’t have to fight or ignore or negotiate exactly the same set of cultural mines. And I do think it’s a bit easier for women who aren’t shiny to convince the world that they’re smart–a richly ironic function on the Patriarchy’s insistence on seeing beauty as ornamental and therefore insubstantial.
3. This blog is about the business of having bodies, some of which are fat, and how the wide world treats, mistreats, articulates, and lies about bodies, especially fat ones. So the issue that’s important in this whole meta-mess is that TNR is using Lena Dunham’s body as a site for its political wing’s loathing of women generally, young and sexual women in particular, and women who don’t conform to its Sarah-Palin-Fox-Anchor ideal. There’s a word for men who use a woman’s body to act out their aggressions without her consent. And that is, in metaphorical terms perhaps, what Kevin D. Williamson (the author) did in his TNR article, and what The National Review did in using his article as its cover article. We can argue all we want about the extent to which someone who chooses to be (and is openly comfortable with being) naked on cable television has already consented to be “used” in various ways, and that’s an argument that I think Jennifer Lawrence has weighed in on definitively for the moment, and not one this blog is going to take up. But Kevin D. Williamson revealed far more about his kind of icky mind in his article (and, by extension, TNR‘s “mind”) than Dunham ever has in an episode of Girls. I don’t even like or watch Girls (one episode, to be exact). I worry about the increasing hegemony of the NYC-driven cultural scene all across the arts by kids-with-connections-and/or-trust-funds. I’m not completely sure she’s a genuinely remarkable gift beyond her genius at tapping into a chunk of the zeitgeist. Not a fan. I could be, 10 years down the road, but I don’t know yet–not enough evidence. But I am a defender. And, since Mr. Williamson is a person who has tweeted that he thinks women who have abortions should be hanged, I’m inclined to think I wouldn’t want him dating one of my, or anyone else’s daughters or sons. So he and the magazine for which he is a roving correspondent are abusive assholes. And I hope they both go out of print. So much for my contribution to civil discourse this week.