Film, News & Commentary

Razer: Lena Dunham has no place in politics

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Youngsters get a lot of bad press. This is largely due to the maddening tendency of oldsters, overrepresented in press, to adapt their lost youth into moral declaration. Fear of one’s dwindling attractiveness becomes “Millennials are Selfie-taking Narcissists Who Need to Cover Up!” Repressed disgust for one’s slavery to income becomes “Millennials don’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work!” I know very well that midlife is the mother of futile injunction, so it is with some reluctance I say “Millennials don’t know progressive politics from a GetUp! petition!” But, fuck me, most of them really don’t.
To be fair, my Generation X were not exactly keen scholars of the socioeconomic. A sharp suit and an even sharper tongue were sufficient to distract many of us from Paul Keating’s introduction of neoliberal economic policies and mandatory detention. It’s true that he was a hell of a lot funnier than popinjay Turnbull, whose reference in speech to Ancient Greece is so frequent, I am now using it as the basis for a drinking game. Still. PJK one-liners did not a social democracy make.
Say what you will about Boomers, but history will answer you curtly. May ’68. Stonewall. 91% approval to end constitutional discrimination. If, more than four decades later, we do vote in a referendum, we’re not going to see anything like this unanimity for indigenous recognition. We have become progressively less progressive since the blissful dawn of Boomer youth. We have also become progressively less progressively taxed. Wealth and income inequality has risen in the west for the last forty years and we Boomer-nots should remember that the real “crime” of our forebears is not that they are arseholes. They were simply the last generation to be served well by capitalism before it started gagging on its own contradictions. Don’t hate them because they got lucky. Hate them, if you must, for The Big Chill.
And hate millennials in the future for The Lenny Letter. Due to debut tomorrow, this newsletter devised by Lena Dunham looks set to document the popular false consciousness of a generation. And, before you get all “you are a horrible crinkly old lady who hates self-actualised women in fierce jumpsuits”, I really don’t. Dunham, for mine, is a gifted auteur whose Girls is a beautiful and uncompromised self-portrait. As a director, actor and screenwriter, the woman has already outdone the best of Woody Allen. As a progressive commentator for Her Generation, she can really shut the fuck up.
For her initial outing, the editor has interviewed Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton. Dunham has made no secret of her fondness for the candidate who called the courageous Edward Snowden a “terrorist”, and so it was no surprise to see the video preview surface. It’s not surprising but it is depressing all the same.
Hilary Clinton, who voted for the assault on Iraq, the Patriot Act and its reauthorisation, is as legitimately progressive as I am legitimately young. Now, of course, it’s fine for Dunham to hold economically centrist views and favour the criminalisation of flag burning or disapproving scrutiny for video games. If Dunham likes the idea of empowering the NSA, then she is at her celebrity liberty to endorse it. If Mrs Clinton’s long and profitable marriage to Goldman Sachs is not a problem for this Fierce Millennial, then may she acquire a Hilary 2016 tattoo on whatever skin she has remaining. Go for it, you young and fierce neoliberal.
What Today’s Youngsters may not do, though, is permit politics like these to stand in for progressivism. And this is much less a moral urging than it is a taxonomic one. You don’t have to be left-progressive by any means. But you do need to know the difference between shit and shinola.
In this era, organisations like GetUp! certainly smear this difference between polish and a turd. Progressivism is seen less as a fundamental restructuring of practice than it is the opportunity to be really, really nice. And a little bit fierce! Don’t get me wrong, I think Amy Schumer who, rather inevitably, cameos in tomorrow’s Clinton lovefest, is currently one of the best standups on the stage. I also think that she, like Dunham, has no business conflating gags about lady boners with public policy. And we have no real business mistaking the two.
I understand that the moment’s prevailing view is that “we all have a voice” and even if that voice is naïve, it deserves an airing. But, FFS, we’re talking about the US presidency, here. This is what the US President can do: (a) help gear the material lives of their constituents, many of which currently serve the wealth accumulation of a few and (b) determine a complex network of international relations. This is what the US president can’t do: turn off the sexism button so that young fierce millennials can bound about in fierce jumpsuits without fear of negative body image.
Seriously. You don’t treat the hegemon like a bad boyfriend. And if you give even half of an informed shit about the future of your nation and the world, you don’t elevate the question “are you a feminist?” to principal importance. This is not because feminism is not important. It is because “feminism” in the critically uncritical age of GetUp! has ceased to mean anything beyond, apparently, not hating one’s own vagina. I mean, this week, stump dumb fuckers have lined up to congratulate Peta Credlin, of all persons, for her “brave” role in advising on the worst policy in living memory. Was she unfairly maligned because she was a powerful woman? Probably. Is this kind of power, whatever its person, itself a problem? Fucking A.
Credlin can be a “feminist” in an era that now understands progressivism to be little more than the opportunity to make fierce personal choices in jumpsuits. That her “personal choices” also happened to be those that were inflicted upon millions of Australians is seen as incidental.  You can call me a crinkly and horrible old X-er if you will, but I refuse to “celebrate” any person committed to unequal distribution of wealth. That such individual acts of power are seen, even if momentarily, as somehow separate from the powerlessness they inflict is inanity.
Girls is not inane. It is a marvellous portrayal of the thrilling torpor of youth. Dunham is able to demonstrate her artless ambivalence beautifully in a television drama but atrociously in her stupid ultra-softball interview with Clinton.
The culture is where Dunham belongs. She has no place in politics. To assume that there is a simple course between the idealised view of young, fierce feminist jumpsuits on subscription television and political policy is a critical failure of understanding.
It is not, of course, as though there is no link between the cultural and the social. But, to suppose that the “empowerment” that we see on Girls, via the purple presentations of GetUp! or in the self-absorbed feminist speechifying of Credlin is any kind of starting point for social change is to deserve the Hilary you will probably get.

