So I was reading The New Yorker at lunch today. Just kind of picked it up and was flipping through it. Last month's copy that I got from the library. Great picture on the cover of Obama looking stern and trying to shake hands with some white politician who looks a little stoned and is trying to give him daps. Looking for an article about your and my favorite capitalist centrist figurehead when I came across an article about Lena Dunham, which I started reading for some reason I won't be able to explain.
Turns out Lena Dunham went to Oberlin College. Small world. Turns out she was there while I was there. I read on, sort of bemused and incredulous, as this FUCKING NATIONAL MEDIA AND CULTURAL INSTITUTION described a couple student films she made at my fucking college. It didn't really hit me until it mentions her flying back to Oberlin to premier some feature film she made and Dan Chaon meeting her at the airport. Dan was my fucking adviser. He's a known writer and a stand up guy. I once drove to his home with Mollie late on a Friday night to leave a weird clay statue and a vaguely unsettling note on his porch. In the article she complains about the gender neutral bathrooms in the co-ops at Oberlin, for Christ's sake. And it just made me think, What the Fuck?
So I looked her up when I got home. She has a slick website. Lena Dunham, Writer & Filmmaker. Her own domain name, nice, simple design, obviously not from a template out of Dreamweaver. All her creative endeavors presented on a side bar with the excruciating attentiveness of a librarian cataloging every public mention, display, obscure film festival award, or individual involved in any of her efforts (We are the Facebook generation, are we not?). I was impressed.
So I kept reading. I looked up some of her videos on YouTube. Now, a lot of famous people have come out of Oberlin. A fucking ton. Especially in the arts and cultural arenas. And that place definitely contained a concentration of amazing creative people at an astoundingly higher rate than the general population, but the thing is there aren't that many people in the rural Ohio cosmopolitan metropolis that is Oberlin, and, without a doubt, I knew every cool person on campus while I was there. And I'd never heard of Lena Dunham. I figured, if she was some instant-hit, big-shot Lady Gaga of the Indy film world, I would have heard of her.
I've gotta say, I watched about 3 seconds of a interview and a 5 minute short film and it's nothing special. It's very much college films made by a self-obsessed hipster from New York who went to an artsy liberal private college. Living with her parents in TriBeCa, which I'm told is the most expense part of New York. So how did she get 6 fucking pages exclusively devoted to her sweet little existence in The Fucking New Yorker? I'm in disbelief.
There's something to be said for having talent, working hard, paying your dues, and producing genius work. And there's something to be said for being rich, knowing people, and shamelessly promoting yourself. And, you know, you really gotta admire someone who can do that well. Either one, makes no difference. Maybe it's not who you are, but who you can fool into thinking you matter.
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It's instructive, though. Just like the Republican party's smear campaign against global warming, in today's media-saturated world, all you need to do to get your message across is be name dropped in enough places to make it appear as if what you're saying is fact. Frequency is readily confused with actuality and lends anything an air of truth. Maybe all any of us needs is a good PR campaign.
I have a lot of friends who are incredibly talented people, doing much more unorthodox and interesting things with their lives than I (or Lena Dunham, I'd wager). But they don't have that same seamless sense of perpetual self observation, that eternal objective other, that mirror you catch yourself in and then smile for the cameras at just the right moment. I don't know whether this is second nature for Lena Dunham or whether it's a conscious effort to succeed in an extremely competitive field, but she clearly has this. It's sort of a polish (or a film, if you like - as in that film that formed over the pool last summer when we stopped putting chlorine in the water...). She does it well, and, hell, more power to her. I'm just baffled. I feel like we all should be able to do this. Get a couple mentions here and an inflated resume list of this and that that you've appeared in and there you go. You're off to the races.
Maybe this is all it takes to succeed. Or, maybe this is what success is (a slightly different proposal). I'm realizing more and more in my life that you create the world around you. Everything that happens to us is subjective, interpreted through human eyes and the lens of culture, and it's malleable. Most people don't know who they are or what they want in life, and we all crave and respond to someone who can make us feel sure of something. Anything. Be it spiritual beliefs, a sense of duty and meaning, or a world in which you make trendy indy short films that go on to wild success. We manifest these things by putting them out in to the world with unabashed confidence in their reality, and I wonder if this is maybe all (or what) it takes to make something real.