A well-written article is that much more delectable when it contains a goodly measure of humor.
Now, James Wolcott has written the review to end all reviews of Lena Dunham’s new book. (My thanks to the anonymous commenter who referenced the review in response to a prior post.)
Here Wolcott describes Dunham’s book:
A jokily earnest, cutesily illustrated (by Joana Avillez), no-big-deal variety pack by everybody’s favorite fun feminist and generational spokesmodel—a commercial proposition, to be sure, but normally not the sort of jewel of the Nile that would justify the reported $3.7 million advance usually reserved for first ladies and retired CEOs. Yet the blockbuster advance Random House shelled out for Not That Kind of Girl was no blindfolded-chimp dart toss. It was the nearest thing in publishing today to a mortal lock. For Lena Dunham is so money, to invoke Swingers, she is major bank.
Later, he offers a more extensive critique:
Callow, grating, and glibly nattering as much of the rest of Not That Kind of Girl is, its impact is a series of glancing blows. The self-revelations and gnarly disclosures are stowed alongside the psycho-twaddle, affirmational platitudes, and show-offy candor of someone avid to be liked and accepted—on her own terms, of course, for who she is in all her flawed, bountiful faux pas glory.
Many people believe that Lena Dunham, the spokesperson for her generation was created by The New York Times. Wolcott seems to find the argument persuasive. He summarizes it herewith:
Whatever it says in her official bio, birthers believe that Lena Dunham was born on a bed of golden straw in the basement of the former New York Times headquarters on West 43rd Street and doted upon ever since as the newspaper’s princess daughter….
…but never before has the old gray mare taken such an active, ongoing, nurturing, and rooting interest in its wunderkind. Since adolescence Dunham has been under their roving spotlight.
Happily, Wolcott offers us a sampling of Dunham’s humor, with his own reaction:
“My uterus does tilt to the right [there’s a chapter devoted to the subject in Not That Kind of Girl, “Who Moved My Uterus?”], which could mean it’s an inhospitable environment for a child who wants a straight-down-the-line kind of uterus. And so I will adopt, but I won’t have the sort of beautiful, genetics-defying love story that People magazine chronicles. The kid will have undiagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome. He will hate me, and he will nail our dog to a board.” I recognize that humor is subjective, but Jesus.
Given his argument, Wolcott correctly warns of the dangers that accompany being a creation of the media:
I do think the premature canonization of “Girls” as a breakthrough classic does it no favors, and not just because of the backlash effect triggered every time the fawning media lifts Dunham’s Cleopatra litter higher. The excessive buildup could be the prelude to a steeper devaluation….
No longer the idiosyncratic underdog, Dunham has become an iconographic bearer of an entire generation’s promise; a bold-face name in the upper tier of celebrity, feminism, and cultural liberalism, that imaginary green room where Mindy Kaling, Roxane Gay, Tina Fey, and a shimmering hologram of Beyoncé mingle; an advice counselor to other young women; an entrepreneurial success story; an inexhaustible topic of conversation, no matter how exhausted of hearing about her many of us get; in short, a role model, and being a role model entails responsibilities inimical to being an independent operator.
It’s better not to believe you are the avatar concocted by the New York Times. It isn’t who you are. With Wolcott I hope that Dunham does not have to learn this the hard way.