Does Lena Dunham Prove Writers Are as Toxic as Investment Bankers?
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Danielle Belton, a former print journalist who launched a successful career as a blogger before transitioning to television as head writer for the BET talk show Don't Sleep, with T.J. Holmes said of professional jealousy among writers, "A lot of this stems from what measures a 'good' writer is really rather abstract... Writing isn't like sports. It's very subjective, like art." Belton went on to note that because the definition of what constitutes great writing (and other art) is essentially indefinable, writers will always resent certain writers who receive more critical acclaim or financial success because no matter what others may say, that writer might consider his or her peer less talented than he is. To her point, even his competitors who loathe him (I'm looking at you Isiah Thomas) can't say Michael Jordan had no talent. His professional record beating them speaks for itself. But there is some writer out there who is convinced Ernest Hemingway was a hack and Mark Twain was an amateur.
As a black woman who has written about diversity in the media and entertainment, I am certainly sensitive to legitimate criticism of Dunham's work, particularly the lack of cast diversity in the first season of Girls. (Something Dunham herself appears to have discovered a newfound sensitivity about as well since she is attempting to remedy that this season.) But the most vocal criticism of Dunham has boiled down to this: Dunham is from a privileged background (she is) and the cast is comprised of other people from privileged backgrounds (they are.)
The thinking goes: privilege is the only reason she got a show in the first place. Oh and by the way her book advance is too big.
Dunham is from a privileged background. Her book advance is big. Really big. So big it will take a miracle for the publisher to recoup it and as a result there are some other authors who may not get signed for a book this year, or next, because of the millions going Ms. Dunham's way.
But that doesn't change the fact that if someone offered me $3.7 million for a book deal, I would take it, and let the publisher worry about the money. There are few people on this planet that would do differently.
Just one small detail. Most of us have never been offered $3.7 million for a book deal, and never will.
That's not Dunham's fault though. Most writers know that, but a good number seem to resent her anyway.
My thoughts on the role of privilege and nepotism in society, particularly in competitive professional environments are pretty well documented. In a nutshell, privilege and nepotism are bummers for the rest of us, but not going anywhere, but at the very least beneficiaries of nepotism should be gracious and acknowledge the benefits of being born on third instead of acting like they hit a triple. They should work their tails off and justify being given the opportunity that they may not have earned to prove everyone wrong who believes they don't deserve to be there.
I'd say Dunham did that with her Golden Globe wins last night.
While I certainly wish I had her book advance I don't hate Lena Dunham. The main reason I don't hate her is because after five years working in media as a minority from a non-privileged background I have finally accepted that privilege gets most people in the door -- particularly in fields like media, fashion, entertainment and even politics. But it's no longer enough to keep you there. Just ask Pippa Middleton about the future of her writing career.