Viva Lena: “Girls” at the New Yorker Festival

In the past year, twenty-something females the world over have abandoned trying to find their inner Charlotte and Samantha. “Don’t be a Marnie,” we say now. “Feeling really Hannah today, I don’t think my skirt fits right.”

Everyone and their mom’s dog have written something about HBO’s Girls, but the show’s creative powerhouse Lena Dunham got to say her piece this Sunday. In a “conversation” (read: interview) titled “Girl Power” with New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum, Dunham proved herself to be more than just a neurotic memoirist.

“Hannah doesn’t want the life I have now,” Dunham said of her character, explaining that while her work is autobiographical, it’s certainly not taken verbatim from her life. The 26-year-old articulates with the liberal arts vocabulary of an SLC student, as she recalls her experiences navigating gender and racial politics at Oberlin.

Far from the willfully dumpy Hannah Horvath, Dunham radiates confidence and focus, rooted on her deeply personal relationship with her art. This confidence might also have something to do with her four Emmy nominations, multimillion-dollar book deal, and sassy cropped haircut that actually looked pretty cute in person.

Dunham was especially unwilling to bad-mouth anyone, even the motley crew of hook-ups that inspires her awful male characters. “I can’t stand behind anything tonight!” she apologized, after cracking a joke on New Jersey. She and Nussbaum spoke at length about accusations that Girls does not include enough diversity, one of the many controversies that dogged the show in the months leading up to its premier.

“I have plenty of counterarguments,” Dunham said, “but it’s not elegant to share them.”

This preference for the elegant approach sums up Lena Dunham. Despite her blockbuster book deal and wild success at a young age, Lena’s first priority seems to be her art and the people who support her. She shows special love for her teenage fans, encouraging them to find free streams of her show, and says the main goal of her work is to make her audience feel a little less alone: “I heard someone say that women eat their own… Life is really hard and we should be circling around the fire.”

While I only got to stand in her presence, a friend got to shake Dunham’s hand long enough to say, “Thankyousomuchforbeinganinspirationtoyoungfemalescreenwriters!”

To which Queen Lena replied as she left the stage, “Oh my God, thank you!”

“Girl Power” was one of many discussions at this year’s New Yorker Festival. Although the festival has concluded, you can find the full line-up, hear some of the acts and artists, and purchase tickets for next year here.


  • Reply October 12, 2012


    I get that Girls deserves a lot of praise for its take on young twenty something female life. It’s great that there’s a show with a protagonist who makes questionable, messy life choices. It’s also great that Lena Dunham has a body type we’re not used to seeing on TV.

    However, her real world racism is enough to make me dismiss that she might have valid “counter arguments”.

    See here:

    I have actually enjoyed watching Girls, but I don’t think Lena Dunham deserves defending when it comes to her handling of “diversity”. She’s the voice of middle class white girls, and I have no problem with that. Just don’t assume that that’s my voice.

  • Reply October 13, 2012

    Ella Riley-Adams

    Thanks for that link, Deborah. Lena Dunham pretty perfectly encapsulates my experience (middle class white girl that I am), but that Tumblr post highlights so many problematic aspects of her as a “generational voice.”

    I also wish she’d brought up at least one of her “counterarguments.” Elegance is a weird excuse.

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