Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession


Just as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials (that would be Ross Douthat), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media (this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city. 

Since 2001, The New York Times has published over 300 articles mentioning Dunham, about 99 percent of which have been written in the past four years. And, except for the early days, right when Tiny Furniture became a thing and Girls screeners became zeitgeist incarnate, she’s hardly ever the subject matter. Any story with a wisp of beard, a hint of first-person, a fragrance of futon, will surely mention Girls or the mind the show sprung from before it reaches its kicker. On a Sunday bare of Brooklyn, a Styles section stringer will rush to Bushwick to profile one of Lena’s friends—even if they’ve already received the Grey Lady treatment before. It’s not just the Times, though; other Manhattan-locked publications are guilty of lazily using a single atypical person as the synecdoche for a whole generation. But the reigning New York Times columnists and writers do seem especially susceptible to crushing on their subjects—see Gail Collins and her series on well-aerated pets.

If you’re looking for ammunition for your essays on nepotism, bad sex, being a millennial, having feelings, being friends with Claire Danes, or the implications of hosting Satan in a private school-educated artsy femonster who hates pants, you might try this instead.11. Also, if you are still party to the school of thought that congregates at bars and issues ragey screeds en masse about how Kathryn Bigelow condones torture, how Martin Scorsese thinks Americans can recession-proof themselves if they also proof their minds in Quaaludes, and how Lena Dunham’s chief aim in life is to break Brooklyn away from New York City via a tectonic shift-causing twerk flash mob, you should perhaps give up watching TV and movies. The only thing you'll find here is definitive proof of how excessive (and insipid) New York's flavor of Lena Dunham worship has been. There are plenty of interesting things to say about Girls. You just haven't found them. The links below chronicle the abridged timeline of the media's thinking "Lena Dunham!" after every single round of word association. 

March 1998: A Vogue story on precocious tweens in New York features Lena Dunham: 

"There's no Prada allowed in one downtown household. Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham's eleven-year-old daughter, Lena, has a street edge that could leave even Miss Schnabel feeling momentarily inadequate. 'I tried to model this after Helmut Lang,' says Lena, showing off a shift she sewed herself. Her fashion pronouncements are something you'd expect from a woman (at least) three times her age: 'I tend not to go for trends. You can only wear them for two weeks . . . . I really like Jil Sander, but it's so expensive.... I find Calvin Klein really hard to respect because he's everywhere. I view him as a clothesmonger . . . . Manolo is really classy.' Then she returns to preteen reality—'But five dollars a week [i.e., her allowance] isn't really enough. I'm just looking.'"

November 11, 2001: Lena Dunham, teenager at St. Ann's, is asked to reveal her favorite spot in New York:

"Under the Bridge—has been passed down through generations of girls in my school. I have a friend who's 36 who went to St. Ann's, and she used to go to U.T.B. We go there after a school dance or a party or whatever. You walk past all these big, cavernous industrial buildings, and then there's this natural spot you would have never expected. There are slats in the bottom of the bridge, and at night the lights from the cars going over the bridge flash through the openings like a strobe light. And the water is striped with the lights of the buildings, and the trash floating by makes it feel like parts of the city are alive and moving on the water. You can't see any stars, but the water is like a reverse sky."

April 27, 2003: The New York Times sends a reporter to 16-year-old Lena Dunham's vegan dinner party. The menu included four dips and second helpings of Justin Timberlake shaming. One attendee said, ''I would like to go on record that no one else in this room actually owns the Justin Timberlake CD. At St. Ann's we're too cool for popular culture.''

August 10, 2007: The New York Times covers a web series that marked Lena's first foray into holistic EGOT training. It is described as "the least flattering erotica ever to appear on the Web ... The guy she has sex with [describes] the experience as 'the worst sex I ever had in my life, worse than the first time I had sex, worse than not having sex.' It doesn’t stop there: 'She makes the strangest sounds,' Rel says. 'Like an early modem, from 1992, the first time you ever logged onto the Internet.' But don’t feel too bad for Lena. Ms. Dunham, a college filmmaker, conceived and blocked this self-savaging scene herself and wrote the dialogue about how bad her character is in bed.”

August 24, 2009: Vogue takes a look at Dunham’s web series, Delusional Downtown Divas. The show looks very much like Girls-in-training, as does the coverage of the show:

"'It's just a thing we put on the Internet that we thought a very small segment of the population would see,'" Dunham says. Though the segment of the population that has seen it is still very small, it happens to contain some very influential people-including Yvonne Force Villareal, who displayed the first episode as installation art in her APF Lab gallery; Isaac Mizrahi, who plays life coach to the girls when their gay friend Jazzy disappears; hunky conceptual artist (and Mary-Kate Olsen's boyfriend) Nate Lowman, who plays the object of Oona's misguided affection; and painter Deborah Kass, who is simply a fan. ... The three twentysomething stars grew up in Tribeca, and were all dragged to gallery openings by their artist parents. The art world they've experienced as adults, though, is very different from their parents'-fashion and celebrity often superseding the actual work. 'Now you have people who are like, Yeah, I'm going to be in a band, but if that doesn't work out, I'm probably going to make my living as a painter,' Dunham says. 'There's this illusion all of a sudden that it's this financially viable industry to enter into, whereas it used to be that if you decided to be an artist, you were basically deciding to live in an attic and get TB and die.'"

