Lena Dunham Gets It Wrong…Again

By Arturo R. García

Image via thefrisky.com

In case you were wondering, nope, it doesn’t seem like Lena Dunham’s listened to the critiques from earlier this year.

As Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky reports, Dunham’s non-apology for this picture didn’t help any:

A rare genuine one–been in production and completely not reading the news. Didn’t realize what a bad time it was to make a joke like that. Not a good excuse you guys, but an excuse nonetheless. I’m glad you keep me informed and I’m deleting those tweets. Will spend tonight reading my pile of old NY Times, contemplating the boundaries of humor. I try and learn something new every day. xxLena

By “bad time,” she referred to the assault on the gurudwara in Oak Creek last week. So it only took people getting shot and killed by an apparent white supremacist–and using a pretext similar to Ashton Kutcher’s defense for those pro-Penn State tweets, if you’ll recall–for her to issue a non-apology. It wasn’t that the joke itself was lazy; it’s that she didn’t pick the right day to foist it upon us.

As for the rest of her argument, if she hasn’t learned about “boundaries” after being critiqued regarding her show’s casting calls–what, Donald Glover is supposed to be a salve?–or her staff’s stabs at hipster racism, then it’s not hard to imagine anybody holding their breath to start showing more sensitivity now.

  • Anonymous

    “hipster racism” is an actual term, look it up!

  • Anonymous

    No, but having non-white people is the world we live in, and I CHOOSE not to watch Lena Dunham’s white-washed version of NYC since I can in fact watch shows online that are written by and have diverse casts that do in fact reflect the way that a LOT of us (including myself) live. I have friends of every race and have lived a lot of people, find it hard NOT to see people who don’t look like me.

    She can keep her show. i could care less. But she should stop using POC for comic relief, as she has done so far.

  • LSM

    When I first saw the post in that dress I thought the dress looked fundamentalist Christian (LDS church vibe) and the scarf was the goth piece. If that were the case then its an issue of appropriating poorer white attire and misrepresenting gothic looks. Then I realized who it was an eventually figured out she just had a really fucked up attempt at a hijab. If your characteurs are so ill-conceived they are unrecognizable you shouldn’t be attempting comedy at all even if we momentarily forget the privileged racist elements that make her comedy unbearable.

    • s. mandisa moore

      Just so that we are clear, fundamentalist Chrisitians are not poorer white people. Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Huckabee, etc, etc, etc are pretty fundmentalists, but are by no means poor. Furthermore, the Church of LDS is not a poor church-but one of the wealthiest in the country.

  • Eva

    I was about to say, “who is she?” But now I see. I don’t think you can call her a “hipster” because that would assume she’s even hip and she isn’t.

  • Dee

    Wow, it’s not even unfunny because it’s offensive…it’s just not funny period, with offensive sprinkles on top of a shitty sundae. I don’t understand how completely…ugh, I can’t even find a word for people like that. Just….no.

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  • sup

    I’m a white dude with a largely anything-goes approach to comedy but who tries to be racially sensitive given my privilege. So when I ask what’s wrong with Lena’s post, I’m not saying that it’s not wrong…I just want to understand what I’m missing. Is it because she equates a veil with fundamentalism (which is stupid and unfunny) or something more?

    • Anonymous

      Here, I don’t speak for everyone, but I’ll attempt to answer since you didn’t pull the whole, “I can’t see the racism therefore it doesn’t exist.”

      Lena Dunham’s attempt at humor is lazy, ignorant, and racist.

      It’s lazy b/c it has been open season on Islam and the cultures that are most closely linked with Islam in the American mind. I say this as a Black American raised in the Christian faith. But since 9/11, it’s been seen as acceptable to mock and denigrate the ways in which Muslims worship, the ways in which they express their piety and faith, and to suggest that they are not worthy of respect whether they are American Muslims or Muslims in other countries. Half a dozen Sikhs were killed just over a week ago because of this mindset, and the scary thing is, people would probably be less sympathetic if the people had actually been Muslim. They regularly get searched, humiliated, kicked off planes, and otherwise violated and everyone acts like it is okay. Somehow it is acceptable to attack them in any setting b/c of what a bunch of people who are dead or thousands of miles away believe.

      It is ignorant because Lena Dunham has opted to mock a religion which she has not bothered to educate herself about. Lena and her defenders claim that the whiteness of her version of NYC is acceptable b/c she doesn’t know anyone except white people, and it reflects her reality. But she feels comfortable using minorities, that she claims to have no direct knowledge of, as her punchline, both on her show an in this picture (and she is likely going to use one as her Mandingo in her 2nd season). Do you see why that is problematic? There is nothing interesting or clever or ironic or funny about mocking the practices of someone that you view only as a stereotype.

