YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 29, 2012

GIRLS, or, the new lost generation

Lena as shown by her mom

If you have time, watch http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/video/lena-dunham-first-season-girls-338688.

HBO’s new series, GIRLS, has been nominated for three Emmy awards. In this blog, I raise some questions about the writing and what it tells us about the so-called Millennial generation (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y) . They remind me of the decadent world made familiar to us by Ernest Hemingway in his first novel The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Lena Dunham comes out of the “indy” film world, having made a film entitled Tiny Furniture, which seems to refer to her artist mother’s work. (Dunham’s mother is Laurie Simmons, while her father is the well-known artist Carroll Dunham.  See http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=1652.) I have now seen that first film, and was simply appalled by its defense of an entitled generation, demanding and yet submissive to male desire, literally taking it in the ass.

I must say that my resistance to this set of seemingly aimless and apolitical young women as depicted on HBO, is partly shaped by the high seriousness of my own generation, for we were the offspring of fathers and mothers who were one way or another shaped by the second world war, and before that, the Great Depression. Hence my impatience with those young people who grew up in comparative affluence, and without a compulsory draft or the Viet Nam war that politicized the Baby Boomer generation, leading to permanent political changes in our country, and moving the Democratic Party sharply to the Left. I can’t understand why the four girls are not talking about important books, or feminism, or the civil rights movement, let alone engaging US foreign policy. Their attention is all on sex and relationships, an attention that is also typical of the touchy-feely ideology promoted in progressive schools and in the media today. (It must be said that many feminist artists of the 1970s focused on sexuality.)

Lena Dunham has been praised mightily by John Podhoretz in the pages of The Weekly Standard (see http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/girls-are-all-right_647320.html?nopager=1.). He thinks that she is a marvel of accomplishment in her generation, while I see her and the three others as overly self-absorbed. And to be fair, the script does allow for such a view, to her credit. And as one of my children observed, she makes herself vulnerable in a way that is rare for any of us.

Many have enjoyed these ten episodes, and as I continued to watch them, I must admit to being drawn into their world. But I still question two things:

  1. The “indie” film world produced Lena Dunham. But what does “independence” signify to the young filmmakers who send their work to Sundance and similar showcases for the    more “spiritual” film auteurs? Much of what I have seen of their work is boring, horribly written and, as we used to say on the left, “self-indulgent.”  The main virtue, as I read the situation, is the “independence” from [Jew-ridden, Big Money] Hollywood. One thinks of “community radio”, similarly liberated from ‘corporate greed’.

2.Lena Dunham was educated at progressive Oberlin, and before that, in a progressive artsy school, St. Anne’s in Brooklyn. She must have been exposed to the “postmodern” world of academe that touted transgressiveness as the standard for high art or moral seriousness. In other words, a true rebel once again shouted “Merdre” at the ['Jewified'] bourgeoisie (see Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi). This cri de coeur is old and tired, and in a world where the vanguard has yielded to primitivism, minimalism, and other forms of moral suicide masquerading as self-sacrifice, or a leap into the unknown, or worse, pseudo-solidarity with the oppressed, I wonder what mores remain to be flouted? For more on this theme, see http://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/.

Lena’s father

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13 Comments »

  1. My point is that too often, 2nd wave feminists hardly acknowledge the existence of the younger feminists, and seem to look down upon us.

    Comment by sarah L — May 29, 2013 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

    • I have seen no evidence that you understand feminism. The way that the second wave turned out was hardly good for women. Read Phyllis Chesler for someone who is worth your admiration.

      Comment by clarespark — May 29, 2013 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  2. I am not of fan of the show Girls, but for the sake of conversation I am going to bring these thoughts to the table.
    1. Dunham is a 22 year old writer, a very very young woman, whose talent at writing comedy brought her to THE place most coveted by screenwriters everywhere, having her own show on HBO. With this fact only, she is a great role model to the girls of her generation, a leader, a boss, an executive, and an artist, who set goals for herself and achieved them successfully, in an industry still lead by much older men. What Lena Dunham does is comedy writing, and she does fine at it. She does not pretend to be an activist, or the voice of a generation, and she doesn’t have to.
    2. I am fine with comparing the Y’ers with their counterparts, and Lena Dunham’s counterpart, an older, female HBO writer would be Candace Bushnell, of Sex and The City . No Feminine mystique there either! The main character, Carrie Bradshaw, was obsessed with designers’ clothes, a woman well in her thirties whose only concerned were men and shoes. She was a writer, too, just like Girls’ main character, except that she had a safe gig writing a silly column, which could afford her a closet full of $600 pairs of Manolo Blahnik. I’ll watch Girls any day before I have to torture myself with the ridicule of this obnoxious, poorly written, demeaning series.
    3. Lastly, and with no offense at all. I find your generation (my mother’s) really quick to criticize the younger ladies. Granted, we did not have to burn our bras, and we were given a fairer world than you were, to some extent. However, we’ve grown up in a grim, hopeless place. Where you had free love, we had AIDS; you guys experimented with drugs, we got the crack pandemic, I’m not going to go on and on, I’m sure you get the picture. We do, however, have our fair share of activists, and feminists, and I invite you to check out the work of Rebbeca Walker, if you don’t already know about her, the Slutwalk marches, and the third wave feminists Riot Grrrls. They are not millenials, they are Xers like me, but I’m sure the younger girls will pick up right after us.
    I will leave you with 2 quotes that I Googled, because that’s how we do it( ;))
    In an essay entitled “Generations, Academic Feminists in dialogue” Diane Elam writes:
    This problem manifests itself when senior feminists insist that junior feminists be good daughters, defending the same kind of feminism their mothers advocated. Questions and criticisms are allowed, but only if they proceed from the approved brand of feminism. Daughters are not allowed to invent new ways of thinking and doing feminism for themselves; feminists’ politics should take the same shape that it has always assumed.

