There may be a significant minority of readers who consume works they are likely to despise. If there is not, then we must explain both why the term “hate-reading” is in popular use and why Andrew Bolt maintains a career. Or, for that matter, why I do. Or, why so many of us maintained such a long fascination with Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP, a newsletter aimed at a fictional wellness idiot so gullible and rich, she might be tempted to steam-clean her vagina. Steam-clean her vagina. Gwyneth, publisher of a recipe for a daily breakfast drink that contains an ingredient called “Moon Juice Sex Dust” and costs somewhere between $10.52 and $200 per homemade serve, is really only good for one thing: the hilarious reminder that incredible privilege rarely brings forth its equivalent in wisdom.
As many adoring hate-readers of GOOP did, I enjoyed the woman’s Marie Antoinette resolve. No matter how often Gwyneth was reminded that women of even the western world could not afford to bathe in the alpaca semen she was selling, she failed to see the point. She traded aspiration as freely as she did organic lube and, fuck, it was the funniest thing. And this funny thing, launched in September 2008, the very month Lehman Brothers collapsed and worldwide economic consensus had it that we were in the biggest economic toilet since 1929, got even funnier. As an estimated 5 million US citizens were forced to foreclose on their homes, Gwyneth continued to prescribe a diet rich in organic money. Her Let Them Eat Kale decree now serves only those who have the wages of the finance sector. Us 99 percenters who weren’t bailed out chose to Occupy Gwyneth by laughing at her.
It’s fun to laugh at blind privilege. It’s even a little bit useful. GOOP became such a stark illustration of the unsustainable consumer aspiration actively courted by the 1%, it was instructive. Just as Citibank ran an ad campaign that persuaded consumers to “live richly”—i.e. well beyond their means—mortgage providers actively sought out targets for what it called at the time Ninja loans. This acronym— No Income No Job No Assets—was in wide use on Wall Street well before the financial collapse. These guys clearly knew that their practices defied the most basic principles of lending—and despite what The Big Short tells you, there was more than one economist sounding the alarm on these criminals. After the GFC—or, rather, in the middle of what will be studied in the future as an even greater depression—GOOP is particularly funny.
There are few people who read GOOP for anything more than a chuckle or a candid look at the empty brain of a rich and magnificent twit failing to see that this is a poor and terrible time. We don’t read it to be “inspired” but to have our envy or our rage activated, like almonds! GOOP is now a relic of a “live richly” era wherein homes to store our Moon Juice Sex Dust were not well beyond our reach. We can laugh at it because it’s old-fashioned; it’s part of that women’s magazine tradition of invented problems that sell invented solutions.
Ideology is always easier to make out when it gets a little old. You can look at a Women’s Weekly from the 1970s and giggle at instructions on how to make casserole and style one’s hair for hubby in a single afternoon. You can look at GOOP and see it as an artefact from an avaricious past; a corporate-sponsored recent past that produced the poverty of the present. These are easy “hate-reads”; they are documents that tell us a little about the worst of the time that produced them. It’s fun and it’s kind of easy to do this archaeology of women’s media. But, if one wants a little living anthropology, perhaps the question to ask ourselves is: what will women be hate-reading in the future?
Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn my answer: The Lenny Letter. Irregular readers can just consider this post a “hate-read”, I guess. Or, they could consider we’ll all be laughing, GOOP-style, at Dunham in the very near future. I encourage you, again, to get in early and not see Dunham as simply “problematic” or imperfect, but as a neo-conservative ideologue.
After Lenny’s dreaditorial on the importance of “self-care”/how every sassy item of clothing a gal buys for herself is an act of revolution, I was not alone in detecting bass notes of neo-conservatism. Actually, last week a US neo-conservative website wrote a piece urging The Conservative Case for Lena Dunham. Too right. The woman is a rampant individualist who considers shopping for cute outfits the utmost dissent. Live richly. She supports the neo-conservative Hillary Clinton, is opposed to the decriminalisation of sex work and bangs on, like Oprah before her, about the need to follow one’s dreams.
When you sell the lie of upward mobility, recast shopping as liberation and pose for photographs regularly at elite social events with Taylor Swift, you’re a model conservative. This behaviour, especially when it is so routine, does not disturb dominant order, but preserves it. If you’re only defending the “rights” of “relatable” “babes”, such as Taylor, yourself and people who think your homemade tattoos are awesome, you’re as progressive as copper wire. Social justice a bit like the National Broadband Network: it only works if you extend the big pipe of liberty to everyone. Not just your #slutwalk “girl gang” with pink hair and toe rings. That’s not bringing the freedom fibre to every home.
Lena, just like Gwyneth, cannot see that the particular version of justice, and of wellness/”self-care”, is inevitably served to a minority. And, no. I don’t mean she should have more women of colour on her show. It’d be nice, but it is not an act of aggression to omit them as she does; it’s probably an accurate reflection of the New York life she leads. What I do mean is she should shut up and have a really long think before she embarrasses herself as badly, I am pleased to report, as she did late last week. Well, that is, if she wants to continue to be seen as a “progressive”, and not as the neo-conservative an avowed right-wing commentator so accurately diagnosed.
