Tuesday, January 01, 2019

a defense of Lena Dunham at The Guardian mentions that young people want to be writers when they grow up ...


Why is Dunham really being singled out? It’s not a difficult one to solve. Ask a young person what they want to do when they grow up and the most popular answer is no longer “marine biologist” or “pop star”, but “writer”. You can bet a chunk of those could narrow that down to “comedy writer” or even “having my own six-season sitcom about me and my friends, starring me”. Dunham doesn’t look like an untouchable Hollywood goddess – she looks like most people who want what she has. It makes them wonder: why wasn’t that me?

If that is anything like an accurate indicator o what young people in the UK want for their future careers (and I hope it isn't) then the British empire deserves to implode, not because the arts are necessarily bad but because the arts have historically been the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.  The writer shifts from Dunham to someone who might be regarded as an untouchable Hollywood goddess. 

It is also more fun to bully someone who cares what you think. When Dunham gets pilloried, she will eventually apologise for whatever it is you think she did, something that delights her critics, so much so that one of them made an automatic “Lena Dunham apology generator” on Twitter. This reminds me of Anne Hathaway’s famous haters, spurred on by her hopeful, unsure face at the Oscars and her admission that the abuse does get to her a bit sometimes.

The topic of loathing for Anne Hathaway reminds me that during its 2012 peak it seemed to be an intra-sisterhood hatred.  Maybe there were those men who wanted Jolie to play Selina Kyle but the Hatha-hatred didn't seem to be a characteristic of a boys' club as some general principle.  By contrast, I've read comments from women writing articles for Slate to the effect that Hathaway seemed like the kind of girl who was practicing her acceptance speech in front of a mirror when she was twelve years old.  The proposal that Lena Dunham and Anne Hathaway are actually comparable in interests and aims is not really given.  Writer-actors in comedy and television and actors who tend to be known for dramatic/cinematic roles are not exactly comparable.  

The contrast to Hathaway circa 2012 was Jennifer Lawrence ... whose career overall may turn out to be less distinguished but of whom it was said she seemed more "real"--that was likely an appeal to a sense of the "real" in which Lawrence didn't conduct herself in a way that somehow indicated she was part of some kind of Hollywood royalty class or caste.  These days, with more stories trickling out about how badly people behave behind the scenes ... maybe there's something to be said in favor of Hollywood royalty acting like the prestige comes with some sense of responsibility.  

It also reminds me of the writer Laurie Penny, who tried hard to understand and respond to her critics, which only made things worse. And that these three examples are women is not a coincidence: part of the reason women get more grief on the internet and in the media is because the perpetrators assume they will mind it more.

Dunham has had a great deal of success and if that’s what you want it probably feels better to despise her than to envy her. Perhaps it helps to know you’re making her life a little bit worse than it could be. But there’s danger in this approach too. What if you do make it one day? What’s to stop them coming for you too? [emphasis added]

This seems like a compelling claim to the author but it seems dubious.  The idea tha tit's easier to despise someone than envy them has to presuppose envy.  It doesn't feel better to despise or envy so far as I can tell.  

But having been around for the majority of the rise and fall of what used to be Mars Hill Church and its keynote figure Mark Driscoll the reason I find the closing claim to be so dubious is because over the years I saw the "people find it easier to hate X for success than to admit to envy of X doing so much good in the world" only it wasn't applied to Lena Dunham, it was said of Mark Driscoll.  Surely a grown-up can hold that there is plenty to not particularly admire about both Lena Dunham and Mark Driscoll at the same time.  

Well … the thing about this kind of argument is that within the Christian blogosphere in the United States and Christian media over the last two decades I’ve seen precisely this “it’s easier to despise than be honest and admit to envy” gambit rolled out for guys like Mark Driscoll. 

As the Result Source controversy and the plagiarism controversy erupted between later 2013 and early 2014 a question that had to be addressed by those who would say the Mark Driscoll haters might envy his success was a blunt one, the question was how much of Mark Driscoll's success was built upon his own work as distinct from work that others had done for him; work others did that he'd made use of without full credit given to them; and work that had become popular or well-known on the basis of its own marketplace merits as distinct from market-altering gambits conducted behind the scenes.   This might be another element in which the Hollywood royalty may not be entirely bad if in this limited sense, that you can't flaunt the connections and generations of power if they aren't there.  

