For Lena Dunham, Palestine is invisible

on 22 Comments

Lena Dunham, 26, the maker of the hit HBO show “Girls,” just sold a book proposal, which Gawker has posted, that includes a chapter in which she makes a “life-changing” visit to Israel.

The sad part of this chapter, pages 28-36, is that Palestine is invisible. Dunham is visiting Palestine but isn’t aware of it. She spends a lot of time in occupied territory (East Jerusalem, Mount of Olives) and gets a lesson about “marauding Bedouins” on her cab ride to the Dead Sea– surely an Israeli driver describing Palestinians as violent. Her friend flirts with a soldier with a semiautomatic weapon, she buys a Guns ‘n Moses T-shirt, and she notes that Israelis “are really moralistic and aggressive.” But she doesn’t put that together with the unending occupation. She has a driver she describes as an “Arab man.” Well, he was Palestinian.

There is far less awareness in this proposal of conflictual politics, let alone the occupation, than even a Birthright trip would provide. And Dunham says that she travels because she’s so curious about the world.

I find the degree of indifference to politics demoralizing– and more demoralizing when you consider how much such indifference is now an attribute of mass-cultural producers, many of them Jewish, like Dunham. Yesterday, for instance, Terry Gross interviewed Dunham’s mentor Judd Apatow, and he spoke of Dunham’s commitment to the truth:

They just want to expose the truth, which is what I always want. And being around them has made me want to do that more in my work. And I think working on “Girls” helped [my movie] “This is 40,” not just because Lena was reading the scripts and giving me notes – Jenni [Konner, Girls producer], as well – but just watching her balls. She’s just so courageous, that I thought, oh, I guess I have to go all the way, because look at what Lena’s doing.

I suppose what Apatow means by truth and courage is Dunham’s forthrightness, in her book proposal, about saying that the salt water of the Dead Sea burned her labia or her boyfriend left a condom on her father’s couch. That definition of truth just doesn’t seem to include considering how the Jewish state has worked out its relationship with an indigenous people. And yes I know Apatow makes funny movies, but dealing with the political truth of the conflict is a great cultural challenge, and I’m disappointed in my Jewish cohort.

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22 Responses

  1. Ismail
    December 7, 2012, 6:04 pm

    You had me until “Apatow makes funny movies”.

    • Avi_G.
      December 8, 2012, 1:35 am


      Phil, you lost me at “Apatow makes funny movies”.

      Like Sandler’s movies, I find Apatow’s to be on the vulgar and juvenile side. It seems the more crude the humor, the funnier it is supposed to be.

      Personally, and if I were limited to picking a Jewish filmmaker in this genre, I would pick the Cohen Brothers; they make phenomenally better comedies than the crude ones Apatow produces. But I digress (It’s off topic anyway).

      By the way, who’s Lena Dunham?

      • Boston
        December 8, 2012, 8:32 am

        Thanks Avi_G.

        You removed my need to comment

      • Citizen
        December 8, 2012, 9:44 am

        Why she’s the heralded “voice of her generation” of young American women (“Girls”), if not of young Western women, or universal young contemporary women. She wrote, directed, and starred in HBO series, Girls. Phil captures a sample of her courageous truth zeal well, in “the salt water of the Dead Sea burned her labia or her boyfriend left a condom on her father’s couch.” Her heralded HBO show Girls is lots more of the same. Somehow I doubt that show will ever trend as popular as Sex And The City. But maybe it will; here’s a comparison of “Girls” debut now and SITC 13 years ago:

        PS: I agree Apatow’s work, like Sandler’s is juvenile, although Apatow tends to present us with more twinks perfected with romantic face stubble. And yes, Cohen Brothers works are far superior.

      • seanmcbride
        December 8, 2012, 11:05 am


        The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are in an entirely different (and more impressive) class of filmmaking than Judd Apatow.

        My favorite Apatow-connected film is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — but Apatow didn’t direct or write it — he produced it. Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate were the spark plugs that made the film work.

        Some of Apatow’s films are funny, but sometimes the sheer cutesy squalor of his imagination becomes weirdly cloying and oppressive. I’m not sure if I need to see any more of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill on the big screen. Overload. Enough of this dreary dwarfish world.

  2. Scott
    December 7, 2012, 6:32 pm

    Astonished by this post. Completely astonished. I really assumed that all fairly smart Jews who didn’t live in Alaska or something had some sort of informed views, racist, reactionary, ambivalent, sensible, tormented, guilty–something. But not valley girl ignorant.