43 responses to “Razer: Lena Dunham has no place in politics

  1. One of your best. If the only advice Gillard could give Clinton is Mark Arbib’s email address (™you) then perhaps Credlin could remind her that when you shit on people from a great height with appalling policy, get on the front foot with the gender thing

  2. I’m sorry but ‘Girls’ is unwatchably sucky. If my daughter and son grow up to be like those millenials, I’ll know I’m a miserable failure of an x-er. I would rather have my eyes prised open in front of The Big Chill looped for immortality than sit through another second of Girls.

    1. If you think the mark of a good piece of art is whether you’d like your kids to turn out like the protagonists, you should just quit everything now.

  3. Lovely aside about PJK who privatised anything that moved, or not, floated the currency, clearly out of egotistic desire to be regarded as a player on the world stage. Mostly remembered for his sparkling wit rather than for the damage his actions caused and are still causing.
    As for Credlin it seems incredible that anyone can find anything about her behavior admirable in any way.
    And .. fierce jumpsuit? Lons and tigers and bears ..oh my!

  4. Sharp as a razor. Clinton is another blimp. Feminism is for men too and the rapture of the neoliberals is waning. In the 21st we need to talk and negotiate not slaver and sloganise.

  5. What the shit is this lady talking about? First off she writes as if rise of “progressively less progressiveness” happens in a vacuum, when in reality it’s is clearly linked to culture and values of the public.
    Secondly she talks about how progressive baby boomers were in the sixties. Of course they were! they were in their twenties and thirties, raised by a generation that had gone through a depression and a major war. Rebellion fodder much?
    Thirdly as those boomers got older and assumed more and more positions of power, what happened to society? Holy shit it got “progressively less progressive”!
    Then she goes on to attack Dunhams support for Hillary “imababyboomerbutimhip” Clinton as if the idea of a young person supporting the first potential woman president, who’s politics may be a little shaky, but obviously leans to the left on many things, as if it’s akin to supporting Hitlers reanimation.
    She then attacks feminism but I’m not touching that one with a ten foot pole.
    She then goes on to say (through a layer of praise smeared with shit) that Dunham, tho the apparent voice of a generation, has no right to have an opinion on politics cause she is of the “culture”. Um who was the president for most of the 80s? That’s right Ronald Reagan. What did he do before being the president you might ask? He was in the military, an informant for the fbi and oh A MOTHER FUCKING HOLLYWOOD MOVIE STAR! Pretty sure you can’t be much more centred in culture than that. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California Ffs sake. California has the eighth biggest economy in the world! Not America. The whole fucking world! Australia is ranked 12 for comparison.
    Finally have you ever watched American politics. It’s crazier than a movie. Donald Trump? You can’t make the shit that he says up.
    I don’t really like Lena Dunham, people may say she’s the Carrie bradshaw of my generation, but really my generation gets to decide that. She portrays a certain interpretation of womanhood that resonates with a lot of people, but her characters are simply that, characters. No one can encapsulate the complexity of the female gender in a single show.
    There is no battle between the generations, there’s differences and obstacles but generally we should be all trying to work together. I dunno who this lady is, it was shared on my Facebook and I’ve never heard of this site before, and if this is satire that I’ve failed to recognise then she trolled me good, but her opinion is bad and she should feel bad.