      It is racist because it is. In my opinion, the most dangerous stereotype and one that allows racism to flourish is the one that “racists” are people who live in southern or flyover states, shop at WalMart, are Evangelical Christians, do not go to college, and vote Republican. A lot of urban, non-Christian, educated “progressives” like Lena Dunham do a good job of convincing themselves that they are not racist, b/c they drink espresso, and listen to jazz or Mos Def, and live in cities, voted for Obama and sometimes have sex with POC, and as a result, they give themselves free reign to engage in racism on a regular basis.

      The next time you are wondering why someone finds something offensive that is not directed at people from your ethnic group (although as a white male, you do sit atop the power hierarchy in this and many other countries, so when you get mocked, it has little impact on your life or your prospects), why not swap out the players and see how it would be interpreted? So if a brown person (esp. one who is Muslim), was wearing a fake beard, peyas, and a wide-brimmed hat, or was wearing a scarf with a wig, what do you think the reaction woud be? Would you find it offensive if she had taped her eyes and worn a long black wig, or colored her skin and worn and afro wig? What if she was wearing something akin to a Mormon garment? Do you see that it’s not even your call to tell people of color what they should find racist or should be concerned about (a common derailing tactic, not that you engaged in it here, but worth mentioning since you wanted an explanation).

      Ask yourself why it’s okay to mock Islam but someone mocking Judaism would quickly be condemned as anti-Semitic. Think about why some groups are afforded a great deal of protection (Have you noticed how often criticism of Lena Dunham and her mediocre writing, the nepotism that made her famous, and her racist characters is called misogyny? Have you noticed how often any attempt to call out racism on the part of privileged white females is called misogyny?) and others are afforded none. The funny thing is that there is a lot of overlap between the ideas of modesty that are practice by the most fundamental sects of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, but one is derided and the other is largely allowed to exist free of most criticism.

      The most simple explanation is also that just b/c Lena Dunham and her followers think that the act of a woman covering her head to express her devotion and piety is somehow silly or oppressive, it is NOT okay to mock it (and to always lazily call the practice sexist and misogynistic). I’ve known a lot of Muslim women and they all have different reasons for doing what they do (as do we all), and they don’t all make the same choices, and the choices they make are not made for the same reasons. But Lena Dunham’s privilege means that she never has to take the time to get to know that.

    • http://twitter.com/eshowoman Friday Foster-ABWW

      If you can’t see what’s wrong with that you need to work on that racial sensitivity alot more.

  • Anonymous

    “boundaries of humor”? Does she really want to pretend it’s a free speech issue? Pathetic. Considering her earlier responses to some of the criticisms, I thought people were getting through to her. Guess not.

    This is yet another example of the defense or non-apology being worse than the initial offense. I guess “scarf=fundamentalism” jokes are just that important to her. Despite earlier controversy, I didn’t write her off entirely. I never got around to checking out her show, considering there’s always other well-received show that aren’t a lightning rod of criticism. But after this, I’m just going to ignore her entirely. I guess it’s time to remove “Tiny Furniture” from my Netflix queue. It’s not like her stuff’s geared towards people like me anyway.

  • Mickinickharp

    I am so over Lena Dunham. So very, very over her and her self-absorbed class/race privilege. I’m over her supposed talent, even though her most acclaimed work is really a repackaging of the Sex & The City trope with a sprinkling of every other “finding herself” narrative that has existed since time began. So over her “irony” that isn’t.

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  • Anonymous

    Well, how is she going to learn if she continues to be rewarded for her hipster racism? I’m sure her supporters think this is oh so clever and witty. She got a 2nd season for her show, she was nominated for an Emmy, which to many white women is proof that none of us ever had any right to call out her hipster racism b/c it is highly regarded “art”, and they’ll rush to defend this behavior as well. Oh well, shows like hers are why more and more of my attention is being given to web series that actually have black actors and black couples.

    And I’m not sure how pulling in a black male who I’m sure will be one of their sexual conquests is supposed to show that they are progressive, b/c how can you go from “my world is all white, that’s just how it is, deal with it” to “I’m sleeping with black boys b/c that is so progressive and natural even though I don’t know any black people” and not having it come off as a gimmick/novelty/sexual tourism.

    • happyappa

      I think by calling it hipster racism, you’re giving those people an excuse to get away with it, by emphasizing the ironic part and not the racist part. It should just be called racism. But I agree with everything else you said.

      “She got a 2nd season for her show, she was nominated for an Emmy,”
      Don’t you know? Hollywood loves flaming piles of junk.

      • Anonymous

        Well, that wasn’t my intent using the term. My understanding of hipster racism is that people who think that they are cool or hip falsely think that they can get away with racism b/c it’s something they associate with people who are less, “cool”, “progressive” and “liberal” than they are, and also b/c they think that they are able to be ironically racist.
        I consider it to just be racist, and it’s only “hipsters” who are racist who think that they are not. There is sometimes overlap between them and the racist “anti-racists.”