Lena Dunham and ‘Barry’

In the current issue of National Review, I write about the cultural phenomenon that is Lena Dunham, and delve into her recently published memoir, in which she relates a sexual encounter with an Oberlin College Republican that is characterized in the book as a rape. Dunham herself never says that; she has others in the book say it.

There are not a great many Republicans at Oberlin, and there was a College Republicans president named “Barry” whose time at the school coincided with Dunham’s. I had a very brief conversation with him in which he declined to talk about the matter. He has since been in contact with me to say that he has never met Dunham and had no relationship with her.

Dunham, who by her own account conflates fact and fiction, sometimes changes names in her stories, and sometimes she doesn’t. As I write in my piece, at one point her alter ego on Girls threatens her employer that she will one day write an essay about him and not change his name. If “Barry” is simply a name that she pulled out of a hat, then it was grossly irresponsible to do so without checking to see whether the most prominent College Republican on the campus happened to have the same name. The Barry I spoke with calls this the “most unfortunate coincidence of my life,” and I do not have any reason to doubt him.

But it is difficult for me to believe that this is mere coincidence on Dunham’s part — it’s not like the name is “John” or “Bob”; “Barry” is not even among the 100 most common men’s names. It looks like malice to me. It is at the very least the deployment of weaponized celebrity without any concern for collateral damage.

I have my doubts about whether the encounter Dunham describes actually happened at all; in her memoir, she writes about presenting anecdotes from other people’s lives as her own.

But, for the record, the man to whom I spoke does not believe that Dunham intended to refer to him. ​

 

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