Monday, March 23, 2015

Culture Watch: Lena Dunham asks, "Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?" Bad enough if it's a dog, but if it's a boyfriend, yikes!


Plus: Updating my post on Ian Welsh's blog fund-raiser

This photo (by Robin Schwartz) of Lena's dog, Lamby, "a mutt who came from a rescue shelter in Brooklyn," appeared with her March 2013 New Yorker "Personal History" piece, "A Box of Puppies."

by Ken

Lena Dunham has a piece in the March 30 New Yorker with the above-noted title, like so --

and nothing but an establishing sentence --
Do the following statements refer to (a) my dog or (b) my Jewish boyfriend?
followed by 35 numbered points, starting with these:
1. The first thing I noticed about him was his eyes.
2. We love to spend hours in bed together on Sunday mornings.
3. He’s crazy for cream cheese.
4. It hasn’t always been easy, but we currently live together and it’s going O.K.
5. Our anniversary is in two days and I’m not sure if he remembers.
At this point I'm prepared to go with "boyfriend" rather than "dog," since it's hard to imagine anyone being unsure about whether her dog remembers their anniversary. But almost immediately I wish I'd been able to go the other way, because awful as this is starting to sound if it refers to a pet, if it in fact refers to a supposed boyfriend . . . well, see for yourself.
6. If it were up to him, every room in our place would be carpeted.
7. But he has asthma.
8. I feel that he is judgmental about the food I serve him. When I make something from scratch, he doesn’t want to eat it, but he also rejects most store-bought dinners.
9. This is because he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don’t acknowledge their own need for independence as women. They are sucked dry by their children, who ultimately leave them as soon as they find suitable mates.
10. As a result of this dynamic, he expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life, and anything less than that makes him whiny and distant.
Um, yikes! For someone who claims such explanatory insight into her boyfriend's (or maybe her dog's?) behavior, Lena doesn't seem to have much curiosity about, let alone insight into, her own. Here's another sequence:
13. He doesn’t tip.
14. And he never brings his wallet anywhere.
15. He came with me to therapy once and was restless and unexpressive.
16. When I go out of town on a business trip, he sleeps with a pair of my underwear.
17. When I get home from the business trip, he ignores me for hours, sometimes days, forcing me to wonder whether he would be better off with a woman who has a less demanding career. “Why don’t you find some catalogue model who just sits around all day and rubs your back? I bet you’d like that,” I hiss. “I apologize for my many accomplishments. I’m sorry they mean nothing to you.”
Here we run into one about the boyfriend (or dog) and her father and "the tension between them" that "takes the form of passive-aggressive pissing matches and hostile silences." You can check this one out for yourself; perhaps you won't wonder how much she actually knows about her father or the boyfriend (or the dog).

Here are just a few more sequences:
19. He’s really more of an ass man.
20. He has a sensitive stomach and has to take two Dramamine before entering any moving vehicle.
21. I have more Instagram followers than he does.

23. My grandma Dottie loves him and says he’s a “good, good boy.”
24. Every week it’s some new health issue: urine crystals, sprained foot, beef allergy.
25. He enjoys nature and I don’t, which would be fine except it’s important to share interests, and he also doesn’t like novellas, tag sales, or hip-hop dance.

28. His best friend is named Archie.
29. He briefly dated another Lena, but she was black and a runner.
30. Bald men trigger a primal fear in him.
And maybe one more group:
32. He has an obsession with bellhops that is troubling to me.
33. One spring afternoon, we walked to Dumbo to check out a new artisanal-Popsicle stand, when we ran into my friend Jill. Jill is actually more of an acquaintance—I don’t know her well, but I really like her; she curates high-end terrariums and she’s a clog designer on the side. She’s really slim and well dressed, in an all-American, J. Crew-model sort of way. He was immediately all over her, panting and making a fool of himself. It was humiliating. Because here’s the thing: I am not a Jill. I will never be a Jill. And if that’s what he is looking for—some anorexic hipster with a glossy braid and freaking Swedish clog boots she sewed by hand—he should never have set his sights on me in the first place.
34. He once vomited on his seatmate in United business class, then ran up and down the aisle in a panic.
35. He’s adopted.
I wasn't going to include No. 35, on account of it struck me as a kind of scary-freaky way to go out on a piece like this. But then I thought, well, I can hardly leave it out, can I?


