Up to a Point: They Made Me Write About Lena Dunham

P.J. O’Rourke stares into Brooklyn’s heart of darkness.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

My editor called and said, “Do a column on this Lena Dunham flap!”

And I said...

Actually, back up. What I did NOT say was, “Who the hell is Lena Dumbwhat?”

I’m a 67-year-old guy. I live in rural New Hampshire. I don’t subscribe to US Weekly, assuming that still exists. I watch football, basketball, and hockey on TV and sometimes “The Bass Pros” on Outdoor Channel.

The only Lena I know of is Lena Horne, a wonderful performer, who is not involved in any flaps, and who is also dead.

But I’m a writer. That is, I was a writer for 40 years. Now I’m a “content provider.” And the Internet has declared that “content is free.” So when I get a call from someone who—startling as this is in our times—pays me…

But the Internet isn’t all bad. I can Google “Lena Dunham.”

She created and stars in (young content consumers please excuse this aside to readers who are as out-of-it as I am) a television series on HBO called Girls.

Ms. Dunham is 28. I was under the impression that “girls” is a demeaning term for adult women. The title must have something to do with this hipster “Irony” thing, which I confess I don’t understand. The root of the word irony is in the Greek eironeia, “liar.”

I had my 14-year-old daughter, Poppet, instruct me in how to watch an episode of Girls on my computer. (Turns out “content” is not completely “free.”)

Two seconds into the opening credits I was trying to get my daughter out of the room by any means possible. “Poppet! Look in the yard! The puppy’s on fire! Quick! Quick! Run outside and roll him in the snow!”

It turns out Girls is a serialized horror movie—more gruesome, frightening, grim, dark, and disturbing than anything that’s ever occurred to Stephen King.

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I have two daughters, Poppet and her 17-year-old sister Muffin. “Girls” is about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters. These young people, portrayed as being representative of typical young people, reside in a dumpy, grubby, woeful part of New York called Brooklyn, where Ms. Dunham should put her clothes back on.

I lived in New York for fifteen years. No one had been to Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957.

The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other. They occupy apartments with the size and charm of the janitor’s closet, shared by The Abominable Roommate. They dress in clothing from the flophouse lost-and-found and are groomed with a hacksaw and gravel rake. They are tattooed all over with things that don’t even look like things the way a anchor or a mermaid or a heart inscribed “Mom” does, and they’re only a few years older than my daughters.

The characters in Girls take drugs. They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. I had to have a lot to drink before I could get to sleep after watching this show about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.

Then I had to buy a copy of Ms. Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl for $28.00. And it’s just the type of thing the IRS could nail me for, if I try to make it tax-deductable.

IRS Agent: “You mean to tell me that you are attempting to take a tax deduction for buying this... this... Sir, did you read page ___? And page ___? And -- WHOO-EEE -- pages _______? Did you receive your copy of the book through the mail? You do know, sir, that there are laws against distributing or receiving obscene material via the U.S. Postal Service.”

Not that I read it. Who can read a memoir by a 28-year-old? What’s to memorialize? The last 28-year-old who could have written a memoir worth reading was Alexander the Great in 328 B.C., after he’d conquered the known world, but he was too busy conquering the rest of the world to write it.

Yet, after flipping through Not That Kind of Girl, I do begin to understand what “this Lena Dunham flap” is about.

Ms. Dunham accuses someone of having had sex with her. Re-reading that sentence, I see it didn’t come out right, leading me be condemned for trivializing sexual assault. Which I’m not doing because Ms. Dunham is only a few years older than my daughters.

Ms. Dunham accuses a Republican student of sexually assaulting her when she was an undergraduate at Oberlin, although she never reported the assault to the police or the university.

This has caused consternation among conservative journalists in places such as Breitbart and National Review because – if I’m getting the conservative journalists’ arguments straight – 1. The Republican student described by Ms. Dunham is easily identifiable and at risk of social shaming or worse as a result of Ms. Dunham’s accusation. 2. Upon investigation of Republican students attending Oberlin when Ms. Dunham was there, the Republican student described by Ms. Dunham didn’t exist. (Ms. Dunham has since responded to the whole brouhaha.)

Consternation has also been caused because Ms. Dunham admits to, as a child, having done with her younger sister what used to be obliquely called “playing doctor,” leading her to be condemned for trivializing sexual assault.

And I’m supposed to have an opinion about all this.

My opinion is that Lena Dunham created and stars in a television series on HBO called Girls, about young people who are only a couple of years older than my daughters.

I’m looking into Women-only military schools run by strict nuns for Poppet and Muffin. I think there’s one in the Philippines.