Generation(s) Whine: Self-righteous old ladies, ‘Lena Dunham’ & the feminati.

Phewf. That’s a loadful to be thinking about, but I am, and they’re all tenuously connected, so I thought hey why not dump them all in the same blog-post. I know: very risqué (but I’m radical like that). Also the word ‘feminati’, though a neologism, sounds amazingly cool and sinister and suggests a Dan Brown-novelesque feminist conspiracy, so I have to use it ASAP. The feminati are out there. Amongst us. Watching us. Deconstructing the interpellated patriarchal subject…..

So a friend thought fit to send me a link to this article yesterday (probably it does nothing more than take a jibe at the ‘liberal-arts hippy type’ he thinks I am): it’s called ‘Generation Whine’, and it’s about ‘Self-pitying twentysomethings and the Boomers who made them’. Its author, a woman called Laura Bennett, doesn’t like the fact that there are so many blogs and Tumblrs and websites generally proclaiming that it sucks to leave university and enter a world in which jobs either provide no satisfaction, stifle artistic ambitions, or simply don’t exist. As one of these ‘narcissistic’, ‘angsty’, ‘self-obsessed’ people who is ‘oblivious to privilege’ and existing wastefully in a ‘self-absorbed twentysomethingdom’, angry at the world for forcing me to give up my liberal artistic pretensions in the name of actual work, naturally my first response is to take to my blog and whine about this woman. Like no seriously. How dare she. Doesn’t she know how hard it is not having a job and knowing that like damned capitalism is at the root of all this evil (PS Occupy Wall Street now plzkthx).

But no: sarcasm aside, the article says nothing to me about anything. Bennett’s disdain for a very specific ‘hipster’ type is so palpable I could choke on it – she sneers at some book or another for its interviewed 20somethings being a “broke, aimless vegan baker”… “a 29-year-old yoga instructor”… etc etc. But she does a mass disservice to 20somethings when she herself takes these people as representative of the demographic; we are not all, like Hannah Horvath in Lena Dunham’s TV series Girls, desperate to be artists in a Parisian garrett like Flaubert (I can’t fault the fact that Bennett’s article begins with a denunciation of Girls’ preposterousness at times; and you see – the connections become evident).

I don’t know anybody who dreams thus, to exist peacefully in society with a comfortably-monied career as an artist, and the impossibility of doing so is certainly not unique to 2012. Art unfortunately grows (and sometimes exists) in the fringes of life/society, and I wouldn’t dispute this. (I do resent the rhetoric of ‘use’ which claims that studying the Arts or Humanities is ‘less useful’ than other stuff, because as the esteemed Dr. Johnson from whom this blog steals its name once said — a quote I found in my dad’s book of aphorisms yesterday! — “all knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not”). What I do know (and this is not meant to be representative either, but it is out there) are graduates who are walking dogs to earn cash. Which does suck, whatever Bennett may say about it: that’s not what one gets £10K into debt for (in student loans) and a small part of me believes that everybody deserves more. A lot aren’t getting it right now, for reasons complex and multifarious. (It’s also a small minority, and it’s probably only temporary – but still!). Bennett not only doesn’t really offer anything fruitful or productive besides the criticism of ‘self-absorption’ (which is a shame, because no doubt self-absorption and some very simplified ‘BLAME THE CAPITALISTS’ sentiments do abound), but she also samples a very select, primarily Brooklyn-based/New-Yorker/American few, and uses it to roundly denounce 20something attitudes everywhere. No thanks. Go away. Just another article from Generation Whine these kids don’t know how easy they have it now stop complaining-type thing?

(Or maybe – and I fully allow for this possibility – I’m just piqued because I seem to belong to the ‘whiny’ demographic she denounces. Darn you! I’ma take you down on my blog!)

