I don't care about Lena Dunham. I certainly was not in the intended audience for her most popular show, "Girls", and her political opinions are as valuable to me as any other celebrity's. I do think, however, that the phenomenon of Lena Dunham says a lot about the fundamental problems with media in the 21st Century.
Dunking on Dunham is too easy at this point, which is why Allison Davis's new profile of Dunham is palatable reading. She makes an effort to avoid taking the easy route and just bashing the hell out of an easy target, yet she does not avoid giving criticism (listing in excruciating long-form detail all the "whoopsies" the famously clueless and tone-deaf Dunham has had to apologize for) where due. The short version of the piece: Lena Dunham's life seems incredibly sad and it's not entirely clear why anyone, even a New York Social Scene oriented publication, is still talking to or about her.
What is so interesting to me is that Dunham's rise via "Girls" was largely due to the similarity between her and many of the journalists who adored her show when it came out. As products of the same Prep-and-Boarding school East Coast elite club, it was a happy coincidence that the kind of bourgeois, privileged navel-gazing that "Girls" engaged in was highly relatable to the kind of people who were Culture Journalists in the aughts. As journalism stopped paying (except in "exposure") it became a hobby career for the financially independent twenty-somethings, fresh out of Columbia or Smith, who fancied themselves tastemakers.
Because more than enough rich young adults with trust funds were eager to write for Vogue and Rolling Stone and the like, culture journalism led the way in transitioning from professional, paid journalists to a mob of interns and $100-per freelance contributors. Why pay someone when hundreds of 22-26 year olds with good writing skills, fresh out of college, will do it just for the bragging rights?
And so the small, non-diverse, insular group of people that wrote about things like hip new HBO series became the exact demographic that "Girls" would really speak to. It was a show for people, largely but not exclusively women, who could really identify with characters whose biggest problem in life was not liking any of the people they dated. Yes, the show covered issues deeper than that but it is hard to ignore the extent to which it was written by, aimed at, and depicted very privileged twentysomethings with no financial concerns.
And who could appreciate such a show except people who came from the same world, the people who live horrendously expensive lifestyles in Brooklyn and the lower East Side despite having no discernible source of income? It was the perfect overlap. Dunham probably never intended to do so, but she created the perfect show for people like herself…just as those people were becoming the dominant and sometimes only voices in journalism about the media and entertainment.
That, to me, is vastly more interesting to talk about than the endless string of Own Goals and foot-shootings that seem to be Dunham's entire career these days. Nobody associates her name with any specific piece of work anymore; she has become simply a punchline for a certain kind of clueless ex-Prep School trust fund white girl. In Davis's piece, she describes herself as exactly that. I take it as a positive that whereas those qualities were seen as assets a decade ago, today the mass audience looks at it more critically and less favorably.