Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Voice of a Generation? Whose Voice? Lena Dunham and Racism

[Content note: racist slur]

So, over the weekend, all around jackass Lisa Lampanelli, tweeted this:
[Photo with Lampanelli and Lena Dunham. Text reads, "Me with my nigga @LenaDunham of @HBOGirls - I love this beyotch!"]

I can't believe I have to say this, but maybe listen once and for all fellow white people: You don't get to use the n-word. Not as a "joke." Not if you "have black friends." Not because you, like Lampanelli, have a whole strain of "comedy" based on fucking black men. Not now. Not ever. No way. No how.

All this yuck-yuck, jokey hipster racism bull just gets to me so bad. (Let's be real, hipster racism is JUST RACISM.) And it seems like, even when it's not her own words, Lena Dunham is often related to these instances. She has certainly made the hipster racism mistake herself but she also frequently keeps company those people who are entirely race insensitive. Take the whole Caitlin Moran debacle, in which Moran defended Dunham's whitewashed depiction of New York in Girls and said she "literally couldn't give a shit about" the criticism against Dunham. 

I don't want to jump into a discussion about whether or not Girls is a good show (because that's something I literally couldn't give a shit about...I don't watch it for many reasons so I don't now anything about it beyond what I read and what others say.) But I DO want to tackle the foolish idea that Dunham is the "voice of a generation." 

Firstly--this whole idea just came about because Dunham wrote that line into an episode of Girls and it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. But secondly, and much more importantly, all of this racism surrounding Dunham's person and work routinely excludes entire segments of people. So how in the world can she be said to represent a whole damn generation? I get that she is doing some interesting things in that she's a young woman running a show and she looks much more like the chick next to you on the bus than the woman on the billboard, but, to me, all of that feminist karma is completely depleted by the fact that she is so full of race fail. Same goes for Moran. Despite a few concerns here and there, I loved "How to Be a Woman" but then came her dismissal of race entirely. How can I get behind her as a feminist icon?

Simply put: I can't be your feminist cheerleader if you marginalize entire groups of people. That's not feminism. 

Although I'm older than Dunham, I can't help but feel that as a 20 something, I fall roughly into the "generation" she is said to represent. I don't want to be complicit in the creation of a new, edgy culture which is really just reiterating the same old bullshit by being silent. I can only hope that all of the very real, legitimate criticism against Dunham is heard--not so much as to influence her work but moreover to let it be known that Dunham isn't our voice. 



  1. It's silly and presumptuous for critics to tell Lena Dunham to include black people (or any color people in her show). In reality, many people have friends who are the same race, sexual orientation, and class as them. Plenty of white people have few black friends and vice versa.

    I hope I am not being combative. I would honestly love for someone to explain to me how the lack of a certain gender or race on a show is prejudiced. I agree, that the lack of minorities (and women) in film and TV is a problem. But it is an institutional problem, not something you can pin on one person.

    1. I understand that you can't pin it on one person, but if we don't take a look at individual show creators, how can we make systemic changes? People have to be held responsible, personally. And I don't think the solution is necessary, "HEY LENA, INCLUDE BLACK PEOPLE!" but critics asking, "Why does your show now depict New York as the ethnically diverse community it is?" is, ultimately, productive.

      But all that aside, I linked to NUMEROUS other examples of Dunham's race fails not related to her show, and those are real problem, if you ask me. (The fundamentalist joke? Come on!) And then there's Moran who said she "literally doesn't give a shit" about the discussion surrounding diversity on Girls. We can't just say, "Lena can do what she wants, tra la la la" We have to really stop and take a look at the fact that when POC voices spoke up about this issue, they were dismissed.

      Let me ask you this: How will we EVER make progress on this issue for Film/TV in general, if we can't have a healthy discussion about specific shows that are PART of the problem?

    2. I can't comment to whether or not Lena or the show is racist. I am certainly not arguing that she/it is not racist.

      My guess, is that people pick on Girls for not including minorities because it is billed as having a strong female viewpoint.

      Yes, this is a problem. Yes, we should discuss it. But we should not pick on one show in particular for its lack of minority characters.

      Let's point out the problem everywhere. Are there any other TV shows or movies that are actually attacked for being so white? I can't think of any. I can think of tons of TV shows that only include minorities as token stereotypes (Modern Family, Parks and Rec, Glee, etc.).

      I don't feel any particular need to stand up for Girls. I think it is an incredibly narcissistic show. But it bothers me when people decide to attack one person's creative vision. The world is interesting because we have so many viewpoints. We shouldn't homogenize everything to have a perfectly politically correct viewpoint that includes all races, genders, sexual orientations, whatever.

    3. But I think that there are lots of people speaking out about those shows too, and rarely being heard...At least, I see them talking about it in my networks. So I don't see Girls being unfairly picked on. I'm just pointing out that if it's going to be discussed as "the voice of a generation" we better be damn sure it represents the actual generation--an American generation which is more ethnically diverse than any other time in history.

      Although, side note, I don't think Parks and Rec has token characters...there are three characters of color who are critical to the show, rarely stereotyped, and all have had their own important, hilarious story lines.


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