Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lena Dunham's Whale Swallows My Minnow, But I'm Not Bitter.

Lena Dunham.  She’s been described as “a more awkward, fatter version of Tina Fey,” Variety, “Reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw… if she were a troll,” New York Magazine.  Not exactly heart-warming epiphets, yet after scoring multiple Emmy nominations, a solid hit with her HBO series Girls, and this week bagging a hefty $3.5 million in a deal with Random House, I doubt Lena will lose any sleep. 

$3.5 million for a collection of essays on life, relationships, broken relationships…  it sounds like… like… my blog, only… with a deal!   As I think of the hours I have spent tapping away at the keyboard, wordsmithing blogs, short stories, two complete novels and a third on the way, I have to admit, this breaking news makes Ennie just a wee bit green.  $3.5 million?  I can taste acid churning up my oesphagus, my skin wrinkle with consternation, my flesh glow a strange lime jaundice… I am the En-credible Sulk. 

Every year, Gentlemen.  It's joyous.

Wasn’t this the girl who I had briefly glimpsed, legs akimbo, having a pap smear and STD test on TV?  Who had written for herself a character who fretted about condom-usage and escapee stuff coming up the sides?   Who, odds were fair, I would see every Sunday, her flesh slapping from whichever angle or entry point she was utilizing this week.  It was raw, uncomfortable viewing; the series had shocked me, but clearly not into switching it off.   

Are Random House banking on her being trashy like Snooki, just talking about things most girls are just too polite to discuss?  I had to find out.  I had to…Youtube!

I typed her name into the search bar and a slew of clips, interviews and trailers presented themselves.  A year ago, I had never even heard of her and, holy kitten poo, there was so much for someone so young!  I watched clip after clip, and unlike baby cat shit, it didn’t stink.  She seemed genuine, sweet and bloody hilarious; not in a vulgar comedienne type way who just makes uncomfortable jokes about tampons, but a sparky, burning fire of intelligence!   She didn’t recycle the same lines or same stories that often celebrities doing junkets seem to, and every well-wrought verbal picture, or self-deprecating offering, made me feel more and more delighted for her deal.

 She is the kind of girl I could banter about Dicktards with, dance ridiculously to my secret collection of WHAM! with, order Chinese takeout and share noodles from a box with!  She is eccentric, quirky, kooky and all those other adjectives that tend to be used when describing a funny female who is in need of a stylist.  Crikey, who could have negative emotions towards a woman who can’t walk in high heels?  She’s sweet!  She is, indeed, larger than the average HBO actress, doughier, pastier, yet her unabashed nakedness in the show, and seeming comfort in her fleshy pale skin; her committed approach, tattooed-tits-deep, into gritty subject matter, that would never make Sunday teatime viewing on the BBC, is refreshing.  Plus, anyone who, whilst all else are decked out in gowns and Emmy award finery, can sit naked in a public toilet stall eating cake, is not just brave, but Navy Seals of Comedy Courageous.  Yup, she may be seven years my junior, I may be hopelessly heterosexual, but I have a bit of a girl crush now.

Aired at the Emmys.  Tasty.

A writer friend, best-selling crime novelist Jason Pinter, commented on his FB page, “My issue isn’t that Dunham isn’t talented (she is), but she’s being treated and paid like she’s the voice of a generation, which she isn’t (yet).”

On Wednesday, Jason's statistical conjecture on the deal was published in the Huffington Post.  My eyes were thyroid-wide as Brain computed the numbers.  Everyone's a winner, Baby!  If you are worried that Random House or Lena will lose out in any way, you can rest easy.  Both will make money.  Lots of it.  It's not magical, it's all mathematical.  Jason's concise break down of the numbers explain just how the biz works.  Take a look:

I do think $3.5 million is an enormous amount of money, but I don’t begrudge her a penny.  She is talented and as a successful 26 year old who has written, produced, directed and starred in an award-winning film Tiny Furniture, (Best First Screenplay, Best First Feature and New Generation Award) a HBO Series and snagged herself a book deal, I think if she does become the voice of Gen Y, then good for them, because she is a gutsy gal with a brain, not a fake tan, a whoredrobe and a reality show.   Her voice is not cashing in on her ability to write about bodily fluids, but it is brave and bold.  She breathes a whole new comic voice to the sexually-liberated-but-confused twenty-somethings.  Where Carrie Bradshaw “cannot help but wonder,” Lena’s character, Hannah, stops wondering and starts doing.  She has balls with her neuroses. 

If you are illicitly watching this at work, you may want to lower your volume on this clip, but I hope you will watch, it just GETS ME.  (And not because I care about eyebrows. Or dick pics.)  

My only little niggling question is… when I am told that the industry is slow and book deals are really hard to come by, especially for strong-female voices narrating the trials and tribulations of life, love and other indoor sports, where does this whopping, almighty slap-me-with-a-kipper check come from?  Does it mean that when the houses are fighting for this, they are bidding the money that could have made lots of debut novelists very happy?  Is that what is swallowed up by this whale of a deal, all the little minnow deals that could have launched careers?  I suppose so.  Damn. 