    1. Hi Athol. Thanks for taking time out of your Facebook anger schedule to visit Daily Review. That you have, as you are at pains to point out, no previous knowledge of it or of me should be of no barrier to your understanding. I had foolishly supposed that the piece contained all the argument one needed to draw a conclusion other than “what the shit?” As it seems, in your case, that I have failed, I will try here to address your question.
      To answer your first concern that I appear to believe that social mores have no attachment to their time, I can assure you that this is not the case. You insist that political views are “clearly linked to culture and values of the public” and while I appreciate your spirited tone, I fear that I must remind you that what you have said is that “the culture and values of the public are linked to the culture and values of the public”. Which, tbh, is as good as saying nothing at all.
      You then go on to suggest that these cultures and values are linked to material circumstances, a proposition with which I absolutely agree. You say that it was the poverty and war experienced by the parents of baby boomers that produced their progressivism.
      I applaud your materialism but I fear you have it terribly wrong. Plenty of people in history have experienced poverty and war and have not produced a progressive rejoinder. In the unique case of boomers, it was, in fact, a period of unmatched affluence that, in part, permitted their widespread protest. And despite your third point that attributes the defeat of progressivism to the advanced age and authority of boomers, you do not address the fact that Millennials have experienced war—in this case, conflict that can be far less morally justified than WWII–and economic downturn that can be, and has been, unfavourably compared to the Great Depression.
      We can say that it was the unparalleled growth of a middle-class that helped produce Boomer progressivism. In fact, I do say that Boomers “were simply the last generation to be served well by capitalism before it started gagging on its own contradictions.” It is when people are at material liberty to protest that they tend to protest and so, it was prosperity and not poverty, as you suggest, that created a generation that I am afraid I must insist were far more politically active than yours or mine. Unemployment was lower, house-price-to-wage ratio was more favourable and education was cheaper. In one reading of history, boomers actually had less to protest about than you do. The fact remains, however, that they protested with much more vigour.
      And, another reason they protested so particularly and so eloquently—and my reading of this history is well beyond the scope of this article, but you’ll find, upon another look that I draw from this understanding in any case—is precisely because the material understanding they had of social conditions (the one you urge me to consider) was much more complex than what we have retained in the present era.
      Your assertion, for example, that Clinton “leans to the left” I would suggest is evidence that your own material understanding of politics has morphed into a cultural one. Hilary does not lean to the material left, she leans to the cultural left. And even here, she has been prompted to this position by the more legitimately “left” nominee, Bernie Sanders. It was when Sanders enjoyed a brief surge of support earlier this year, and when he was assessed by pollsters as being the best bet to beat a Trump presidency, that Clinton, a great advocate for corporate welfare, began to amend her policies. Now, from a utilitarian leftist standpoint, this might not be a bad thing. If Sanders has prompted Clinton to better policy, all the better for the nation. But, what has chiefly occurred is a switch to cultural and not material leftism. And I think I have been very clear that Dunham is a cultural leftist who confuses “personal empowerment” for meaningful programs of policy change.
      In short, it’s very nice to legislate for same-sex marriage or say that women are great. It is also not terribly effective. As another Clinton once opined “it’s the economy, stupid”.
      I do not, by any means, Godwin Clinton. I do not compare her to Hitler. I simply point out that her cultural progressivism plays very well to Millennials who, like my generation, are largely unable to make a distinction between the culture and the social, stupid. This is not calling her a Nazi. It is calling her an opportunist and reminding readers that she is an economic centrist.
      As for your claim that Reagan, whose Chicago School management produced the economic downturn your generation must face, or that Schwarzenegger, whose term in office famously screwed the economy of a state, are *proof* that we should permit the actual intrusion by the culture into the political sphere, wtf? These examples, along with Trump, are surely evidence that we must learn to note the difference between a culture of signs and a system of politics, no? I am afraid I can’t make sense of your reference to these noted idiots at all.
      If you are claiming that the strength of the US economy is argument enough for the elevation of movie stars to high office, then I will remind you that the US economy is strong at the expense of millions of its citizens weakened by poverty. Of course, you may be a supply-side guy who believes that wealth will trickle down. As I have said in this piece, I am not arguing, despite my own biases, for leftism. I am simply arguing that to see the difference between feel-good culture (yay, powerful women! Yay, saying the right thing! Etc.) and policy remains essential for a political understanding. And that figures like Dunham to their best to serve this confusion.
      This is what the Boomers have over us. Even figures incorrectly remembered as “moderate” from the period like MLK were very clear in their understanding of the division between the cultural and the socioeconomic. MLK was assassinated when addressing a strike by sanitation workers. He was a materialist.
      I do not, by any means, suggest that there is a battle between generations. I am, in fact, advocating for a fresh understanding for the politics of a generation to which I do not, as mentioned in the piece, belong. I believe that Boomers can provide instruction. I say this as an X-er. I offer this advice to my generation and to Millennials. This is, perhaps, the opposite of a battle. It’s an urge to multi-generational conversation that would have us remember that feel-good You Go Girl awareness is as nothing when compared to management of large economies.
      I do not feel bad. I am reasonably content with my assessment of the growing conflation of the cultural and political. I urge you to re-read it in the hope you will see that it does not demonise your generation. It simply tries to locate politics within a political context.

