Lena Dunham: The voice of a generation?

Chicago 'Girls' might disagree, but Dunham's impact on pop culture is undeniable

January 30, 2013

Lena Dunham and I have a lot in common.

OK, we’re not exactly alike. I don't share Dunham's much-maligned body type, and my mother is not a famous artist with a $2 million loft in TriBeCa. I also don’t co-write, direct or star in my own hit series on HBO (except for in my dreams) But in many ways, I consider Dunham to be a kindred spirit, or at least a wacky spirit guide for surviving my mid-twenties. 

Her character on Girls, the awkward yet somehow endearing 24-year-old Hannah Horvath, is an aspiring writer trying to make it in New York after her parents cut her off financially. Replace Brooklyn with Logan Square, and that’s my life in a nutshell. Also, since Dunham is essentially playing herself (albeit an exagerrated version with fictional monetary woes), her stories of personal and professional struggle bizarrely reflect my own. 

Dunham isn’t a role model per se, but she does represent a faction of society that currently dominates popular culture: postgrad twenty-somethings. Or as the baby boomers like to call us, the “entitlement generation."

That being said, I can see why so many people hate her. Dunham was born into privilege, attended one of the most expensive art colleges in the country and apparently didn't grow up around too many black people. Her pet project Tiny Furniture got picked up by several film festivals in 2010, prompting Hollywood hitmaker Judd Apatow to take her under his wing and launch Girls with his new protègè front and center. No wonder her critics keep making fat jokes! They have to bring her down somehow.

"Bad Friend," an episode documenting Hannah's misadventures with blogging, clubbing and cocaine that aired on Sunday night, is a prime example of why Girls is one of the best shows currently on television. Hot off the heels of two Golden Globe awards, one for Best Comedy Series and the other for Dunham as Best Actress, the series continues to top itself week after week and shows no signs of slowing down.

Dunham and Girls co-writer Jenni Konner have been showered with praise since Season 2 began in early January, especially in addressing the "people of color" issue that had been previously overlooked in Season 1. Dunham recently acquired a $3 million-plus book deal as a result of the show's success, and HBO has already announced a greenlight for Season 3. 

But while Girls became a commercial and critical darling almost overnight, Dunham's public persona is decidedly less beloved. She has been called fat, ugly, racist, talentless, stupid, elitist, sexually grotesque and offensive on every level. This doesn't seem to bother her though, as she continues to eat birthday cake naked and makes no apologies for it. 

A lot of people hate Lena Dunham because they believe that her lifestyle--a white, privileged and excessively tattooed hipstergirl cavorting through Bushwick--does not represent them (and how dare you suggest such a thing!) However, coming from a wealthy and well-connected family doesn't make her any less clever or insightful, and being a "half-Jew, half-WASP" with lots of white friends doesn't automatically make her a racist.

We are all the product of our environments, and Dunham happens to tell some very funny stories about hers. The voice of a generation? I wouldn't go that far. A symbol of her generation? Absolutely. So say what you will about Dunham as a cultural icon, but she's going to keep eating her cake (and enjoying it too!)

Follow Leah on Twitter @leahkpickett