Lena Dunham, GamerGate and [insert SEO keyword here]

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A few weeks ago, after handmade pasta and a few too many specialty cocktails, my friends and I got into it over Lena Dunham. Empowered by that special brand of self-righteousness unique to personal opinions about popular things, we loudly and enthusiastically debated the merits of the Dunham Phenomenonโ€”two of us against and one (me) in favor, with a fourth maintaining a wishy-washy neutrality that belied the definitive nature of Dunham’s fame. Indeed, if we’ve learned anything from the post-Girls age, it’s that one is either pro-Lena or against, impressed by her or annoyed, on the same page or reading a different book entirely. There is no Switzerland when it comes to Dunham.

Without even touching on the specifics of her body of workโ€”wry stories of self-involved 20-somethings fumbling their way through adulthoodโ€”it would be hard to overstate the size of Lena Dunham’s zeitgeist footprint. She became a household name seemingly overnight, at first because of the critical reception to Girlsโ€”both good and badโ€”and later because of the critical reception to Lena herself: Why so whiny? Why so frequently naked? When clothed, why so much like a toddler? Over time, Dunham’s fame became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and talking about being so over talking about Lena Dunham morphed into the cultural high ground, like hating Uggs or giving up on post-1990 Saturday Night Live.

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Just kids stuff

In a bit of fortuitous timing, I finished Patti Smith’s Just Kids the same day that Girls, a new comedy from Lena Dunham/Judd Apatow, premiered on HBO.

Now, these two things aren’t directly related. In fact, they’re not really related at all. Rather, one just made me think of the other, and since the critical reception of Just Kids ran the gamut from appreciative to absolutely glowingโ€”while Girls received less favorable treatment from the likes of Gawker and, you know, viewersโ€”I thought it perhaps an apt time to share the comparison.

For the unfamiliar, Just Kids is a memoir written by artist/poet/musician Patti Smith, about her long relationship-turned-friendship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe, he of controversial photography fame. Smith, now married with children, wrote the book in 2010, nearly 20 years after Robert’s death, and more than forty years after the pair first met in Brooklyn as 20-year-old aspiring artists. Smith’s is a memoir about love, but also about a time and a placeโ€”New York in the 1970sโ€”and about coming into one’s own as an artist and an adult. Although we as readers know how the story endsโ€”with success for both subjects and Mapplethorpe’s ultimate death from AIDSโ€”Just Kids isn’t so much focused on the tangible progression of the pair’s respective careers. It’s a glimpse behind the scenes, into the development and maturation of two people who at first glance really are just young and clueless, aspirational and broke, hopeful and driven.

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