      1. Hi Helen,
        “were simply the last generation to be served well by capitalism before it started gagging on its own contradictions.” – Yes, they were the last generation to be served by Capitalism, yet I am sorry but this comment shows a lack of understanding about Capitalism and history. Capitalism ended in 1972 when the criminal Nixon ending the gold standard, that is, he de-backed our medium of exchange from value derived from work represented by precious metal. Currency could now be printed by governments by will creating inflation (which is the deferring of payment to future citizens without consent.) Just as bad however was the beginning of the fractional reserve system of banking – which allowed banks to create money out of nothing with loans. Enter credit card debt, housing bubbles etc. Capitalism ended and Debt-ism began. This is what has created rampant consumerism.
        Capitalism is not a system but a natural
        order. Conflating pure Capitalism with consumerism is like saying someone who likes sex is a sex addict.
        Capitalism is just the exchange of value that we create from our hands and minds. What we have now is not Capitalism but more accurately what Mussolini described as fascism – the alignment of the state with private business.
        Real Capitalism does not have contradictions – it is the best technology we have to bring people out of poverty and end injustice.

          1. Hi Helen,
            Well you could could argue fighting and stealing and the use of force are natural but the only peaceful means are voluntary exchange, gifting and the share economy. Capitalism is voluntary exchange. It is the best technology we have. You can have communal arrangements as long as they are voluntarily accepted by all participants. You can use force – communism. central banking and government mandated currency but this is not good for anybody except those first in on the ponzi scheme and those who run the system and their crony friends. There is something to say about the innate properties of gold -they have been accepted universal over different times and places because of these. It was voluntarily accepted not forced upon people. Bitcoin does not have all the properties of gold but is a voluntary system. Money should be what the people want it to be not be forced upon people like government fiat blood currency. If we did not have govt. currency there would not have been WW1 and WW2.
            The use of force in any way is immoral. All I am saying is give peace a chance. Capitalism is peaceful – it relies on peacful exchange. It allows people to follow their own path and add the most value they can to society. Capitalism hates waste and ensures all people are gainfully employed.
            All others systems have to use theft and force and only create distortions and misallocations both physically and psychologically.

