It seems to me that one problem many millennials have is over sharing. It seems to me that we talk about everything under the sun on Facebook and Twitter. We share photographs of our lunches, dinners, and anything else that is important or completely irrelevant on Instagram. There is no real filter to any of this. If it looks good or sounds, it is good and so it goes. However, there is such a thing as too much information and there is such as the realization that when you’re talking to one person on the internet, you’re talking to thousands. My generation doesn’t understand this and an excellent example of the over sharing that I’m talking about is Lena Dunham.
Lena Dunham calls herself an artist. She believes with every fiber of her being that she is giving us windows into worlds that we have never seen before through her show Girls and her film Tiny Furniture. Both of these works claim to be realistic depictions of life in New York City, but this is not the same New York City that Pete Hamill wrote about in A Drinking Life or Joseph Mitchell in Up in the Old Hotel or Henry Roth in Call It Sleep. It is a New York that is largely based around middle class women in their twenties or thirties who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. The New York of the poor, working class immigrants and those that actually struggle to make a living in the city is nowhere to be seen.
The problem with Lena Dunham’s art is that it is as self-absorbed as its creator. When one watches Tiny Furniture, the viewer often feels like he is watching everything from a distance or through a window. The conversations that the characters have are so trivial and pretentious that the viewer feels excluded because he or she probably doesn’t have the knowledge to understand what the characters are talking about. In effect, Tiny Furniture is so that Dunham can show off all of the wonderful things that happened to her after she came home from college in the same way that a thirteen year old girl would gush about it in a diary.
Dunham claims that her art is realistic, but that couldn’t be further from truth. True realist art shows life in a way that is immediate and visceral. In Life and Fate, Vassily Grossman describes the transport of Jews from a ghetto to Auschwitz in such a way that the reader can hear the women’s cries, smell the excrement on the floor, and watch people falling to the ground from exhaustion. In Germinal, Emile Zola writes about the life of coal miner’s in France. The experience is so real, so harsh, and so graphic that the reader gradually becomes enraged at the lives that these miners lived and wants to do something about it.
Lena Dunham’s art is not realist in that sense. On Girls, her characters lose their jobs, go through unemployment, find jobs, and cheat on their boyfriends. Everything is nice, everyone is well dressed, even the drug addicts are loveable assholes. There is nothing here that speaks to the real life experiences of women outside of Lena Dunham’s own circle. Even the Brooklyn where her characters live is so free of the homeless and the poor, so that it looks like an advertisement for a Los Angeles suburb in the ’50s.
Dunham’s narcissistic navel gazing is most apparent in her main character Hanna. Hanna is a clueless, selfish, entitled nobody that is a probably a poster child for my generation. She is a writer who spends most of her time sleeping around and doing things that have nothing to do with writing. She supposedly matures in every season, but she always self-sabotages it. Her time as an MFA student in Iowa was, perhaps, the only time when the character was given anything remotely resembling emotional depth. There is very little to like about this character. There is very little about this character that puts her on the same level as Charles Dickens’s Esther Summerson in Bleak House or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She’s a spoiled brat who has to deal with her gay dad and her friends and lives life in a Brooklyn that has nothing to do with reality.
Hanna and Dunham are the same person. You cannot pry one away from the other. The character is so self-referential that she almost feels like a self-insert that you can find in the worst possible fanfiction on the internet. Yet it really doesn’t stop there. After all, Dunham has self-sabotaged her own career by saying things and writing things that are so beyond the pale as to be unbelievable.
Take, for example, the infamous incident when she said that she would rather date a dog than her boyfriend or when she put on a Planned Parenthood doctor costume for Halloween. In her own mind, Dunham probably writes all of this off as being witty or with it or trying to make a political statement. However, the truth of the matter is that there is nothing witty, or with it, or even remotely interesting about a grown woman acting like a child simply because she can. You can shock people out of the complacency of their lives without saying comparing your boyfriend to a dog or putting on a Planned Parenthood doctor’s outfit.
Dunham’s art is representative of the vapid culture in which we live in today. People are much more interested in watching Lady Gaga prancing around during half time at the Super Bowl and making memes about the President than sitting down and reading a good old fashioned book. If you like staring at a woman’s naked back side for hours, then I highly recommend that you watch Lena Dunham’s works. However, you should look elsewhere if you want art that enlightens and builds a person up. It still exists, believe me.