    And one from Rebecca Walker:

    Young Women feminists find themselves watching their speech and tone in their works so as not to upset their elder feminist mothers. There is a definite gap among feminists who consider themselves to be second-wave and those who would label themselves as third-wave. Although, the age criteria for second-wave feminists and third-wave feminists is murky, younger feminists definitely have a hard time proving themselves worthy as feminist scholars and activists.

    Looking forward to reading your answer!

    Comment by sarah L — May 29, 2013 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

    • You are correct to mock Sex and the City, a much-watched and stupid show. But to treat second wave feminists as the only model for your generation is to show ignorance of history. The first wave of feminism rolled in during the 19th century, and these “Victorian” ladies worked hard under difficult conditions to achieve abolition, women’s suffrage, and temperance among their attempts to solve other urban problems. The second wave feminists were easily co-opted by the anti-imperialist Left and did not consider the plight of women in Third World countries. They bore little resemblance to their forebears, and capitulated to leftist men’s desire for irresponsible, promiscuous sex. Lena Dunham’s work follows these values. Try some of these blogs for a more voluminous response to your interesting comment. http://clarespark.com/2012/03/19/links-to-feminist-blogs/.

      Comment by clarespark — May 29, 2013 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

      • “They bore little resemblance to their forebears, and capitulated to leftist men’s desire for irresponsible, promiscuous sex.”

        This seems like a rather cartoonish caricature designed to villianize 1960s leftists. You don’t think the invention of effective birth control might have had something to do with the “sexual liberation” of the 1960s (and current sexual mores as depicted on “Girls”)? Promiscuous sex is “irresponsible” primarily because it can lead to pregnancy, without that element I would say it’s only irresponsible if it’s likely to lead to bad psychological fallout, which really depends on the psychology of the individuals involved (if one sees the sex as entirely casual and the other sees it as something more, for example). Your summary seems to take a rather Victorian view on female sexuality that denies women any real sexual agency and suggests that if a women is having promiscuous sex, it must be solely due to male pressure rather than her own desires. Also, if you think these changes are all the fault of the “anti-imperialist Left”, how would you explain that similar sexual revolutions have taken place in many other countries since the introduction of effective birth control (along with greater freedom of women in terms of jobs and such)? Look at the article at the sexual revolution in Iran http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/06/iran-is-in-the-throes-of-an-unprecedented-sexual-revolution.html for example, or for more detail on parallel trends in multiple countries and cultures that parallel what happened in the U.S. since the 60s, see Francis Fukuyama’s “The Great Disruption”.

        Comment by Jesse M. — June 4, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

      • I don’t have to “villainize” New Leftists of whatever decade. Their actions speak for themselves. Show me evidence that the battle of the sexes has been called to a halt. Most women are expected to live to please men, while women of the second wave of feminism made their struggle all about sex and anti-imperialism, following the lead of male leftists. I am not in the anti-Sex League. I am not a leftist but a feminist who knows the generation I wrote about up close and personal. There is no way to mix these categories–leftism and feminism, up. As for the pill, it was not without side effects and was dropped by gynecologists after a while.

        Comment by clarespark — June 4, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

      • “Show me evidence that the battle of the sexes has been called to a halt.”

        I never claimed anything of the sort, I just suggested that in the specific case of changing attitudes towards casual sex, it looks like rather cartoonish villainization to say that this is simply a matter of evil leftists men conning women into it, as if no woman could have any desire for sex in the absence of True Love. I offered an alternative hypothesis–that the change has more to do with the introduction of effective birth control, perhaps along with a general increase in womens’ ability to choose their own lifestyle (and no longer facing the same sort of social ostracism for straying from narrow conceptions of how a woman is “supposed” to behave…increased secularization and urbanization/cosmopolitanism might have something to do with it too)–and pointed to some evidence that the change cannot be explained in terms that are specific to U.S. politics (or even Western politics) since we see similar changes in attitudes towards sex across many different cultures. You didn’t even attempt to address either the hypothesis or the evidence–do you have some evidence of your own you can point to that suggests it’s purely a matter of leftist men convincing women to change their attitudes towards sex (it might help if you would point to some specific examples rather than speaking in vague generalities like “their actions speak for themselves”), or is it just that this is a narrative you find appealing because it allows you to demonize your leftist “enemies”?

        Comment by Jesse M. — June 4, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

      • You can’t prove your case, other than accusing me of attacking my “leftist ‘enemies.'” If my feminism makes me an enemy to leftist males, so be it. I rather thought that my Ph.D., awarded by a strongly left-wing reading committee should have immunized me against such ad hominem attacks.

        Comment by clarespark — June 4, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

  3. Every valid pont you wished to make got undone by “Jew-ridden.” Racism makes me physically ill. Please reflect on yourself.

    Comment by Eli Vogel — December 12, 2012 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

    • I reread the blog, Eli Vogel, and can’t imagine where you found the phrase “Jew-ridden”. I did put inverted commas just now around ‘Jewified’ so as not to confuse anyone. Most of this website is devoted to a critique of antisemitism, misogyny, and other repulsive social movements. I regret the confusion. It may be that “Eli Vogel” is a nom de guerre for musician Natti Vogel. He gave an incorrect email address in any case. Reflect, Vogel-person on your conduct.

      Comment by clarespark — December 12, 2012 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  4. [...] He was in the eternal grip of Mother, revealed now as Femme Fatale. (For more on this theme see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/. The Mother figure in Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is no [...]

    Pingback by The Sexual Revolution (2) « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 30, 2012 @ 11:55 pm | Reply


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