In season two of Girls, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath gives a piece of writing to her boyfriend (Donald Glover), a black conservative. After much insistent prodding by Hannah, he admits he doesn’t think very highly of the piece, and so she starts lambasting him for what she guesses to be his political views (she doesn’t bother asking what he actually believes). Those views, not by coincidence, become repugnant to her at the exact instant she discovers he doesn’t like her essay. She grows increasingly agitated and argumentative, even as he remains calm and reasonable, and finally she huffily announces she can’t see him any more because of politics.
By the time she relates the incident later, she has repositioned herself as a civil-rights crusader who gives no quarter to oppressive Republicans, telling two friends (a gay man and a woman) that she had to break up with the young Republican “because your rights happened and your rights happened!”’ The episode was, like many others in the series, a pinpoint satiric attack on the Millennial mix of intransigent self-absorption, eggshell self-esteem, and vapid progressive political posturing, all of it disguised by a blithe willingness to lie not only to others but also to oneself.
What makes Lena Dunham’s entire existence seem like an elaborate act of performance art is that Lena Dunham the person behaves in exactly the same carelessly solipsistic way that Hannah Horvath did for six seasons on HBO, and then she dissembles the same way Hannah would. It’s as if Lena Dunham the person breaks her life into a series of clay pigeons at which Lena Dunham the writer may take potshots.
What I’m leading up to is this: Lena Dunham dumped her own dog, blamed the dog, may have lied about the dog’s history, was called on it, then claimed she was the victim of the whole affair and begged people not to apply “scrutiny” to a story she had published to 3 million Instagram followers.
Dunham adopted the pooch, Lamby, in 2013 and proceeded lovingly to extract writing material from the animal, offering the world a nearly 4,000-word New Yorker piece that made her look like — this was very on-brand for her — a clumsy but soulful, loving, and ultimately endearing dog owner. In trademark fashion, she freely admitted one reason she was moved to get a pooch: “I’d be permanently rid of the whiff of self-involvement. (‘She can’t be that much of a narcissist — she adopted a dog!’)” She also claimed the dog had had three previous owners, which is two more than the animal shelter said. She went on to deploy the mutt as an adorable prop at photo shoots and red carpets. Who doesn’t love a person who loves a dog?
Just as Girls was wrapping up its HBO run, though, Dunham unloaded the animal on Zen Dog, a Los Angeles home for troubled canines, claiming that her ex-pet had been a little monster beset by “aggression” and “particular issues, which remain myriad,” adding that Lamby “ruined floors and couches and our life.” Yet one of her chief takeaways from L’Affaire Lamby was, naturally, the importance of “forgiving myself.”
She deployed the mutt as an adorable prop at photo shoots and red carpets. Who doesn’t love a person who loves a dog?
Robert Vazquez, a spokesman for the place where Dunham purchased the animal, BARC, a Brooklyn shelter for hipster dogs who are down on their luck, did not buy much of this. In an e-mail to Yahoo Celebrity, he disputed her claims that Lamby had had three previous owners, that he’d been abused, and that he had behavioral problems when she adopted him:
We checked the records for Lamby. He was “owner surrendered, not enough time,” so we do not know where she got “multiple owners that abused the dog.” . . . When she adopted the dog from us, it wasn’t crazy. . . . It’s just hard to believe the dog was nasty when she took Lamby to every green room with her when Girls was still a thing 4 years ago.
Vazquez added that BARC’s adoption agreements require owners who want to part company with dogs adopted from the shelter to return them there rather than shunting them off on a third party.
Dunham suggested that those drawing attention to her evident disregard for the truth were themselves suffering from some sort of psychological malady.
Dunham fired back on Instagram with another post in which she asked, “Why should this story be subject to scrutiny and anger?” In other words: People mustn’t quibble with her version of reality, and anyone who does so is angry, which is a favorite Millennial method for sliming your detractors as not-nice. Very much like Hannah Horvath, she added that she was the real victim here: “I hope those judging can imagine the incredible pain of letting go of your favorite creature on EARTH because you know you can’t help them be healthy and happy.” She also suggested that those drawing attention to her evident disregard for the truth were themselves suffering from some sort of psychological malady: “I know I’m a lot of fun to place your issues on, but I won’t let anyone hang their hat on this peg.”
Dunham complains, not without some justification, that her every public act seems to cause a tiny furor. “I have weathered a lot of micro-scandals,” she noted on Instagram, “but this one hurts MOST.” (More than being criticized for smearing a fellow former Oberlin student as a rapist? Do tell.) But Dunham evokes a lot of commentary from the public in part because she invites it by so relentlessly publicizing every detail of her life — who else blurts out 4,000 words for The New Yorker about her relationship with a dog?
That her continuous self-chronicling amounts to self-satire is what makes it completely irresistible. “I think that I may be the voice of my generation,” Dunham’s Hannah says in the pilot of Girls. The voice of a generation strongly associated with narcissism, shallowness, lack of commitment, chronic immaturity, a co-dependent relationship with therapeutic jargon, and a tendency to fall to pieces when criticized? I think she’s absolutely right.