Nora Ephron, From Above

Dearest Meryl,

You haven’t called in months.

I always wanted to say that from here.

I hope you’re well.  You’re going to make a brilliant Violet in August: Osage County.  You know I think Tracy Letts is overrated but you were born to play the role, and after it opens, no one will Nora_Ephron__121011170211-275x412even remember It’s Complicated.  I follow Mamie’s career, too, and she has real promise.  That silly doctor show, like Mickey Rourke’s ill-fated comeback, shall soon pass.

It’s lovely here, Meryl.  I’m still not sure where I am, but it’s a bit like the pit stop where Al Brooks romanced you in Defending your Life, without the clichéd robes.  The restaurants eschew food trends and everyone rejects Twitter as a legitimate vehicle for wit and the movie theaters offer matinee prices all day and there are very few children and I haven’t had a migraine since June.  And even though I’ve avoided sunscreen since I arrived, my neck somehow looks smoother than it has in years.

I have to ask you something and I hope you’ll be honest with me.  They discourage cynicism and elitism here (it’s not as bleak as it sounds), so I haven’t read The New Yorker since my move.  But I heard a horrible rumor that after I died, that tubby teenaged troll whose name isn’t worthy of my memory wrote my obit in the pages of MY magazine.  Is this true?  Why didn’t they ask Woody or Steve or Calvin or Fran or Diane or Billy?  Even that Joker-faced bag of Botox would’ve been a more fitting choice.  What’s next – will Moby be asked to eulogize Philip Glass?

Please tell me I’m mistaken, Meryl.  I didn’t pen Heartburn and Silkwood so that one day, Hannah Horvath could dazzle the world by binging on cupcakes in her G-string.

All my love,

Nora

Pearl Harbor. 9/11. 1/13.

Since the turn of the last century, the events that transpired last Sunday night can be rivaled only by the atrocities that shook our country on 9/11. On the evening of 1/13, we bore witness to a series of tragedies and travesties so horrifying and unjust that our nation may finally feel compelled to fight back.

In the course of a few hours, we were exposed to a season premiere of Girls so uninspired, so unfunny, and so filled with gratuitous nudity that we thought we could withstand no more. But like a tsunami that follows an earthquake, we soon learned that Lena Dunham won for best comedy actress, to which she responded by shitting on some of our — and allegedly her — comedy heroines. And then like a meteor attack that follows a tsunami, Jay Leno announced that Girls won for best comedy. Only Lady Edith could have woken up Monday morning to the same feeling of dread upon remembering how Sunday night changed everything. Forever.

We’ll recap the Girls season premiere in a later post and we can’t exactly sing the praise of the show’s competitors for best comedy. (Our country’s celebration of The Big Bang Theory as legitimate entertainment may speak more to the sad state of our culture than our obsession with guns or Taylor Swift.) So for now, we’ll focus on the farce of Lena Dunham being annointed the best actress in television comedy by the make-believe Foreign Press Association.

To understand the absurdity of Lena Dunham’s win, one need look no further than the brilliance of the other nominees. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a comedy actress’s comedy actress. (We’re neither comedians nor actresses, but we’re sure those who are would agree.) She inhabits Selina Meyer with the same expert timing and acuity as she did Elaine, to the point where we’ve forgiven her for Christine, both new or old. For this dance alone, Julia Louis-Dreyfus deserves to win the award every year for as long as the Hollywood Foreign Press pretends to exist. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may be the most talented comic minds and performers living today — they nearly singlehandedly revived SNL after a time when Chris Kattan and Colin Quinn were allowed on stage, and they’ve created and helmed two groundbreaking shows. And Zooey Deschenal has very pretty blue eyes.