December 6, 2009: The New York Times also wrote about Delusional Downtown Divas.

March 19, 2010: The start of David Carr's beautiful (and well-documented) friendship with Lena Dunham. David Carr is patient zero of New York's Lena Dunham love sickness. 

November 5, 2010: Rebecca Mead profiles Lena Dunham in The New Yorker. Perhaps the only true profile of all the articles listed here. 

"Dunham and Landress left the soundstage and entered a corridor. A diminutive figure was heading toward them, with her head bent over a BlackBerry: Tina Fey, whose show 30 Rock is shot on a neighboring stage. As Dunham rounded the corner, she and Landress started whispering excitedly. 'I’ve been wondering when I would have my first Tina Fey moment!' Dunham said. She was half star-struck, and half enacting the role of being star-struck; and if Fey, absorbed in her e-mail, had experienced her first Lena Dunham moment without even realizing it, she would not likely remain oblivious for long."

*November 5, 2010: The Wall Street Journal looks at Tiny Furniture"Ms. Dunham's self-deprecating Aura can easily be viewed as a female incarnation of Mr. Allen's witty schlemiel. She's a classic comic sort: the odd duckling."

November 11, 2010: Manohla Dargis reviews Tiny Furniture. She sums it up thusly: "Pitched unsteadily if shrewdly between honest self-reflection and squirmy narcissistic indulgence, the low-budget indie Tiny Furniture is one of the bigger itsy-bitsy movies to hit this year."

November 12, 2010: V.A. Musetto writes a column in the New York Post titled, “WOULD-BE-ALLEN." “I'm not saying that Dunham is a new Allen, just that such a thing is possible. After all, she is working on an HBO pilot with Judd Apatow.”

November 19, 2010: The New York Times style magazine interviews Lena Dunham's also-famous mother, photographer Laurie Simmons—the first of many, many excavations of Dunham's social circle...

December 29, 2010: ...like this one, featuring Stella Schnabel. Dunham is mentioned as a fellow St. Ann-er. 

*January 2011: Natalie Portman is profiled in Vogue during Black Swan mania. She brings up Lena Dunham. “Did you see Tiny Furniture? Lena Dunham wrote, directed, and starred in it; she's 23, and it is just amazing. She walks around in her underwear for the whole movie; it's harsh. She's the subject, she's not the object, and it's beautiful—that's the kind of thing we need more of.”

*February 12, 2011: The Wall Street Journal also talks to Laurie Simmons.

"I went to see some films at MoMA and I sat down next to a young man the other night, and he said, 'Excuse me, are you Lena Dunham's mother?' said Ms. Simmons, who is best known for her photographs of dolls and dollhouse interiors. 'So that's been happening more and more.'"

February 21, 2011: Adam Driver, Hannah Horvath's sometimes boyfriend on Girls, gets an article in The New York Times arts section for his appearance in Angels in America. Dunham is the only person quoted who's not involved in the revival. 

*March 25, 2012: Emily Nussbaum’s New York profile of Dunham and Girls. To its credit, it gets the show better than most. 

March 28, 2011: This is where the articles pick up speed. Another piece by Dargis. She mentions that the hip kids at the film festival she's attending are using the same camera Dunham used for her movie. 

March 31, 2012: Frank Bruni writes his first column about Lena Dunham. Like a good columnist, he makes sure to mention all the necessary lady references: The End of Men, Maureen Dowd, Fifty Shades of Grey, Sex and the City, and Gloria Steinem. 

March 31, 2012: Frank Bruni has additional thoughts on Lena Dunham later in the day. His conclusion after their phone interview? "It’s no wonder The New Yorker profiled her last year."

April 16: 2012: The New Yorker tackles Lena Dunham and sex and Republicans. It includes the line, "To paraphrase Marx."

April 19, 2012: Lena Dunham is featured in The New York Times Book Review's "By the Book" section.

April 21, 2012: Lena Dunham and Girls are bandied about in an article titled "The New Shades of Feminism?"

April 23, 2012: “How HBO’s Girls Mirrors the Spirit of Sisterhood in Nature”

April 30, 2012: Millennials are begging their parents for money—just like Hannah Horvath!

