I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans via Chicago. That can only mean two things: my arteries are still fairly thick with hot dogs (more on that soon) and I have had time to ponder questions such as “What is real?” and “Why hasn’t Lena Dunham solved race problems in America yet?”
Let’s start with that easy first question: What is real?
The answer: I have no frigging idea.
I’m too busy watching shadows flicker across my desk and catching up on all 15 episodes of Khloe and Lemar that premiered while I was away. As an American who is constitutionally obligated to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey, The Real World, Real Chance of Love, Real Gilligan’s Island, and The Real L Word, I have lost all ability to distinguish between real and “real.” For example, I’m pretty sure the Kardashians are real people (although many of their parts are not). They are just a real family who really likes to talk about anal bleaching over Thanksgiving dinner. (No one would possibly script something that awful would they?) While these Kardashian people are real, I have a hunch the talk about anal bleaching may have been the “real” invention of clinically depressed Williams College graduate who now earns a living as a reality TV producer, following Kardashians with a boom mic.
The real in reality TV has always been kind of confusing. It used to have quote around it: “Reality” TV.
One place I’ve never expected to find completely real reality is in a David Sedaris essay. If, like me, you’ve ever had a job, a pet, an elderly relative or have met a foreigner, you know that the world David inhabits is filled with invention. Amusingly written invention, but invention nonetheless. Real jobs, pets, the elderly and foreigners are dull at best. The ones David meets invariably hum with eccentricity. And god bless him for it.
Poor David got in trouble a few months ago in the New Republic for fabricating details in his stories. I suppose I might share the outrage if David were, say, “embellishing” stories about our nation’s enemies having weapons of mass destruction and asking the world to help us kill them. But I think I’ll survive if David chooses to describe an old lady that he met in a sanitarium as being totally naked when she probably was not. I’ve met plenty of real, fully-clothed old ladies. They’re not very interesting.
My modest proposal is that we give essayists like David the same pass on “real” that we give a family of augmented idiots who may or may not have bleached anuses. And how’s about we apply that same standard of “real” to people who write “essays” about “food and popular culture” on the web. Sound good?
With reality taken care of, let’s move on to considering why Lena Dunham hasn’t resolved the problem of race relations in America with the first season of her HBO series Girls? In case you’re not familiar, Lena Dunham is a 24-year-old recent Oberlin grad who lives in New York and partnered with Judd Apatow to create a comedy about 24-year-old girls who recently graduated from Oberlin and live in New York. You can think of it as HBO’s Sex in the City prequel if Sex in the City were funny, felt true and was not populated with horrible people. So, I guess it isn’t anything like Sex in the City. Girls has great dialog, feels very particular and real.
Lena is a talented Girl.
Maybe that’s why people have decided to criticize her for the whiteness of her (rather small) cast made up largely of 24-year-old girls. So, let’s get this straight: at age 24, Lena is not only expected to write, produce and act in her own TV series, but she also needs to heal America’s racial divide? In the first 12 episodes. I suppose she owes it to America to continue the great racially inclusive work performed by old white guys who have created every other TV series since the invention of TV.
How did We as a society allow this atrocity happen? Didn’t Lena’s fancy Downtown artist parents expose her to the Cosby show? Has she never seen an episode of The Facts of Life? That Tootie was adorable and had roller skates! I suppose at some point one of the very fine writing teachers at Oberlin said “Write what you know” and somehow Lena failed to come up with Treme. She should be very, very ashamed. And we as a people are rightly very, very disappointed.
Okay, here’s my proposal to all those Concerned Citizens Against Lena Dunham are dumping on her about race: let’s give Lena a break for being 24 and only knowing how to write really funny stories about people like her.
And we’ll promise that the next time you’re 24 and HBO offers you the opportunity to create your own hilarious new series, you can call it something like Multicultural Rainbow Amigas. It will be “funny,” “real” and every week can be a “Very Special Episode.”
So, now with the problems of reality and race settled, and my arteries slow unclogging, I’ll be back next time with food writing.
Next up: HOT DOGS, HOT DOGS, HOT DOGS!