The Dunham ideology is beginning to show, GOOP-style. In the most recent Lenny Letter, Lena laid her ideology so bare, many found they could not look in her direction with fondness again.
In an interview with fellow neo-conservative ideologue Amy Schumer, Lena recounted the terrible story of her time at the Met Ball. Apparently, the poor thing was seated next to NFL wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr.—young, hot, black and male—“and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standard.”
Beckham had not said a word to Dunham, but she knew what he was thinking: “That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.” He also, she says, seemed “confused” that an audacious, sassy, self-actualised lady like her who had the GUMPTION to dress in a tuxedo—oh, my goodness, the gender-bending thrill—could even exist! What a yokel! He actually seemed more interested in his cell phone than Lena Dunham. How is this possible?
Okay. Loads of us ascribe cruel and complex motivations to others when we are being ignored. Loads of us are self-involved. Most of us are sufficiently self-aware not to publicly retell these paranoid moments, as Dunham, did, as fact. And Dunham’s subsequent apology, which offered her feminine insecurity as an excuse, doesn’t change the fact that much, much more than most, a filmmaker and publisher is absolutely in the habit of editing.
Still, Dunham didn’t see a thing wrong with her frank attribution of crude sexuality to a young black man, until several black people pointed it out. And, bully for her in apologising etc. and turning this into a “teachable moment”. But, seriously. Did she, now 30, not do even a little post-colonial reading at Oberlin College, a university so expensively sensitive to “cultural appropriation”, its (chiefly white) students sought a ban on “inauthentic” tacos? Was there seriously not one unit that required this privileged daughter of Manhattan to read a bit of Fanon or Baldwin or Said? Mr and Mrs Dunham were badly ripped off.
So are Dunham’s young fans who crave a path to a better world, but receive instruction on racism instead. (I’d call it “casual racism”, but this seems inappropriate, given Dunham’s choice of attire.) Even if Dunham has received absolution, a great fuel for both America’s celebrity and its after-school specials, this doesn’t begin to excuse the rest of the effing interview.
Look. I love crass female candour. It’s my very favourite. But I don’t think either Dunham or Schumer can be said to be candid, when they are not even being honest with themselves. In a passage about Schumer’s new commitment to gun control, the comedian describes how the fatal shooting of two movie-goers at a screening of her hit Trainwreck moved her into action. Quite understandably, Schumer was personally touched by the death of these two women. She learned what she could about them. “And it just so happens that they were two of the sweetest angels who have ever lived, you know?” she says to bestie, Dunham.
And then, “It is never some toothless fucking crackhead who gets killed”.
Now, we could put this down to a moment of comic bathos, I guess. But, Amy has already said that she is not going to joke about gun violence. “I wish I could muster the energy to put a clever and sarcastic spin on some of the grave statistics about gun violence in America, but I have to tell you, I just fucking can’t,” she writes in her best-selling memoir.
So, Amy wasn’t joking when she said to bestie Dunham that a “toothless fucking crackhead” is less likely to be murdered than an “angel” of the sort inclined to go and see her empowering films. But let’s set aside that Schumer is entirely wrong about the “grave statistics” she refuses to even joke about and that the people most likely to die by firearms are from populations most likely to be underserviced by dentists and over-serviced by dealers in crack cocaine. (I’ll leave you to figure out what colour these people are.)
Let’s pretend that toothless fucking crackheads are not especially prone to gun violence. Even so, the Dunham-Schumer message is clear: some lives matter more than others.
Some people are worth defending more than others. Some people deserve our respect more than others. There are ordained groups of “diverse” “angels” whose rights we will defend. And then, there are toothless fucking crackheads and athletes who don’t even bother to rape us with their eyes.
Call me very old-fashioned—and I am sure that some Dunham-happy ditz on Twitter will—but I suggest these words from 1848 might be useful for Lena, Amy and anyone who considers that there are some groups of people worth defending, and others—including people with bad teeth and athletes who don’t pay me attention–who deserve a bollocking in a newsletter read by more than 600,000.
The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
You don’t get to choose who has freedom. You don’t get to say who has earned your defence of their rights. I mean, you could try excluding white men, men who don’t look at you or people who dislike the music of Taylor Swift from the program of emancipation you tell me you have written for the world. But, that’s not freedom, is it? It’s a very partial freedom delivered only to “angels” with pink hair, an attitude and numb democratic consensus for the very questionable views of Hillary Clinton. It’s a freedom extended to certain deserving categories of people, ergo not freedom.
It’s a $200 smoothie. It’s a high-end vaginal steam-clean. It’s a casserole made for your “girl gang” while you were colouring your hair bright pink and Instagramming the whole empowering shemozzle. It is, in short, a sales job in the very worst traditions of women’s magazines. Unless your interest extends only to the travails of the sassy and female and rich, you should unsubscribe from Dunham and from Schumer. Maybe resubscribe to Paltrow for a little old-school hate-read.