  3. Chespirito
    December 7, 2012, 7:01 pm

    I’m with Ismail!
    But man that is disappointing, I like Lena Dunham’s shtick but this smug brazen cluelessness is just hideous.

  4. Tzombo
    December 7, 2012, 7:23 pm

    She’s been criticized before on Girls being so white, so maybe it’s not just Palestinians she doesn’t see?

    • Krauss
      December 7, 2012, 11:24 pm

      I think that ties in well with Phil’s observation.

      It’s also a good moment sociological to observe of Jewish America, namely, 20 years ago, Jews on a show was considered part of the ‘minority cast'(even though that didn’t really make much sense even back then).
      In fact, there was even something of a coup if you had a mostly-Jewish cast like Seinfeld did.

      Today, however, that is impossible. And I thought about that as the critics on her show rained down. I also noticed that most of the Jewish reviewers in prestige liberal magazines didn’t care much. In fact, after the critical storm broke out, many of them leapt to her defence, in vain of course.

      This, I think, probably represents a small cultural window into the arrived status that Jews have had since a long time ago. I think that young and successful Jewish women like Dunham probably don’t carry that outsider status anymore, it isn’t culturally ingrained in a way that it once was.

      In many ways she has carried herself like a privileged white kid who grew up on the upper west side and whose Jewishness was probably more of a help than a hinderance in her life. And of course, she is all those things.

      And I also think this merging into the upper class that many Jews have completed, as well as their sociological/racial/cultural integration have stunted the cultural outlook of many Jews, particularly for poorer people. Zionism, of course, has only accerlerated this.

      To be a Zionist, even a ‘conflicted’ one who moans about ‘tensions’ does, fundamentally, require you to close your eyes to these injustices done to poorer minorities to some extent, in some cases to quite a large extent.

      And all these confluencing factors probably contributed to the arid desert on this topic in Dunham’s book.

  5. radii
    December 7, 2012, 8:28 pm

    I’m genuinely shocked that Mondoweiss pays any attention at all to the utter hack that is this Dunham creature … Gawker and other media observers have extensively detailed how shallow and worthless is her television show (specifically her writing and acting) … please never mention her again

  6. American
    December 7, 2012, 11:49 pm

    Never heard of Girls, never heard of Dunham or any of those mentioned…..theses types are probably the reason I don’t watch much TV. I tried watching one of those for 20 somethings popular tv sitcoms once, can’t remember the show’s name and all it was was just terrible writing about dumb, vapid young adults going about their everyday dumb lives making dumb mistakes in their dumbness, not even humorous. A road runner cartoon would be more entertaining and thought provoking. Scary if they represent the bulk of their generation or who’s who in creating TV programs these days.

  7. chauncey
    December 8, 2012, 12:03 am

    I remember reading how great Knocked Up was supposed to be. So I went, and it stunk.

  8. seafoid
    December 8, 2012, 2:09 am

    Dunham is interesting. She’s talented. Girls is superb. But she’s only 23 or whatever. She probably doesn’t know much outside her area of expertise. I guess if you asked her about how to talk to a 2 year old she wouldn’t know either. There us another issue there too. It’s safe to talk about sexual issues now in the culture and even women can explore the themes but i guess not everywhere. This is an advantage of a culture drenched in porn. There is some space reserved for truth as long as it doesn’t hurt the cashflow. But within Dunham’s community Palestinian rights are taboo. They are ultimately unspeakable. Porn is conservative. Justice is radical.

  9. FreddyV
    December 8, 2012, 5:50 am

    I went on a Holyland day trip in 1995. I’m not Jewish, I’m a British Christian who kind of bought into the whole Christian Zionism thing, I wasn’t aware of when I crossed over from Israeli to Palestinian territory and I wasn’t made aware by the guide. Given that it’s all considered to be Israel by the Israelis is perhaps the reason.

    Short of reading the signs, I’m sure Dunham would be completely clueless if she crossed the English border in Wales, or from Northern Ireland to Southern Ireland so why would she know if she was entering the West Bank? Would she have to produce her passport at checkpoints? That may give her a clue, but I don’t think there’s any Welcome to Palestine signs at the checkpoints, are there?