June 8, 2012: Lena Dunham is interviewed by Andrew Goldman for the New York Times Magazine. They discuss what it's like living with your parents in your twenties. 

June 10, 2012: A group of women on the train to the Rockaways are said to look like Girls characters. 

June 13, 2012: A pair of filmakers are compared to Dunham: “propensity for self-exploitation (not to mention their preternatural instincts for self-promotion)."

June 22, 2012: The New York Times tours Brooklyn, stopping by Girls locations. 

June 23, 2012: Another article about millennials clinging "to the nest." The Goldman interview from earlier in the month is mentioned. 

June 24, 2012: An article about people who schedule tours of the Girls locations. 

June 25, 2012: In an article in The Wall Street Journal about Jezebel’s party for 25 notable women, the website’s founding editor said, "I suspect that some women aren't on the list because they wouldn't be in town. I would have included Lena Dunham."

June 28, 2012: Woman profiled in The New York Times arts section confesses she has never seen Girls (also a de facto confession that she does not read The New York Times style section). She says, “People have said, ‘You and Lena Dunham would have such a bromance. All I do is watch the Sundance Channel. I really need to check out Girls.”

June 28, 2012: Lena Dunham's first piece for the New Yorker website, remembering Nora Ephron. 

June 30, 2012: In a Wall Street Journal book review of Sheila Heti's new book, lede is about Lena Dunham.

July 5, 2012: In review of the same book in The New York Times Book Review, author says she loves Lena. Lena is said to love her too. 

July 23, 2012: The kicker of a piece about Frank Ocean in The New Yorker mentions Lena Dunham and the above author. Critical mass!

August 7, 2012: The New Yorker enlists Lena Dunham for their app launch.

August 13, 2012: Lena Dunham publishes her first essay in The New Yorker.

August 17, 2012: The New York Times reveals that Mike Birbiglia and Lena Dunham are friends. 

August 26, 2012: "the Lena Dunham of retailing."

September 11, 2012: Andrew Rannells is profiled in The Wall Street Journal. Lena Dunham is obviously mentioned.

October 9, 2012: The Daily Beast Facebook page links to a post with the question, “The Lena Dunham of China?”

October 11: 2012: “What I’m Wearing Now” with Audrey Gelman, best friend of Lena Dunham and press secretary for Scott Stringer. She mentions that Dunham picked out her wallpaper.

October 27, 2012: Ross Douthat and Maureen Dowd both write columns that mention Lena Dunham's ad for Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. 

December 10, 2012: Laurie Simmons gets a profile in The New Yorker. Obviously Dunham is mentioned. 

January 2, 2013: Zosia Mamet gets profiled by The New York Times. Obviously Dunham is mentioned.

January 7, 2013: Frank Bruni writes the words, “The new episodes immediately reintroduce Lena Dunham’s naked body, which was introduced aplenty in the old episodes. At this fleshy point I could draw it, I could paint it, I could probably reproduce it in clay."

January 10, 2013: “The Boys of Girls

January 11, 2013: “The End of Courtship,” Girls episode is cited.

January 14, 2013: At Golden Globes, it is night of female wunderkinds. Like Lena Dunham.

January 14, 2013: Lena Dunham is cited in an essay about twentysomethings in The New Yorker.

January 24, 2013: A movie is said to have the sensibilities of Girls.

January 30, 2013: In article about 30 Rock ending, Lena Dunham is mentioned.

February 13, 2013: Article about actor-singer couples. “Each generation seems to have at least one music-acting power couple of note and Mr. Antonoff and his current girlfriend, Lena Dunham of Girls, appear to have taken that spot for the millennials.”

February 15, 2013: A profile of Girls co-star Alex Karpovsky in The Wall Street Journal. He mentions Lena Dunham.

February 21, 2013: In movie review of Alex Karpovsky‘s new movie, lede and kicker mention how grateful he should be to Lena Dunham.

March 1, 2013: Sad Teddy Wayne essay about millennials working all the time at shitty jobs. Guess who else had a shitty job? Lena Dunham's character on Girls

March 1, 2013: In 11-paragraph book review, three paragraphs are about Dunham. The book is not written by Lena Dunham.

March 13, 2013: Lena Dunham is picked as one of The New York Observer’s 25 rising stars.

March 15, 2013: In article about Colin Quinn being funny on Twitter, this sentence: "Jenni Konner, who created Girls with Lena Dunham, chimed in, 'This is getting weird.'" 

April 5, 2013: In article about why we hate Anne Hathaway, kicker is that Lena Dunham likes Anne Hathaway. 

April 10, 2013: In article about breaking the glass ceiling for female filmmakers in The Wall Street Journal, Lena Dunham is a cited trailblazer.

April 17, 2013: An article about non-bikers getting tattoos. Non-bikers like Lena Dunham!