If the kinds of stars we're getting are in the Lena Dunham or Louis CK category that might be a reason to ask what it is, exactly, that has made these sorts of people stars.  I'm not interested in making harsh comments about Lena Dunham or Louis CK or even necessarily Mark Driscoll.  These may all be people who were transformed into stars by a star-making machine or network of machines the ethics of which has not been examined as closely, perhaps, as could be.  It must be possible to ask why the star-making machinery of first-world nations picks the stars it picks without having to assume that the stars themselves have to be thought of as automatically all bad or thoroughly worthy in the process.  


chris e said...

"If that is anything like an accurate indicator o what young people in the UK want for their future careers (and I hope it isn't) then the British empire deserves to implode"

The British empire imploded a long time ago, except in the imagination of a few retired colonels in places like Tunbridge Wells.

In any case, I'm not sure 'writer' is any better/worse than 'investment banker', or - going back a few decades - 'rock star'.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

True, writer isn't any better than investment banker or rock star as desired careers go.

I've mentioned that I'm thinking high art is inseparable from imperialism, which is inseparable from stable empires. All three of those lines of work seem like they fit into what a contributor at ribbon farm described as "conspicuous production" rather than the boring scut work of doing things that allows regional economies to actually function (the author used the bard vs the chimney sweep comparison). Writers, investment bankers and rock stars all have bard-style jobs.

Cal of Chelcice said...

"The British empire imploded a long time ago, except in the imagination of a few retired colonels in places like Tunbridge Wells."

That's sort of accurate. It all depends on what you mean by empire and who you imagine its chief agents were. If you think the empire was red-coats, a unionjack in the ground, and the mass demonstrations Tories like to fan up, then yes, it was never much of anything, and it has been long dead, most poignantly demonstrated in the Suez Crisis.

However if the empire was the financial-services establishment in the City, composed of a lorldly banker caste and all of its dependents, then the empire never really collapsed, but made a lateral move into and through the Americans.

And this second idea is correct. Cain and Hopkins' book "British Imperialism" makes this case pretty extensively and intensively, though less about the shift into the US. But it's not for nothing that US and UK capital are birds of a feather, and London and NYC have a much closer connection than NYC and Topeka, Kansas.

Hobbes once said that the Roman Catholic Church was the ghost of the empire ruling from its grave. The British Empire, as a monopolistic system of global financial dominion beginning in 1688, is now in a similar state. It's still quite powerful; London is still a seat of global power.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

to bring things around back to my main polemical point in this post, a Lena Dunham and a Mark Driscoll seem of a piece. There are people who might want to have a Dunham style career and as Driscoll's homiletic tropes went, a Lena Dunham might not be so different from a Mark Driscoll as figures in entertainment go ... even if the entertainment isn't so much stand-up as stand-up preaching. Having seen a few years' worth of defense of Driscoll in the way of "people would rather openly despise him than admit they envy his success" I have gotten jaded by this gambit when it's applied to other celebrities. The Guardian contributor could have written "people find it easier to hate X than envy X's success" about Adam Sandler, for instance, and the core nature of the assertion would be more or less the same (not that I can think of anyone trying to make that defense of Sandler now).

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Cal, took a bit to spot your comment in moderation, so it shows up before my other reply to chris e.

I should probably also clarify that I define the British empire as the financial-services/fractional reserve banking/bureaucratic empire.

chris e said...

Well, the point was more 'since when have young people wanting to do X being symptomatic of anything ?', that's a kind of 'old man shouts at cloud' argument.

Yeah, sure I'll grant you a financial services empire - though it's somewhat disjoint from any notion of nation state, and the people who wanted to go into banking where the steerage and engineering class of that ship.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Well, having gone twenty years never able to get work in journalism after getting a journalism degree I'd say it's less "old man shouts at cloud" and more middle aged man who discovered how improbable it really is in the real world to land regular rent-paying work as a writer. :)

My main point is that people like Dunham being defended on the basis of assertions that haters gonna hate rather than admit they envy X's success is the stuff I saw Driscoll fans doing over the previous decades so when it gets deployed on behalf of Dunham I think it's a weak case. I suspect Dunham does more of her own writing, naturally. I'm sure that no docent style group was consulted for scripting episodes of Girls.