What distinguished Lena Dunham over Deschenal’s dreamy eyes and Louis-Dreyfus’s, Fey’s, and Poehler’s performances? Was it her self-indulgent exhibitionism? Her affected over-annunciation of words she thinks will resonate? Her penchant for upspeak? Her noble mission to find unlikely new locations where she can jam cupcakes down her face? Her courage in depicting the lives of pretentious, entitled, white, whiney, overprivileged brats to whom only Brooklyn trust-fund transplants could relate? Watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s reaction to the announcement of the winner, I imagined her channeling the late Lloyd Bentsen and saying to herself: “Hannah Horvath, I served with Elaine Benes. I knew Elanie Benes. Elaine Benes was a friend of mine. Lumpy young naked lady in the dress that Zac Posen would be foolish to include in a Target collection, you’re no Selina Meyer, and you are CERTAINLY no Elaine Benes.”

If it weren’t enough that Lena Dunham upstaged three geniuses and a pair of eyes like the ocean, after careening to the podium like a blind and elderly duck, she used her odd, grammatically-challenged and inartful speech to remind us how underserving she is. By referring to the other nominees’ achievements in relation to the help they provided in getting her through “middle school, mono, a ruptured eardrum, and her acuteful [sic] anxiety,” she emphasized what she perceives to be the others’ advanced age and her own craven need for the spotlight. She continued by declaring that “this award is for every woman who’s ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her.” Naturally, someone whose film was funded after college, was soon after handed a TV show by cable’s most prominent premium channel, and was later offered a $3.7 million book deal — all before the age of 27 — is someone who can relate to the plight of women lacking a creative outlet.

Stay stong during this difficult time, dear reader(s). There’s still hope that the Emmys will snub her.

A Girls Drinking Game

Take a sip of your drink when:

  • Lena/Hannah eats cake or a cupcake;
  • Two girls talk to each other about a man;
  • Marnie acts uptight;
  • Jessa acts like a free spirit;
  • Shoshanna acts naive and ditzy;
  • Lena/Hannah is humiliated for attempted comedic payoff; or
  • Lena/Hannah quits or gets fired from a job.

Take a shot (you’ll need it) every time:

  • Lena Dunham takes her clothes off;
  • Two characters have awkward sex;
  • Someone tells Hannah/Lena that she’s an amazing writer, even though the only thing we’ve ever seen her write on the show is her personal diary;
  • Lena/Hannah makes her weight the butt of a joke.

Take a sip of water if:

  • You see Lena/Hannah writes something outside of her diary;
  • You see any of the girls at work;
  • Lena/Hannah wears a flattering outfit;
  • Two of the girls have a discussion that is relevant to the plot and not about a man.

If you play this game, you will get wasted fast.  Guaranteed booze poos on Monday morning.  You’re welcome.

Girls: It’s About Boys

Lena Dunham’s overexposed body (of work) has garnered praise from an unlikely cadre of critics and artists, some of whom we hold in high esteem. The time it would take to admonish every positive review we find to be positively misguided would require us to quit the jobs we hate but are too cowardly to leave. So for now, we’ll focus on the praise heaped by one of our heroines: Alison Bechdel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the comic illustrator and writer, Alison Bechdel is lesbian literary legend. From the early ’80s until 2008, Bechdel published the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which I (surprisingly, not the one of us who drives a Suburu) read surreptitiously in the tiny LGBT section of her college library like they contained the secret of how to eat everything without gaining weight. In 2006, Bechdel published Fun Home, a beautiful “tragicomic” graphic memoir in which she accounts her troubled childhood relationship with her closeted father who eventually took his life. We both regard this as one of our favorite books. Her second memoir, a highly personal and intriguing account of her relationship with her mother and the world of therapy, came out in 2010.

Bechdel may be best known for creating the “Bechdel test,” which is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A fictional work satisfies the test if it meets the following requirements: (1) It has to have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man. Because The Bechdel TestGirls fails this test and fails it miserably, Bechdel’s comment during a Buzzfeed interview that “[Girls] is great — I’m loving that show,” and her gushing praise of the show to June Thomas during a Slate podcast, is baffling.

Without even applying the three-part test, the fact that a show about four individuals who have been adults under the law for the better part of a decade is called “Girls” should earn the show an “F.” It’s one thing for a woman in 2013 to eschew the label “feminist” (although we both find this despicable). It’s a whole other matter for a mainstream show to deliberately infantilize a group of ostensibly empowered grownups.