May 3, 2013: In article about the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide, Lena Dunham is mentioned. 

May 15, 2013: In article about topknots, and women growing long hair in lean times, Lena Dunham, who has a pixie cut, is mentioned. 

May 16, 2013: In A.O. Scott’s review of Frances Ha, he states near the top, “His name is Lev, he is played by Adam Driver, and this is the only time I will mention Lena Dunham or Girls in this review.”

March 18, 2013: In article about Girls finale, Alessandra Stanley is very uncomfortable with Lena Dunham's body and tells us all about it. 

March 25, 2013: Lena Dunham's second piece in The New Yorker

May 1, 2013: Lena Dunham is mentioned is a piece titled “How I Became a Hipster."

May 31, 2013: In a profile of Zac Posen, Lena Dunham—who the designer walked to St. Ann’s as a child—is mentioned four times.

May 31, 2013: In remembrance of 1970s comedy television, Lena Dunham comes up. 

July 17, 2013: A designer’s memoir is described as “Lena Dunham without the anomie.”

August 1, 2013: Ross Douthat writes another column about Lena Dunham.

August 8, 2013: An article about Scott Stringer—boss of Audrey Gelman, Lena Dunham's best friend—in The Wall Street Journal. Dunham is quoted heavily. 

August 9, 2013: An Australian comic is compared to Lena Dunham.

August 9, 2013: In an essay titled, “Is New York only for the successful?” the famous families of Dunham and her cast members are mentioned.

August 29, 2013:  A movie review of a Chinese film starts out as “Lena Dunham and Girls can have Brooklyn.”

September 3, 2013: In an article on Christine Quinn’s supporters, Lena Dunham is cited.

September 23, 2013: Alessandra Stanley has more thoughts on Lena Dunham's body,  “And that made Lena Dunham’s choice of a bold, full-skirted, green ball gown covered with red roses seem more shocking than her near-nudity on Girls.”

September 23, 2013: A profile of Girls co-star Christopher Abbott in The New York Times. Lena Dunham is obviously mentioned. 

October 1, 2013: Lena Dunham is cited as someone who cares little about her figure in TV review.

October 2, 2013: Lena Dunham’s first trip to Paris (for fashion week) is breathlessly documented.

October 4, 2013: Audrey Gelman, Lena Dunham’s best friend, is profiled in The New York Times style section. Dunham is mentioned eight times.

October 6, 2013: In graphic on social media alternatives, Lena Dunham is used as an example of an "impulsive creature."

October 15, 2013: In article about the new picture of female authenticity—being flawed—Dunham is cited as a perfect example.

November 1, 2013: This sentence happened: “George Stephanopoulos, 50 Cent and Lena Dunham have all been talking up their meditation regimens.”

November 1, 2013: Alec Baldwin declares that he wants to introduce the world to new people, like Lena Dunham, on his new TV show.

November 1, 2013: Ballet performance is not to be confused with Lena Dunham’s show, thanks to reviewer’s mentioning of it.

November 4, 2013: Lena Dunham's third piece in The New Yorker

November 5, 2013: In an article about the Plaza’s party for Eloise in The Wall Street Journal, Lena Dunham is referenced (she has a tattoo of Eloise on her back).

November 8, 2013: Actress June Squibb is profiled in The Wall Street Journal. And by the way, did you know she’s going to be on Girls?

November 8, 2013: Adam Driver (again?!) is described by Lena Dunham in a New York Times profile—this time in the Style section.

December 14, 2013: In a Ross Douthat column on daughters, Lena Dunham is mentioned in an aside.

November 13, 2013: The popularity of brownstones is explained by presence of Lena Dunham.

November 21, 2013: The popularity of Café Grumpy is explained by presence of Lena Dunham.

November 22, 2013: A story in the Sunday Real Estate section on Lena Dunham’s parents’ apartment, is titled, “A Lena Dunham Locale.”

January 3, 2014: In an article on the Woody Allen genome, Lena Dunham is obviously mentioned and called “The New Woody Allen.”

January 9, 2014: Alessandra Stanley reviews the new HBO show Looking and has more to say about Lena Dunham's body.

January 9, 2014: An article about how it's hard out there for indie films. Features a long aside on Tiny Furniture and Lena Dunham.

January 9, 2014: In preview of SXSW, the keynote speech of “one of the festival’s biggest success stories is the kicker.

January 12, 2013: In an article about Golden Globes fashion, Lena Dunham’s dress gets a bit of shade.

January 13, 2014: Lena Dunham’s “canary yellow” dress is mentioned.

January 13, 2014: In a piece about Golden Globes after party, the absence of Lena Dunham is noted.

January 15, 2014: Lena Dunham is profiled in Vogue by Nathan Heller, is called the Bob Dylan of comic television. 

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