My vote, I mean. Yeah, I think I'll go with (a), "dog." It doesn't make much sense, I'll admit, but does any of this make sense for a "boyfriend"? Of whom the writer says, you recall, "It hasn't always been easy, but we currently live together and it's going O.K." (Somehow those New Yorker-mandated periods in "O.K." don't help.)


I stopped writing about Lena Dunham and her HBO crapfest Grrlz when I felt I'd had my say and was pretty sure nobody wanted to hear it again. There might have been more to say, even though I'd stopped watching the show in Season 2, simply because it and she were being taking seriously by people who really should have known better.

Not that she isn't talented. I hadn't seen any of her previous work, which had vaulted her to public attention and gotten her her own HBO sitcom at such a tender age, but it was clear from the early episodes of Grrlz that she has talent and some ability to create striking characters. There were interesting things about many of the show's characters -- enough to keep me coming back, albeit increasingly grudgingly, through all of Season 1 and into Season 2.

But it became increasingly clear that her characters, at least, were clueless and getting cluelesser, stumbling around between bouts of ugly drugs and uglier sex with hardly an inkling about the world around them or their place in it and even less interest in how to go about getting an inkling. The one character who was actually grappling with reality naturally had to be punished. Along with viewers.

I certainly had no problem with Lena infusing the show with what appeared to be some of her own life issues. Isn't that what writers do, after all? But she seemed impossibly clueless and desperate about them. Like about her problem with women's body issues. Certainly a subject worthy of consideration, and one subject to dramatizing. Except that it seemed to summon from her nothing but rage and self-loathing and maybe blind confusion, all taken out with a vengeance on viewers who never did anything to deserve it.

It struck me as symptomatic of something that Hannah, a presumed stand-in for the creator, was a young woman who wanted oh so desperately to be a writer but seemed to have absolutely nothing to say, nor, really, any reason to want to be a writer, except that she did.


No, there's no answer given at the end! To, you know, the dog-or-Jewish-boyfriend question.

I think I'm going to stick with my second answer, though: dog. It's gotta be dog, no? Maybe a Jewish dog? (An adopted Jewish dog.)

•     •     •

UPDATE to my Friday post, "We want to keep Ian
Welsh slaving away at his computer, don't we?

I've added an update to that post with Ian's announcement of the happy result of the fund-raiser, which "puts us solidly in the five articles a week, average, bracket" -- effective April 1, he says. He also promises to extend the covered period "if I get seriously ill and can’t do it for a week or some such." Naturally I assume he'll be producing a doctor's note in such a case.

Ian also notes in his post today: "I do keep track of donations after the fundraiser and it does affect how much I write, so if you didn’t give and still want to, rest assured it isn’t wasted." So, as I point out there, "Don't think that the lateness of my pass-along lets you off the hook." You can still donate or subscribe, and it will still count. Thought you could get away with that one, did you?



At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will we see a follow-up -- "Bitch or Shiksa Girlfriend?"

At 8:02 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Interesting question, Anon!

I'm going to guess, though, that since this would involve Lena's allowing the situation -- any situation -- to be seen from the POV of some other person on the planet, the answer is: Not terribly likely.


At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since no one else is writing about it, yet, I'll make my comment here: Dunhams article was horribly offensive to me. Yes it was In jest, and yes it probably wasn't supposed to be intentional, but there was someone else on history who equated Jewish males with dogs.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Sue said...

And what editor thought this deck worthy of publication??


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