But assuming that Lena Dunham chose this name to make some kind of ironic statement that’s lost on us, Girls is still the kind of fictional account that the Bechdel test was presumably designed to attack. Girls certainly has two women in it who talk to each other. Ad nauseam. But what they talk about is men. The men they’re fucking. The men they’re not fucking. The men they want to start fucking and the ones they want to stop fucking. The men they used to fuck who now fuck other men. The men we’re supposed to believe harass them at work. The men who won’t give them the money they believe they deserve. Men who may be sociopathic, others who are too empathetic, and others who are dull douchebags. One of the four lead character’s only role on the show is to represent 20-something-virginity, while another’s is to represent 20-something promiscuity. Make no mistake – Girls is only tangentially about women or girls; it’s about men.

Based on her work product so far, Neil Labute would probably earn a higher score on the Bechdel test than Lena Dunham. Alison, if you’re reading this — and we know you are — we love you and we hope you’ll join our side.

If Lena Dunham gets naked and no one’s there to see it…

We’ve been taking a lot of flak in our invisible comments from imaginary readers who think we want Lena Dunham to put her clothes on because she is flabby and pear-shaped, and not tanned and toned and perfect like everyone else in Hollywood.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We are big fans of women with realistic, womanly bodies — women who have curves, flab, wrinkles, donkey booties — baring it all on screen, embracing their distinctive characteristics, and looking different and often beautiful and memorable.  Emmanuelle Riva courageously and poignantly displayed her beautiful 85-year-old figure in Amour. Rebel Wilson lived up to her name as a mermaid-of-size in a revelatory New York Times video. And Kathy Bates may have reached the pinnacle of her badassery when she boldly bore her middle-aged melons in About Schmidt.

But celebrating the diversity of female forms is not what Lena Dunham is doing.  She is, to quote Linda Stasi, a pathological exhibitionist.  It’s her chutzpah she wants to impress us with, not her body.  And so, instead of trying to accentuate whatever physical beauty she may have, she goes out of her way to make herself look more unappealing than she probably really is.

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In fact, she revels in repulsing us with her nakedness.  It’s a gimmick, a ploy for even more attention, rooted in a hipster desire to embrace what no one else does for effect. The over-the-top, unrealistic, degrading sex scenes she did in Season 1 only deepened our disgust. Creating a foil character for yourself who is cartoonishly unlikeable and then debasing her in every conceivable way — all while showing your tits! — is pointless and self-congratulatory, and we see no bravery in this crass self-promotion.  

Lena Dunham getting naked for attention is not empowering to women, and it does nothing to counter the grossly unrealistic ideal to which too many women hold themselves.  If anything, it does the opposite.  We want to eat nothing but celery and raw almonds for the next month after looking at that picture for too long.

Feel free, non-existent readers, to disagree with us in comments.

Where it all began.

There is a land, not far from here, that is ruled by an emperor — a title used to describe someone who is rich, powerful, emulated, and idolizedH solely because he was born to famous parents, kind of like the Brant brothers.  The emperor, like so many of us, spent most of his day at work online shopping; the guy loved clothes, but he did not buy off the rack.  He liked to own the most lavish, cutting-edge, head-turning couture. He fancied it the pride of his empire.  So like Pompeii with his elephants, the emperor often called his subjects forth to celebrate his newest outfit. In fairness, these were the dark days before Grindr came to his kingdom.

One day, a motley but twee group of self-proclaimed artists came to the emperor’s court and told him they were weavers who could create the finest fabric that ever existed, a textile so luxurious and stunning it would be the envy of all who saw it.  This cloth, they claimed, had magical properties; the unintelligent, and more importantly, unhip among his subjects would not be able to see their extraordinary creation.  The emperor commissioned the con artists to make him a bespoke suit from their magic cloth, to inspire his subjects, of course, but also to cull from his advisers the people who actually preferred Lady Gaga’s early works, before she went full Madonna.