* * *

 But Girls. GOSH. I’ve been meaning to blog about this one for an age but somehow time hath been scarce. Well. I first encountered Lena Dunham in the pages of the New Yorker; she’d written a ‘personal story’ piece about…well, an ex-boyfriend. They were dating and then they weren’t, or so the story goes. Nothing extraordinary. But then suddenly her name started coming up everywhere, in relation to this TV series that’s apparently awesome and like representative of a generation (ours/mine, I do believe the consensus is) and so feministic (!? another neologism?); and finally last week the news about her hit a right frenzy, when it emerged that she’d signed a book deal with Random House worth more than $3.5 million. That is really wow, since she is no Susan Sontag yet, and so I thought OK since Boardwalk Empire only comes out once a week let me check out Girls!

I can definitely see why people are raving about it, & in this I completely concur with Bennett above – it provides an image of ‘the youth’ (!?!?! awful phrase) as the media proliferates/constructs it, as the media/world wants it, almost. Artistic 20somethings who are awfully stifled by the recession and the capitalist world in which you either go corporate or go home (or go barista; the friendly alternative alternative). Dunham toes the line in this respect. I found myself sneakily identifying with it at first too – I mean, how can I resist when Hannah (the main character played by Dunham, who is herself a superwoman of sorts, writing, directing, producing, and acting all in this one show!) depresses over the fact that nobody wants to hire a “literature major”? Or her utter astonishment at the fact that her parents want to stop supporting her in “this economic climate?” (This question is rendered slightly more preposterous, though, by the fact that her parents have apparently supported her for two years already.)

But there unfortunately my empathy with, interest in, and enjoyment of this series stops. I’m not sure why it’s so popular. I don’t really get the humour (this is probably just me); I don’t particularly like any of the characters; and Dunham’s storyline seems to compress a plethora of repetitive New Yorker short stories (sex = art = freedom = female liberation) into each episode. (Should have guessed, remembering where I encountered her first!) This is just something I personally don’t agree with/find interesting, and again – it’s probably just me, but there you are. I have to confess; I’ve only watched up to Ep. 4 so far, so this is a flawed judgement arising from partial knowledge probably, but – I also don’t really get the ‘feminist’ hype about the show. Is it because girls actually dare utter the word ‘vagina’ on prime-time TV — multiple times? (I do get and admire the abortion thing which, given GOP stances, is highly relevant to America right now, although I thought – as far as TV & storyline goes – it was just a bit bland, cursory, not an event in its own right so much as something that just happens for the sake of the statement.) I don’t get or like the hype/horror expressed at being a ‘virgin’ (maybe I misunderstand what was being expressed in this instance, but – surely liberation means people can make whatever sexual choice they want, with none of it needing to be stigmatized?) I dunno. I just can’t help comparing this to the amazingness which is Boardwalk Empire, which makes such beautiful viewing, has such an interesting plot/storylines, and is actually quite feministic, albeit in a historical sense (which might be easier to do, suffrage and all that). I don’t think aesthetic merit needs to be sacrificed in favour of ideological/political proclamations. I think often (not just in Girls) – it is. [Belated edit: I have to clarify that when I say ‘aesthetic merit’ here, I don’t mean the ‘girls’ themselves – having read around the show a bit more, I see that it’s being hailed as ‘feminist’ because of thwarting conventional female-body stereotypes & stuff, which it does and which is great. I meant rather its artistic integrity in the sense of being a good story/plot/show with well-developed characters who are not perpetually pouting and scowling at the awfulness of their sex lives, because quite frankly that’s 90% of what I saw and I can’t help thinking there has to be something more.]

What is interesting about all the feminist hype behind Dunham’s show, though, is this very weird and odd debate I stumbled upon on Twitter and then on blogs/The Guardian/Tumblr/other. Apparently Dunham’s been criticized for not having any racial diversity in her show. Apparently someone tweeted at famed comedienne-feminist Caitlin Moran about whether she asked Dunham about this when interviewing her. Apparently she tweeted back saying, “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit aboutit [sic]”. Apparently the online feminati fell into disorder and chaos, falling upon one other like angry savages and thereby failing to adhere to the actually important task at hand — which is of course undermining patriarchy and not each other. To be divided is to be conquered, after all; and feminist v. feminist over the issue of feminist #3 just leaves the door wide open for patriarchy to come in and WIN — oh… but wait… you mean feminism has room, time, space, energy enough to concentrate on all issues, both ‘noble’ and ‘lesser’, as it were, and even concentrate on its own possible monolithic nature and rectify its own flaws? Surely not.

