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Lena Dunham Privileged? Yes, But You Should Still Watch "Girls"

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Privilege is a powerful and predetermined form of luck. But what successful artist first got his or her break without a stroke of good fortune? Still, privilege alone can only get you so far. It probably doesn’t get you a show on HBO. And it definitely doesn’t get your show renewed. Privilege alone doesn’t win Golden Globes.

When Girls premiered in early 2012, it quickly became one of the most talked-about shows of the year. Lena Dunham, the 26-year-old creator, writer, director, lead actress and executive producer of the show, was the main topic of conversation. Dunham was quickly pegged as “privileged,” and her talent and career continues to be scrutinized. For example, in a commentary just last week in The Huffington Post, Silpa Kovvali criticizes Dunham for supposedly not attributing enough of her success to her parents. She concludes that Dunham is either “narcissistic,” “wilfully naïve,” or “malicious,” as well as “just another privileged person endorsing an unjust system.”

Now, of course, Dunham couldn’t have gotten this far without the privilege that her background afforded her—there is no doubt about that. Dunham was born and raised in New York City and attended a prestigious private school in Brooklyn. Both of her parents are artists and with their support, she had the opportunity to attend Oberlin College for creative writing.

Because of this, some critics painted Dunham and her show as totally un-relatable — to men, to anyone not white, to anyone not wealthy. Dunham has addressed this criticism, and previously spoke to NPR saying, “This show isn’t supposed to feel exclusionary. It’s supposed to feel honest, and it’s supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience.” She is the first to admit that she writes about what she knows, and the show’s overwhelming honesty is largely due to the fact that her writing is inspired by the real-life experiences, insecurities, emotions, relationships and situations that she has encountered. And while the vast majority of these experiences may not involve a diversity of characters, they are still are widely relatable.

When people stop worrying if Girls is speaking for them, and them specifically, they can realize that the bulk of Girls is not limited to the particular demographic of its main characters. The organic interactions and dialogue between the show’s characters draw upon many underrepresented commonalities about the current 20-something generation. A generation that favors texting to face-to-face communication. That faces frustrating job searches and feeling unfulfilled. That has more questions than answers when looking toward the future.

The show is uniquely insightful and smartly humorous. Unlike the strong majority of television comedies, Girls is written from the perspective of a young woman. Its portrayal of sex is often cringe-inducing in its realism, and the sexual needs and feelings of the female characters are not ignored. The lead characters are realistically flawed, sometimes to the point of being downright unlikable, and audiences are left to judge their often-questionable decisions. It is spot-on in its representation of the complexity of female friendships. And Girls is a lot of fun.

Fortunately, enough people have realized Dunham’s talent and the importance of Girls, because yesterday, Dunham and her show won Golden Globe Awards the same night the first episode of the second season premiered. Last night simultaneously confirmed the success of Girls’ inaugural season while indicating that there is more greatness to come.

Now that Girls has seemingly proved itself, critics should stop debating whether or not Dunham “deserves” her career. In reality, the issue at hand has never really been Dunham’s privilege. It’s her looks. Her gender, her age, her weight — her qualities that starkly vary from the norm of an influential player in the entertainment industry. She doesn’t look or act like your average television writer and producer, and people have noticed that. They’ve pre-emptively wondered how she could have achieved success in such a competitive field where no one else looks like her.  Ironically, it is exactly the ways in which Dunham is not privileged that have caused critics to create such a stir over her privilege. How come we don’t think twice when a rich, white male makes it big, but we all raise eyebrows when a young woman has the opportunity to write about young women? 

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