Blurring the line between Lena and Hannah, between real life and scripted television, is what Dunham is all about. By mining her personal experiences for material for her barely fictional show, she’s essentially fashioning herself as a reality-TV star. And not just any reality star: Dunham is taking a page from the Kim Kardashian playbook of how to become famous.
Some Americans look down on those who are famous for being famous — unless those people are memoirists writing for New York magazine or telling their stories on premium cable. Go on “The Bachelor” to find fame and love, and you’re a desperate exhibitionist. Tell similar tales of relationship woe in a New York Times “Modern Love” column and — congratulations! — you’re probably well on your way to a book contract.
Dunham and Kardashian personify this contrast. Dunham, 26, is an Emmy-nominated writer, director and actress schooled in feminist theory. Kardashian, 32, is a reality-TV star who spells “classy” with a K. But Dunham is following the Kardashian business model: Overshare, overexpose and become famous for being you.
With Kardashian, the strategy is obvious: She uses a reality show and her strong tabloid presence to sell beauty products and fashion lines. Dunham’s moves are a little more veiled: She appears on a semi-autobiographical show and is hyped in revered publications such as the New Yorker and Time. There are also “Girls” beauty and lifestyle products — and Dunham will soon sell her first book.
Both Dunham and Kardashian have pushed the limits of decency in a tell-all culture: They’re comfortable talking openly about things that most of us wouldn’t be willing to post on our Facebook timelines.
Reality shows come in many forms, and there’s a clear line between scripted autobiography and improvised drivel. Dunham writes a reality show for an audience that’s uncomfortable with the trashy variety. She told NPR that “each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me”: boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, people who annoyed her once. And the drama depicts awkward sex scenes, discussions of sexual fetishes and friends accompanying each other to the gynecologist. They’re so uncomfortable, they feel too private for television.
But without the witty dialogue and Golden Globe nominations, you’re essentially watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” The highbrow “Girls” characters joke about the perils of sexting, just like the Kardashian women do. The girls mock Hannah’s tiny breasts — and the camera fixates on them — in the same way the Kardashian sisters make fun of Kim’s posterior.