        1. “Just as bad however was the beginning of the fractional reserve system of banking – which allowed banks to create money out of nothing with loans.”
          Do you have even the slightest idea how old fractional reserve banking is? When do you think this mythical age of gold-backed, fractional-reserve-free “Real Capitalism” was? Perhaps it has been obscured from history deliberately by those crypto-New World Order Reptilian Joos that control everything? RON PAUL 2016!!!!!!!

          1. Yes, I do understand completely how fractional reserve banking works. It is new currency created out of nothing (counterfeiting).
            Please see the Bank of England paper “Money creation in the modern
            released last year to clarify this.
            No, we have never had a complete Capitalist system unfortunately but ever since the advent of central banking ( a tenement of Communism) the free market has been manipulated and leached by the powers that shouldn’t be into what is really the precise definition of fascism.

  6. “That such individual acts of power are seen, even if momentarily, as somehow separate from the powerlessness they inflict is inanity.”
    I’m really starting to think that a course of ayahausca should be compulsory. Seems that even though we’re destroying earth bits because we don’t get the bit about how a continual growth economy has that as its outflow, we still don’t get how we’re the sum of the whole, that we’re positions within a time and a place and a system. It’s bizarre!

  7. Just one question I’ve been think about for awhile and which was highlighted by your article- when did Feminism become a branch of Socialism?
    This reference is probably going to make yourself and your Gen X audience (which like it or not are just a bunch of half a toe in the water “The Project watching” lefties) scream – but weren’t Dolly, Lilly and Jane Fonda all feminists in the semilal 80’s movie – 9 to 5 – and didn’t they want to improve their’s and their gender’s plight by getting along themselves. Can’t a women even slightly right of centre call herself a feminist without you and the SMH Daily life crew shouting her down?

    1. I am not nor have I ever been a Green voter or a Project watcher.
      And I am not particularly fussy about who calls themselves a feminist, unlike the Daily Life, which seems to have that particular job as a priority.
      While feminist socialists have existed since the 19th century and had little to say to the suffragettes, largely well-to-do advocates for temperance and “equality”, it’s true liberal feminism has a long, quite conservative history. As of late, to be “feminist” is in itself largely viewed as marvellously progressive, as is any move toward individual rights, I simply wanted to point out the material distinctions between left and right. As I have said quite explicitly, NOT because I think there’s one true path (although obviously I do) but because these distinctions, between the cultural and material and between left and right, can not be readily detected by youngsters.

      1. I enjoyed your response just as much as the article, if not more. Thanks for taking the time to respond in the comments section.

    1. What are you talking about? This isn’t a writing exercise where you lose points over brevity.
      Helen’s response to Athol improved my understanding of the original piece, and was much appreciated.

      1. I am not sure, Andrew, Maybe folks think it is un-authorly to mess about in the comments? And it probably is, but I am afraid I can’t resist me a young neocon who is convinced of their progressivism. It’s my catnip. I’m glad you found it instructive.
        For as long as Ray and Ben let me write for Daily Review, I will be here in the comments being even more of an arsehole than I am in the top half of the internet. Because, damnit, some fuckers need to be told.

    2. Disagreed. Helen, you are a wise patient teacher with an excitable child. And I learned something from your response too.

  8. Mmmm. Fierce grr. Crinkly~ or soft and wrinkly. Drink water. I have a permanent frown in repose. How did such a thing happen and is it important? Probably not.