    I have not idea who this woman is (I know Judd Apatow), but it sounds like she isn’t a well read person and probably hasn’t been exposed to the conflict, particularly the Palestinian side. That being the case, surely it means that we aren’t doing our jobs well enough by getting the message out there. Ignorance is simply what it is. If she knew the situation and chose to bend the narrative, well that’s different……

    I’m not defending her, but it just seems strange to be disappointed about a person who’s ignorant about a certain situation.

    • Citizen
      December 8, 2012, 10:08 am

      Dunham has a BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin. Oberlin students have a reputation for being notably liberal or progressive (at least re sex, gays, vegans). The college was ranked among the Princeton Review’s’ list of “Colleges with a Conscience” in 2005. She promoted Obama’s reelection in a video, delivering a monologue to camera to inspire the youth vote by comparing voting for the first time to having sex for the first time. Looks like it worked, especially for the young ladies.

  10. AhVee
    December 8, 2012, 7:12 am

    If she was really ignorant of the situation and didn’t actually chose to omit it purposefully in favor of conveying her own bias, then I have trouble believing that she’s curious, like she says she is. I suppose she’s ‘curious’ in the same way a hipster may say they’re into Jazz, a.k.a. hoping nobody will ever put their false claim to the test, and subsequently point to the fact that for someone who makes a claim such as that, their research into even something so immediate as a field of relevant interest is somewhere between non-existent and abysmal.

    And like some others have said, I had no idea who she is, or indeed what that show is all about. I don’t watch TV, and this article has all but encouraged me in my continuous endeavor to avoid it.

    • Citizen
      December 8, 2012, 10:25 am

      @ AhVee
      Ah, you need to take a gander at Shahs Of Sunset on BRAVO. It’s about the Persian immigrant Bling enclave here; in USA, the key young female characters are Muslim Iranians and the young men are Jewish Iranians. I don’t know if you will like it better than Russian Dolls, where most of the Bling cast are recent Jewish immigrants from Russia. So much to live for, so much yet to see and laugh at (other than oneself and family)! For something more American, try Duck Dynasty–anti-Bling, born and bred cast, not even a single Jew.

      Or try the Amish Rebels or American Gypsy reality show series.

      • AhVee
        December 8, 2012, 11:33 am

        Citizen, thanks a lot for all those recs. Living in a small country in Europe, I don’t have access to any of the channels those play on I don’t think, and a quick look through the local TV program doesn’t yield any results, but I’ll find a way to procure some of them, anyhow.
        I’m not familiar with Russian Dolls, so I’m not sure which I favor, but I’ll give Shahs of Sunset a rip, and work my way through the list when time permits. Thanks again.
        Unfortunately, I can’t return the favor with any recommendations, all the ‘homebrew’ shows over here are forgettable, and we only get the major imports e.g. House.

      • Citizen
        December 10, 2012, 6:41 pm

        @ AhVee
        The TV shows I mentioned were just a few examples of the myriad of really vulgar and demeaning “reality shows” being shown at any moment in America. None of them makes me proud of being a born American, nor happy with our new immigrants’ version of “living the American dream.” They are all disgusting in content and character in the extreme.

  11. lproyect
    December 8, 2012, 9:55 am


    Lena Dunham is an entertainment establishment figure, not that much different from Jerry Seinfeld or Madonna despite the outsider, hipster posing.

  12. seafoid
    December 8, 2012, 11:44 am

    I bet Dunham will drop Zionism within a decade.

  13. Nevada Ned
    December 9, 2012, 8:37 am

    Lena Dunham directs yet another mindless televised sitcom. I had never heard of her or her show until seeing this on Mondoweiss.

    Way back in 1961, the chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, gave a speech in which he denounced television shows as a “vast wasteland”. He challenged anyone to watch television for one full day, without a book or magazine as diversion. The speech was controversial at the time because the defenders of the moronizing sludge on TV denounced Minow as an elitist who wanted to deprive the average American of the shows he (or she) enjoys. The producers of the 1960’s TV show Gilligan’s Island (a vintage airhead sitcom about a shipwrecked crew on a desert island) sneaked in a reference by naming the boat the USS Minow.

    The speech is cited even today, over a half century later. Newton Minow, age 86, is still alive. And his accusation is still true. On cable TV, I get over 100 channels, but there’s STILL “nothing good on TV.” As I write this on a Sunday morning, the televised fare is especially dreary.

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