And yet, I can’t dislike her, I won’t dislike her; and besides, there are houses out there who didn’t win the deal, and they’ll be wanting a fresh voice that is open, endearing, flawed and fucking funny. 
Hello, I’m Eleanor, nice to meet you!  *waves*

Enjoy!  Roll credits!

"I'm not the girl you're taking home.  OOOOOOOOH.  I'm still dancing on my own."


  1. Great post Eleanor! To be fair, 300,000 copies is still a LOT of copies to sell, and though it's feasible it's by no means a sure thing. If the book underperforms and sells, say, 150,000 copies, Random House could lose millions. So my article wasn't meant to say it was a sure thing her book would be profitable, just that she didn't need to hit Tina Fey levels for it to be. If it falls somewhere between Fey and Mindy Kaling, RH will do just fine. If it falls below that, well, heads will roll.

    I do wonder, though, if you've touched on something that a lot of people feel. There has been a backlash (fairly or unfairly) towards Dunham, in that she's so successful as such a young age, and perhaps more importantely since she comes from a famous family that she had an easier time navigating the showbiz waters than your average blogger who's witty and smart but doesn't have talent agents stopping by the house. Gawker, for one, hasn't hidden their disdain for her, and if they represent a younger generaton that's a little peeved or turned off by apparent nepotism, they might lose a hugely important audience and demographic necessary to the book's success. What do you think?

  2. Dunham is a much more acceptable leader for the generation than, say, Snooki.

    And isn't the whole reason that we (and by we, I mean thee inhabitants of THIS planet with an IQ above that of a half eaten peanut) oppose figures such as Snooki to be our unspoken poster girl, our effigy of enlightenment, our yardstick of success---because she's, well, dumber than a box of limestones at the base of Niagara falls?

    If we accept that the ad community tells us what to think, ala George Orwell, then isn't pale, imperfect, courageous and intelligent and much more welcome effigy than big titted, obnoxious and plain old stupid?

    Let me consult the judges? ---they say yes.

    Jason, I think that the argument here is not who our "leader" is, but rather WHO selected that leader. Money guides wars, sure. And time will tell if Dunham is worth 3.5 mil But, more importantly, I don't think that this is a case of the public being jealous (except for me of course. 3.5 mil and a book deal is enough money to make me at least consider going the way of Lena Wachowski). I think the issue is that the public is sick of having a nameless suit manipulate the advances of our "tune in and buy me" capital.

    Either way, this XY is happier staring at a courageous, slightly imperfect, cake eating version of XX, as opposed to the daiquiri impaired, pantyless train-wreck who thinks that XX is nothing more than one X short of a great time.

  3. Ryan - I don't think it's an 'either or' between Snooki and Lena Dunham (though if that were the case, count me in on voting for Lena 1,000,000 times over Snooki). And it's not that the public is jealous of Dunham's advance any more than you can be jealous of anyone who makes a lot of money, it's that there are people who feel she had a lot of doors opened for her because of who her parents are that other creative types don't. Again, I think Dunham is 'very' talented, and you're right in that time will tell whether the book is a financial success. I'm reasonably sure the book itself will be good because I think she's a good writer. So I agree with you in that I'm glad someone with a brain is reaping mounds of success. But trust me when I say that publishing is not a 'nameless suit' industry like film or tv can be. People who work in it do so not for any sort of money or prestige (there is little of either), and occasionally that means signing up someone like Snooki not because they think she's a great American thinker, but because people might buy enough copies of her book to allow them to stay in business to publish other actual thinkers.

  4. I think nepotism can only get you so far. I would have been one of the Gawker masses, feeling miffed that someone so young had been seemingly gifted opportunities I would kill kittens for just because of her last name. I would have been one of those because I didn't have a name, I don't have a name and, yes, I am down right jealous. But, with a little bit of introspection, if I DID have that name, would I have sat naked on a toilet eating cake? That was brave. Yes, her name got her chances, but she chose what she did with them.
    If she didn't deserve those chances, she would have fallen on her pasty face. It takes a huge amount of guts and determination to write and put your brain out for dissection by the masses, let alone put your-imperfect-self on display.
    I DO feel aggrieved that someone like Snooki, or better comparison yet, Paris Hilton who has benefited far more from nepotism than actual talent, is given a book deal.
    As to your question, Jason, regarding whether the jealous Gawker masses will boycott sales, you know, I think there will be enough curiosity about whether she "deserved" the 3.5 million to whip up book sales when it drops. I also think that for all the Naysayers, there is an awful lot of good feeling toward her. Apparently, she was a sell-out at the recent Annual New Yorker Festival, and my actress friend, Brooklynite and BBC Correspondent commented to me that in the local and artistic community there is warm feeling toward her. As ever, I think this is a case of the empty vessels making the most noise.
    I know that I will buy her collection of essays and I am sure, however "green" I'll be feeling, I shall probably laugh my socks off!