Oyster #99: Lena Dunham
We interview the creator and star of this year's breakout TV show.
Lena Dunham, creator of HBO's Girls, has been called this decade's Carrie Bradshaw; a female Woody Allen for a new generation. You could even describe her as a modern-day Joan of Arc, heroically spitting truths and apologising for nothing as she taps into the neuroses of the post-adolescent female.
Sarah May: How does it feel to be, as Hannah says in the pilot of Girls, "a voice of a generation"?
Lena Dunham: Well, it's funny. As I've said before, when we put that in the show I was like, "This is very dangerous to state this, because then people are going to think we are serious," but hopefully the fact that she is on drugs when she said it will be helpful in letting people know that it's not my own claim. I definitely don't think I am the voice of a generation — if so, our generation is in trouble. That being said, I hope the show does hit on some generational issues that do resonate with people, but that definitely is that character's attempt to let her parents know, "I'm worth it, please continue to pay for my life."
What do you think are the most important issues for your generation?
I think that, specific to my generation, we are the first generation that has been totally raised on internet and social media...trying to learn email manners — that kind of communication — plus the torture of waiting for a text message. And I also think that my generation all graduated from college — or not — during a recession, so as my dad once said, which made me sad but felt true, "This is the first time in America that you can see that my kids are not going to do as well as I did." That was sobering to hear
There seems to be a movement towards young, female writers — you're in your mid-twenties. What has paved the way for this? Do you think it's a trend?
I hope it's a trend. I feel like every couple of years there is a news story saying, "Guess what, guys — women are funny!" Like that's a breaking headline. But I do think that this time — right now — the difference is that women are getting to be funny and it's also been more commercially successful. I mean, Judd [Apatow, Dunham's co–executive producer on Girls] produced Bridesmaids and that was a movie that women loved, that critics loved, and that also cleaned up at the box office ... I feel really excited about the amount of television shows for women, because people tend to go, "There's that one show about women, so I guess that's all we need for this season," but nobody ever says, "I'm really sorry, we've got six dude shows, so we're closing the door on that."
You've said that Judd is quite gender-blind, and Zooey Deschanel said recently that she gets annoyed when people say "female comedy" rather than just "comedy". Does it irritate you that people distinguish like that?
Well, that does definitely create the impression that there is a different kind of funny that women can be — an inferior kind of funny. Judd once said that Amy Poehler is the funniest person around, and you had to think for a second but then go, "He didn't call her an actress." I think that, to Judd, funny is funny, and he is just excited by what he thinks are original voices being truthful about their own condition. Of course it would be great to get to a place where a 'funny women show' was just a funny show — that would be utopia.
You said that you want to share your shame with the world. What is your shame and why do you want to share it?
It's ever-evolving! I think a lot of girls grow up — especially girls who don't necessarily look like supermodels or feel like they conform to certain ideas about how a woman should look or behave — they grow up with a feeling of both worthiness and unworthiness, and there is a lot of tough, embarrassing stuff that comes up when you are trying to form relationships and understand who you are. So, those pains and anxieties, to me, are lessened when I express them and I get feedback from other people who say, "I understand. I've been there too." That, to me, has always been the function of movies and television — to create this unifying experience — and it's really comforting to see your own experience reflected back at you. That's the power of media.
After this show, do you think you'll be able to stop telling people who you are?
Wouldn't that be so nice? It's a version of me, but I think it's a very rare thing to be able to express yourself that intimately in a forum like a television show. It's a rare chance to have.