As a twentysomething female, my biggest complaint about Lena Dunham is that people always seem to be talking about her when they could be talking about me.
After all, I am just like Lena Dunham, except my furniture is much, much bigger. Also, I have no tattoos, and HBO has never evinced any interest in my pilot about “Life In Our Generation As We Know It,” or in my other unrelated pilot about “How I Assume Things Are For Wizards” and my third, also unrelated pilot about “Hey What If Greek Gods Lived In Manhattan?” (I am only sort of joking about these pilots, HBO!) The other major difference between us is that I think this is a good way to contact HBO.
In this, I am not alone. There are two types of critical essays about Lena Dunham. One is a critical essay castigating her for failing to represent Life In Our Generation As We Know It in its full diversity and splendor. The other is an essay that includes terms like “nepotism” and basically boils down to the sour observation that “If I’d been given the advantages that Lena Dunham had, I’d be a much better Lena Dunham than Lena Dunham.”
Both of these are understandable. It is rare that you get pronounced the Voice of Your Generation in real time. And the trouble with being termed the Voice of Your Generation is that only a limited number of those mantles get handed out every generation. We can’t all be heroes, as Will Rogers said, because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
It would be easier to swallow Dunham’s show “Girls” if there were more shows like it, so that one wouldn’t have to shoulder the entire burden of being The Show About All Things Millennials. We come in a variety of stripes.
But especially with the advent of the Internet, and all its fountains of turn-on-your-laptop-and-open-a-vein confessional prose and Tumblrs That Said What You Thought Before You Even Thought It, the limited number of Voice of Generation mantles rankles.
Before, it was all right. People were divided into clusters: the doers, and the watchers. Some people tried to write the Great American Novel. Some people read it when it came out. They never expected to be Heard From By The Masses. If they did, they wrote to the newspaper and waited for the feeling to pass. Now everyone’s on the Internet — a billion people on Facebook alone! — and the way we express ourselves has changed. On certain levels, everyone’s a fan, and everyone’s a celebrity. Suddenly the people who used to content themselves with talking amongst themselves are writing for an audience — on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr. Diaries went from private to anonymous. You measure yourself by your watchers. And the predicament of self-presentation — just be yourself loudly enough, and maybe someone will notice and you’ll be famous! — is something Dunham captures pretty neatly.
That’s what’s so irksome about the Dunham book deal. $3.5 million is a lot of money! And for what? For being young while writing? Who isn’t? Who can’t? Youth is the only commodity, and it goes spilling ineluctably through your grasping fingers. Ten years older, and Dunham wouldn’t be Dunham. Ten years older, and you won’t be Dunham, either.
It’s money for Speaking While Young. It reminds you that the clock is ticking. It reminds you that the older you get, the less likely anyone is to care.
The night before my next birthday, I intend to lock myself in a dark room and take consumer preference surveys. Once you turn 25, no one will listen to you any longer. Right now, I could answer the phone and demand that Paula Patton and Mel Gibson star in every movie, and someone might actually note it down somewhere. But next year — forget it!
“Youth is the only thing worth having, ”Oscar Wilde noted.
I am not sure that he was wrong. It’s worth $3.5 million, in fact. One of the facts about Dunham’s book that everyone is touting is that it is advice for the young — from someone still young enough not to know better. Whom better to ask? Those are the only people we can relate to. Expect us to listen to someone over 30, and she’d better be flawlessly moisturized — or male. The clock ticks louder for the ladies. But that is another question altogether.
But then again, as Wilde also said, “I am not young enough to know everything.”
There is a strange market for opinions and insights and what-have-you from people whose only qualification to opine is that they are Youthful Voices. But at a certain point, Youthful Voices cease to be youthful and then you forget why you listened to them. Or do you? Perhaps you keep listening out of habit.
The old-fashioned respect for the old is fast dying. It’s the paradox of our youth mania. By the time I actually am old enough to understand the limitless things that presently elude me, I will be too old for anyone to care what I have to say.