The Lena Dunham media love and defensiveness fest continues today with a long, adoring cover story in Entertainment Weekly. Reading it, I can’t help thinking what interviews with her always make me think: for someone who is so smart about some things, Lena Dunham is really dumb about others. Namely: her own privilege, and not sounding like a huge asshole when discussing topics relating to it. You’d think her publicist would have pulled her aside and had a little talk with her by now, but clearly they haven’t, so I am going to do it for her. Here are some things she should be more mindful of in the future.
1. Do not brag about being a person of modest means after you buy an apartment in one of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods for $450,000. Just because you did not spend $5 million doesn’t mean you aren’t still totally ballin’. Congratulations, you are not a wildly extravagant douchenozzle like Nicole Richie, just your run-of-the-mill wealthy New Yorker! Here is your medal.
2. “Wanting some space to think, she went to her family’s [second home] in Cornwall, CT.” It is fine for your family to have a second home in a ritzy part of CT. It is not fine to say that in the same article in which you are trying to pretend you are not inordinately privileged.
3. “Off screen she’s living the famous person lifestyle that Hannah wants but is too lazy to work for.” This might be directed more at journalists, but do not tell me that Lena “worked for” her famous person lifestyle, and then follow it with a sentence about how Zac Posen was her babysitter. Support your thesis!
4. “I did go to private school in New York, and I did know a lot of rich kids, but–” no, stop right there. Anything you say after that “but” will make you sound like a jerk.
5. ECONOMIC CAPITAL IS NOT THE ONLY KIND OF CAPITAL. All the arguments about whether she was born really rich or only kind of rich are really a red herring to this issue. (Although I hold that “getting to live in New York for free” and “never having to support yourself through non-creative means” are two very big things Lena has on her Girls character that are not acknowledged here. Also: the uncontrollable x-factor of talent.) Here are some definitions from French sociologist Pierre Bordieu (via Wikipedia, the authority on everything):
- Social capital: resources based on group membership, relationships, networks of influence and support. Bourdieu described social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.”
- Cultural capital: forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society. Parents provide their children with cultural capital by transmitting the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system.
Going to private school, knowing a lot of rich kids, being raised in a creative environment, and growing up with access to experiences that have been deemed interesting by the people in charge of book deals and TV shows are all advantages Lena Dunham will always have, even if she loses all her money in the stock market. This doesn’t make her a bad person; she has zero control over this. But it would behoove her to stop getting so defensive about it, because then, yes, she will look like a jerk.
She is not unique in this, of course; statistically speaking, almost nobody in America’s increasingly rigid class system gets to live their own personal Horatio Alger story. (If you did, good for you. You are an impressive anomaly!) Opportunities for success are not meted out evenly. I, myself, am not under the delusion that I got to go to a good school and become a writer solely through my own hard work and determination. But it’s also important to understand this about the world, and the sooner Lena Dunham gets over her Dan Humphrey syndrome and realizes that, the better it will be for her image.
Photo: Entertainment Weekly