Whether you consider Lena Dunham a misunderstood soul or an awful sociopath, there’s new info in New York Magazine this week to validate your opinion. Profile writer Allison P. Davis keeps her relentlessly oversharing subject at arm’s length while erring on the side of sympathy. As celebrity journalism goes, it’s a heckuva achievement.
But it’s got almost nothing to do with television. Or writing. Or acting.
Normally when a famous person grants a reporter the pile of time necessary for a feature article of this scale, it’s done in the interest of promoting a project. If she wanted, Dunham probably could’ve kept her conversations with Davis zeroed in on Camping, a new, critically-panned series she co-created with her Girls collaborator Jenni Konner. But she didn’t do that.
Instead, Dunham delves into her kinda brutal-sounding physical condition. She’s been hampered by Klonopin addiction, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis. (“The doctor said he’d never seen a uterus as misshapen as mine!” she says, reflecting on a recent surgery.) She addresses rumors of rampant animal mistreatment. (“I am a very committed pet owner…Ask anybody who works with me on a pet level.”) Then there’s the end of her six-year romance with singer-songwriter Jack Antonoff. And additionally, Dunham expresses some regrets about defending an accused rapist (who happened to be her friend and colleague) in the midst of #MeToo upheaval.
This much focus on the personal over the professional makes sense for reality stars whose meticulously-edited lives and creative output are one in the same. But contrary to what her critics may believe, and perhaps what Dunham wants us to believe, her art isn’t really all about her.
Some of it—her 2010 breakout movie Tiny Furniture and, because it’s a memoir, her 2014 memoir Not That Kind Of Girl—clearly is. But Girls is much more concerned with a place and time than any specific denizen of Dunham and Konner’s Brooklyn. Hannah Horvath, Dunham’s character, may be based on the creator-star’s personality quirks, but they don’t share a biography. Horvath isn’t always at the center of the show’s action. She isn’t even in “Panic In Central Park,” arguably the high point of the series.
I’d suggest that in the upcoming decades, the audience for Girls won’t discover the show because they’re interested in Dunham as a human signifier of “millennial” “hipster” solipsism. The next wave of Girls fans will start off as Star Wars obsessives who needed to know where Kylo Ren got his big break. In the future, Jemima Kirk will sign autographs at sci-fi fandom conventions. No one will think it’s weird.
Dunham may well continue to make ill-advised decisions that get her name trending on Twitter. But as long as she never starts, let’s say, masturbating in front of her co-workers without warning, or becomes a regular guest on InfoWars, history’s still going to judge her by what she makes, not who she is. And nobody remains an off-putting twentysomething living in a trendy city borough forever. Not even Hannah Horvath.