Here’s a little something I don’t think I’ve ever actually told anyone: Andrew Breitbart wrote to me not once but twice. Back in February of 2010 he rattled off a very strange late-night rant at me in response to something I’d written about his little Renfield, James O’Keefe. It was full of misspelled words and ended with a reference to Footloose, and it wound up getting quite a bit of press for my little corner of the internet given that it provided a flawless example of Breitbart’s pettiness when it came to taking on anyone at all who dared to write something about him and his acolytes that he didn’t consider properly hagiographic.
But a couple of weeks after that first e-mail I got another, this one reacting to a quickie diatribe I’d posted on my site that more met with Breitbart’s approval. The piece in question furiously questioned the sincerity of Hollywood’s decision to wrap its toned arms around Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique, who at the time were riding a wave of critical praise for their performances in Precious, and declare them physically beautiful. (It culminated with People magazine naming Sidibe one of its “50 Most Beautiful People.”) Bottom line: I thought that the usual suspects within the Hollywood Industrial Complex suddenly deciding to come together and change the standard of beauty they’d relentlessly marketed to the masses for decades smacked of bullshit, that it was at best hypocritical guilt and at worst outright pompous condescension.
Breitbart’s response to my post was basically that I’d better watch out because if I kept talking like that Arianna Huffington would have my liberal VIP pass pulled.
I thought about Breitbart’s quip, and the fiery post that spawned it, while reading a piece published at Salon and Alternet over the weekend called “Naked If I Want To Be: Lena Dunham’s Boy Politic.” The article was written by a Toronto-based freelance entertainment writer named Soraya Roberts who has her own movie review website which she claims was created because other critics aren’t doing a good enough job. And no, I’m not kidding about that. Her review of Silver Linings Playbook calls the film a “prosaic look at mental illness.” So, yeah, I guess you pretty much understand what you’re getting when you see a Soraya Roberts byline. I didn’t know this upon delving into her piece on Lena Dunham’s incessant nudity on her hit show, Girls, but could figure out which direction the thing would go in when the subheader claimed that, in the opinion of the author, Dunham’s decision to constantly bare it all was a direct homage to “feminist art tradition.”
The very first paragraph of the piece begins with the following snotty crack: “In Hollywood, it seems you’re only allowed to be naked if you’re Megan Fox.” It then goes on to call Dunham’s body “unconventionally beautiful” not once but twice. Again, this is only the first paragraph we’re talking about. It spends the next 2,300 words attempting to win an award you didn’t know existed for hitting the most clichés of pseudo-intellectual esoterica in a single piece of journalism.
Now I realize that I’m treading on very thin ice being a man who dares to comment on anything involving Lena Dunham’s naked body — although there have been so many column inches dedicated to the topic lately, ranging from insightful to pedestrian to ridiculous, that I at least might have some cover to duck behind — but I’ve never been too adept at self-preservation, so allow me to gleefully stomp until you start hearing a very pronounced cracking sound.
No, Lena Dunham’s naked body is not “beautiful,” conventional or otherwise. Go ahead and get the knives out, but while some will argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, hailing Dunham’s rather dumpy, badly proportioned figure as some kind of statement in favor of true, natural beauty is nonsense. The best you can objectively say about Dunham in Girls is that she’s not entirely unattractive, or that she can occasionally be kind of cute, or even that her frankness is sexy, but spending thousands of words trying to insist that she’s physically gorgeous simply because her nudity defies convention and serves a purpose you find politically and culturally expedient, one that happens to align with your own view of how the world should be, isn’t just horseshit, it’s oddly insulting to Dunham herself.
It’s no secret that there’s a school of thought in modern parenting which dictates that every kid needs to be indulged and made to feel special in every single way; that each child is a precious and unique snowflake who’s just as talented, attractive and skilled at any endeavor he or she undertakes as the kid next door; that everyone should get a ribbon just for showing up and making an effort. This is a fine MO for parents looking to create an overly entitled, narcissistic pain-in-the-ass, but it’s not so great when it comes to explaining to a child how the world generally works. Some people are good at some things and not so good at others. Just because we’re all created equal in human dignity and should be allowed the same level of opportunity to succeed — and each person has value — it doesn’t mean that everyone will in fact succeed at everything he or she tries. Not everyone’s going to play quarterback for the Giants. Not everyone’s going to write the code for the next Facebook. Not everyone’s going to walk off with a handful of Golden Globes. And not everyone’s going to win a beauty pageant or be on the cover of GQ.
And who says everyone has to?
One of the points I made in the post that got Breitbart’s attention was this: Isn’t it enough that Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique are terrific actresses? Do they have to be physically beautiful at all? Can’t they just be incredibly talented without anyone having to assure them that they’re also just as attractive as any of their peers? Isn’t that in itself demeaning? And wouldn’t it show a true respect for both diversity and the import placed on factors besides beauty in our culture to admit that someone’s value doesn’t have to be in any way linked to his or her physical appearance? That original post, rather than calling either actress inarguably unattractive, was commenting on the hypocrisy of Hollywood saying exactly the opposite in an effort to make itself feel better. I in no way think that many of those lauding Lena Dunham’s naked body are guilty of the same thing — certainly not Soraya Roberts, who’s undoubtedly a true believer when it comes to what she perceives as feminist thinking — but the argument remains the same and in some ways asks the very question her defenders are crying indignantly to the sky: Why is it necessary for Lena Dunham to be beautiful to be naked?
If you believe that it’s not the result of narcissism or a cheap gimmick used to milk laughs through making the audience uncomfortable, as enthusiasts of the show argue it isn’t, then isn’t it possible that Dunham’s nudity simply is what it is? That it’s a really average-looking girl naked and nothing more, something certainly not meant to challenge people into reassessing their ideas of what’s beautiful in our culture? I seriously doubt that Dunham thinks she’s Megan Fox and who’s to say she’d ever want to be?
Megan Fox isn’t the Golden Globe-winning writer, producer and star of her own critically acclaimed show on HBO. Lena Dunham is. Isn’t that enough of an accomplishment?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think that’s Arianna calling.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.