I don’t agree with criticisms about Girls needing more racial diversity. It is simply not something to be forced: diversity in media representations should be honest and of its own accord; otherwise it’s just condescension, ‘tokenism’, a bone thrown to a dog-type thing. Sometimes it’s just not relevant to the show, or it’s inappropriate to the setting. I do agree with observations that point out the lack of racial diversity in not only Girls, but many, many, many other TV shows besides, because this is something which deserves noting and future correction, if not endless criticism/rampant condemnation. Obviously you can’t homogenize about TV shows; the author of this excellent piece on the whole Caitlin Moran, self-proclaimed Feminist, doesn’t give a shit ‘aboutit’?!?!?!‘ debacle points out, after all, that Brooklyn (where the girls of Girls reside) is a very ethnically mixed part of NY so why should it lack in diversity? She’s got a point. Well but – others are equally quick to point out, and they’ve all got points too – it’s based on Lena Dunham’s life, right? So she can only write about what she knows and about her experiences, and you can’t expect her experiences to necessarily include racial diversity in all its multiplicity. CORRECT. You can’t. All you can do is lament the fact that there isn’t more intermingling in the world (something that’s very, very, very weird to me, as I’ve always had friends from just about every place and corner of the world! – one of the benefits of education in an international school, I think), and extrapolate what a noticeable lack or other tells you about Dunham’s life (perhaps) or about the artsy-hipster 20somethings she’s writing about (perhaps). I don’t really know if I’m expressing myself on this issue coherently enough, but this person certainly does so I am going to steal her wonderful words & paste them here:

For me, Girls is not necessarily racist, even if Dunham’s image of Brooklyn (which had a 65 percent non-white population at the time of the 2010 census, btw) is entirely Caucasian. This is because the racial landscape becomes a tacit comment on the characters – i.e. that these are girls who live abnormally sheltered lives.

I don’t think this is a question (“is Girls racist?”) that ought even be posed, let alone debated. It simply isn’t. A lack of racial diversity in one’s show can suggest a narrow and somewhat uniform set of acquaintances, a privileged/racially-sheltered sort of life, a WASPy sort of upbringing etc (any host of things): but it does not, in Girls or anywhere else, ever become ‘racism’.

(Do I think Caitlin Moran was dumb to say what she did? Yes, absolutely. It’s fine if she considers the question a non-issue in Dunham’s case – I do too – but to be so rude and so completely dismissive about it when you know yourself – nay, consider yourself – to be a publicly feminist voice speaking ‘for’, ‘to’, ‘about’ women and sexuality, is just dumb. It may not be an issue here, but it can be and is an issue in many other respects. You’re not a non-entity on some obscure corner of the web, you’re a renowned and highly respected celebritytypething, so saying stuff like that is just…well, dumb. And unnecessarily mean.)

I am going to shut up now, and say – well, the couple of pieces I linked regarding the whole Moran/Dunham/Girls debate were primarily the point of this ramble. (I know: why didn’t I just link the damn things, right?) They were intelligent, informative, and they got me thinking about things I have never really thought about before. I recommend them to everybody :) I am sorry to have word-vomited. I should also put – as a fearful disclaimer – that I don’t like blogging about feministic issues that polarize so very much, because they usually demand a more nuanced and subtle stance that I usually take, and also because the more I read and learn, the faster I modify my owns views. It’s a fear of committal, because it is so likely that I will return to things I say in a few months and disagree with/condemn myself for saying it. But never mind. Bear with me, and I am always interested in hearing thoughts concurring/disagreeing/modifying/correcting (though not hateful or bilious). SO: thoughts?

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