Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lena Dunham's rubber reality check—UPDATED

Photo: Dianna E. Anderson.
It used to be a "tell-all autobiography" told everything about people other than the author; the author himself would confess to a couple of juicy sins here and there, and would immediately return to dishing the dirt on other Famous Figures. But even the most jaded, libertine celebrity kept some secrets, understanding that there would be some things that would alienate the fans.

The point of an autobiography, after all, is to brag on yourself. The subtitle of every autobiography ought to read "How I Made It to the Top, and All My Glorious Achievements". In the case of the tell-all, it should read "How I Made It to the Top, All My Glorious Achievements, and Some of the Wild Bacchanalian Adventures I Had Along the Way".

I haven't forgotten the subdivision of autobiography that comes closer to the Confessions of St. Augustine: "How I Got to Be So F**ked Up, and How I'm Recovering". Now, in this kind of book, you can blame your mother, your father, yourself, the Church, the State, society, blah blah blah; the point is, though, you recognize that being f**ked up isn't a good thing.

Unless you're Lena Dunham. Then you confess to doing all sorts of things to and with your baby sister that are creepy even for a seven-year-old, compare your behavior to that of a sexual predator, then get upset — in her own words, go into a "rage spiral" — when people accuse you of having molested said baby sister. This isn't just classic narcissist behavior; this is a reality check that failed.

The original accusation came from Kevin D. Williamson of National Review Online, who wrote a three-page review of Not That Kind of Girl. Now, if you read the whole article, Williamson tells us that Dunham herself claims she isn't a reliable storyteller; so you don't know how much of her book is her true story, how much is someone else's story that she made her own, and how much is s**t she made up. (This becomes a crucial question when, in one chapter, she uses third parties to semi-accuse a Republican of maybe raping her [Maybe? That's how puzzling the account is.] while she was a student at Oberlin.) You'd think, therefore, that there's a possibility her sexual precocity is a figment of her imagination, or a story told to her by a third party.

Except that her sister, who self-identifies as "queer" (read: suffering from gender-identity disorder, but okay with it), doesn't exactly deny Lena's semi-incestuous tales. Saith the deponent, Grace Dunham, on Twitter: "heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others 'normal'; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that. ... As a queer person: i'm committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful."

In other words, not only is Grace rhetorically stuck somewhere back in the Nixon Administration, if not earlier, she's dismissed the entire profession of psychiatry as irrelevant: people themselves should decide if their mental health has been damaged or not. (Then again, considering how often Lena says she was sent to therapy for minor disciplinary problems, one wonders how much mental health professionals contributed to the girls' damage.) Since Grace's ideology has dismissed reality as a social construct, she can't say what sanity is without contradicting herself; her narrative can be no more trustworthy than her sister's.

Williams' analysis of the Dunham sisters' upbringing as reported in Not That Kind of Girl now looks more credible:

If there is such a thing as actually abusing a child through excessive generosity and overindulgence, then Lena Dunham’s parents are child abusers. Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter noted for his primitive brand of highbrow pornography, his canvases anchored by puffy neon-pink labia; her photographer mother filled the family home with nude pictures of herself, “legs spread defiantly.” Self-styled radicals from old money, they were not the sort of people inclined to enforce even the most lax of boundaries. ...

That Dunham’s parents tolerated [Lena's protosexual touching of Grace] is completely in character with the portrait of them she offers. Experiencing some very common problems with the childhood fear of going to bed alone, young Lena invades her parents’ bedroom every morning at 1 a.m., evicting her father from the bed, “probably my way of making sure my parents didn’t ever have sex again.” Her father eventually reaches a strange and broken-down compromise with her: She goes to bed at 9 p.m., and he wakes every morning at 3 a.m. to carry her into his bedroom. These shenanigans went on for twelve years. Getting up in the middle of the night for a newborn is one thing; getting up in the middle of the night, every night, for an adolescent is a different class of thing. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

It's no wonder neither she nor her sister sees anything eerie or disturbing in her description of their early relationship — they were raised by parents who had consciously rejected, probably as bourgeois or oppressive, much of what little normality they could provide their children, and who had drenched their home environment in an unhealthy obsession with female genitalia. And because they were comfortably ensconced in the 1%, Mr. and Mrs. Dunham never needed to fear the intrusion of social workers or Child Protective Services. Ah, the privileges of wealth — but no one will ever say to the Dunham girls, "Check your privilege!"

Yes, I'm well aware that children do some odd things out of curiosity that would — or at least should — strike us as bizarre if they were done by an adult. But this isn't mere pearls-clutching by an uptight Christian male; for one thing, uptight Christian males don't wear pearls. Nor is it a fastidious complaint that Dunham didn't have the good taste to keep these particular tidbits to herself.

Rather, Dunham's need to wrap her life story in layers of unreality, to first impeach her own credibility and then tell tales that verge on erotic fantasy in what's supposed to be a biography, would almost seem to be a complex prank — semi-autobiographical fiction, in the manner of Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, except that Fisher's execution was better. Yet her outrage and assumption of victimhood — "I told a story about being a weird 7 year old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I'd rather not hear." — when taken in conjunction with the LGBT-boilerplate non-denial from her sister, contradicts the "hoax" theory. She meant everything she said, even if she isn't sure what really happened or who it happened to.

The most disturbing thing of all is how many of the leftist élite are willing to give it a pass, to celebrate her story as that of a prophetic voice, rather than that of a borderline personality. The most probable explanation for their enthusiastic applause is that, in regarding this eccentric child of privilege, they look past the damaged psyche to see something truly special and admirable: themselves. Dunham isn't just a narcissist but a mirror for other narcissists; and the reflection she gives back to them is not just non-judgmental but flattering, albeit two-dimensional and illusory.
Not only do I wonder how many have read the book; I wonder how many who have read the book have read the book. I wonder how many people will scream in my combox, "HAVE YOU READ THE BOOK!?"; I wonder how many who will scream, "HAVE YOU READ THE BOOK!?", have read the book themselves, and how many will scream because "who needs to read the freakin' book? It's Lena Dunham, feminist icon, pro-choice advocate extraordinaire! How dare you attack her, you stuck-up prig?!"

In one tweet, "Pregnant Lady." plays the race card: "Lena Dunham molested her sister. In her book she calls it curiosity. There is no outrage because, white woman." 

No, no, my friend — no outrage because New York "limousine liberal"; no outrage because heroine of a silly, self-absorbed postmodern left too long severed from their intellectual roots to be authentically self-critical, and who have subsisted for years on hand-me-down stereotypes, manufactured outrage and perpetual whining: the "flower children" finally become senescent, even senile.

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.
—Mark Twain

UPDATE: November 8, 2014

In New Republic, James Wolcott skewers Not That Kind of Girl with a beautifully written irony — you actually think he likes and sympathizes with her, which makes the takedown so deftly done. By contrast, Rod Dreher's post in American Conservative is shorter than mine, and considerably less charitable. Not saying my writing is particularly tasty, but Dreher almost phoned this one in. [H/T to The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named!]