The emperor gave the swindlers bags of money to create his enchanting new outfit.  They set up looms in the east wing of the palace and asked for silk and jewels and gold to create the phenomenal fabric.  Word is, they spent days lounging around their quarters, eating cupcakes, tweeting, and listening to well-curated but unadventurous music, but they barred the doors to any of the Emperor’s court.  After a few weeks, the Emperor was curious about their progress, so he sent his most trusted adviser to check up on the weavers.  The adviser was a wise and weathered diplomat whose storied career was a rare source of imperial pride not related to the emperor’s own appearance.  He entered the workshop where the swindlers spun their deception and saw their empty looms.  He was incredulous. How could he not be intelligent enough to see the fabric? While he stood there, dumbfounded, one of the weavers — a young, unshapely woman, asked him, “Do you like our beautiful fabric?”  The adviser hesitated, fighting a self-doubt not experienced since his youth.  Before he could speak, the woman said, “Do you want me to try it on for you?”  Before he could answer, she began taking off her clothes.  Once she was completely naked, she mimed draping the fabric from the loom over her naked body.  “Now what do you think?” she asked.  She started eating a cupcake with gold-flake-flecked frosting.  “It’s breath-taking,” said the advisor, acquiescing, “You’re so brave.”  “Tell the Emperor,” said the naked woman, “And tell him we’re going to need more gold.”

The emperor sent several other people whose opinions he respected to view the cloth and they all gave it rave reviews.  One of them actually gouged out his own eyes because, he claimed he never wanted to see anything else again after the weaver tried on the beautiful garment for him.  The swindlers brought in a whole host of friends, relatives, and Hollywood executives to help create the fabricated look.  Soon word began to spread throughout the land about the astounding and magical get-up, and before long, people who’d never even seen the cloth, who’d only heard about it third-hand, were telling their friends how breath-taking and magnificent they knew it was.  The emperor planned a grand procession to show off his new clothes to his subjects.

lena_dunham_pantsless 2On the day of the unveiling, the Emperor waited nervously in his dressing room while the weavers approached him with their much anticipated creation in a black garment bag.  A dumpy, naked woman unzipped the bag and pulled out several empty hangers.  As she pulled each one out, the advisers gasped, they nodded and smiled, murmuring praise to whomever was listening.  The Emperor’s eyes were wide.  “Put them on!”  The naked woman urged him, holding out an empty hanger in fingers smudged with pink frosting.  The Emperor took it from her.  “Even though it looks heavy, the fabric’s very light, isn’t it?”  He nodded as he slowly undressed so his valets could pretend to dress him in the imaginary outfit.  He surveyed himself in the mirror, arrayed in the fraudulent fashion piece. His eyes swept from his fine, shapely calves to his washboard abs he spent hours sculpting with the royal personal trainers, up to his face, glowing with admiration.  “Gorgeous,” he said.  “Absolutely stunning.”

As he made his grand entrance to the procession, the Emperor looked back over his shoulder to make sure his footmen stooped low to pick up the imaginary train and hold it off the grimy streets.  He walked through the center of an electrified crowd, a scrum of craning necks and searching eyes.  There was a pause, a beat, before people started shouting, “Bravo!”  “It’s wonderful!”  “These weavers are the voice of their generation!”  “This is high art!”  “It’s so brave!”  The weavers walked behind him, basking in praise, their hands outstretched for tokens of gratitude from their new fans.

A few people in the crowd, however, were a bit perplexed.  One said it was “revolting,” and called the naked weaver a “pathological exhibitionist,” but then inexplicably awarded the outfit three stars.  John Cook just walked around singing bits of old rock songs to himself and shaking his head, before suffering a total mental breakdown and banishing himself from the kingdom.  Asawin Suebsaeng lost his faith, and in a fit of profound angst, looked skyward and asked, “Why, HBO?  WHY?

We exchanged a frustrated glance, before one of us said, “Ew, put your clothes on, Lena Dunham.”  The other agreed, “Seriously, no one wants to see that.”

Unfortunately, it continues and she’s everywhere, often naked, publishing her food diaries, tweeting every uninspired thought that comes into her head, instagramming her cupcakes, brag-journaling every undeserved thing that happens in her privileged, storied life, and getting paid millions for it.

It’s infuriating.  We want it to stop.