  9. The Boomers were the architects of crony capitalism, negative gearing, CDO’s, and pretty much the entire gamut of financial and economic institutional mechanisms which have resulted in the crippling of the middle class both at home and abroad–but especially in the US.Housing crisis? Yeah–you can thank the boomers for that one too.
    ‘The US economy is strong at the expense of millions of its citizens weakened by poverty’
    The US economy is strong at the expense of Middle Eastern destabilization. It is essentially impossible for the fiat greenback to tank while it is propped up by endless Oil supply and WRC pricing exclusivity. Really the destruction of the middle class in the US is owing to bipartisan politics being bought and sold by corporate lobbying powers. 1% of Americans own 80% of the wealth. It is for this reason that independents are crushing the traditional binary candidates in nomination polls. And yes–I completely agree with you on the point that promoting Clinton out of some feminist obligation to do so is stupid–and childish.
    Helen, I am extremely surprised that you haven’t done an article on Bernie Sanders thus far. Given that he is running as an admitted socialist in a country as strongly Nationalistic and distrustful of the S word as the US, his rise to prominence thus far has been nothing short of bewildering. This is something definitely worthy of your attention.

  10. Overly long and uppity. I wonder what the appeal of consistent sub-funny generalising attack is. The moral highground must be a comforting place. But progressive? Makes me think of Steptoe and Sons

  11. Um, Helen… you give Athol more response than he warranted but you both seem to be kind of loose in your invoking of wars for your arguments.
    Athol is probably just bad at arithmetic if he thinks the post-WW2 boomers were in their 20s and 30s in the 1960s. The first wave were mostly still teenagers.
    You however counter that with “that Millennials have experienced war—in this case, conflict that can be far less morally justified than WWII”. And which war would that be, and to what extent has it shaped a generation in any remotely comparable way to the social impact of WW2? If we are comparing wars, Vietnam was the major politicising influence on boomers in the late 60s because it was so divisive in contrast to the social adhesion their parents gained from shared adversity of WW2.
    As for “economic downturn that can be, and has been, unfavourably compared to the Great Depression” – has it? By whom – anyone sane? Too bad Steinbeick didn’t stay around to document it. (Unless “unfavourably compared to” means “much less significant than” in which case I withdraw.)
    Apart from that I’m with you on 90 percent.

  12. I agree Athol hardly warranted the effort but wasn’t it fun:
    “Slap, bam, wallop, goodnight Athol, you can see yourself to the door. This is a room for grown-ups.”

  13. Just to be clear Helen, Gold does have an innate, essential value as there isn’t much of it and it has literally thousands of scientific, industrial and even social applications. All the Gold that has ever been mined would fit into a cube with a volume of about 82 feet. Basically, you can do a lot of stuff with it, and there isn’t much of it. Here’s one thing we couldn’t do without gold; go into space.
    Also Anarchist-Taoist, ending fractional banking although seemingly a nice idea prima facie would be an unmitigated disaster, because loaning out fractions on the principle reserve is how banks are able to grant money for business and personal loans–that means car loans, mortgages, start-ups, everything. A world without fractional banking would be one in which people would have to literally save the entire purchase value of a commodity…it would be sheer madness. Do banks have too much power? Yes. I will quote Bernie Sanders: ‘If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist’.

    1. Hi Captain,
      Banks still gave loans before fractional reserve banking – before counterfeiting – which creates inflation persecuting savers and robbing us all by destroying the value of our currency. FRB creates bubbles – the boom/bust cycle that the big bankers create and take advantage of.
      Please note this from the Bank of England paper ‘Money creation in the modern
      economy’ 2014 :
      “Commercial banks create money, in the form of bank deposits,by making new loans. When a bank makes a loan, for example to someone taking out a mortgage to buy a house, it does not typically do so by giving them thousands of pounds worth of banknotes. Instead, it credits their bank account with a bank deposit of the size of the mortgage. At that moment, new money is created.” and also
      ” In no way
      does the aggregate
      of reserves directly constrain the
      amount of bank lending or deposit creation.”

  14. Completely agree that she does not necessarily speak from a progressive place, but her speaking – her celebrity endorsement – encourages others to think about politics and engage in the discussion, which has to be a good thing. Even if only some of those people go on to dig deeper than 140 character analysis. Making political engagement cool is itself cool. As someone who grew up in the shadow of gen x, a lot of my idols were completely disengaged from politics. It was all bollocks, and so the appropriate response was to switch off. I don’t necessarily think that is the best in terms of outcomes. I don’t want the right to own all the discursive real estate just by showing up.

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