December 15, 2014

"Honey, I just think it speaks volumes about you, about what a real creature of the theater you are that the only time that you ever had an orgasm..."

"... was saying the words of a homosexual man. It was as far from a heterosexual orgasm as you could possibly get."

Said Alec Baldwin to Elaine Stritch after she described having "an orgasm for the first time in my life" on stage in a very emotional moment of Edward Albee's play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" ("You know, that big scene? ‘Our son,’ he yells in my face, ‘is dead.’ And I went ‘No!’ At the height of my force, I said no to him.")

That's in the transcript of the May 13, 2013 episode of Baldwin's podcast "Here's The Thing." Here's the audio, with Stritch doing a very dramatic yelling of "Nooooo!" She was 88 at the time, suffering from diabetes, and a year and a month away from her death.

I've been enjoying many episodes of Baldwin's podcast (after noticing it by chance on the most-listened-to podcasts list). I was listening to a later episode — here — with a shortened version of the Stritch interview coming after a shortened interview with Lena Dunham. Dunham gave a fine interview, but the contrast made the old woman's point of view more dramatic and profound.

Now, the interview with Dunham reinforced my belief that Dunham-haters are getting it wrong. I just read P.J. O'Rourke's essay about her, which mostly expressed his apprehension as a father of 2 teenage daughters:
 “Girls” is about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.... The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other... They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit....
Ms. Dunham accuses someone of having had sex with her. Re-reading that sentence, I see it didn’t come out right, leading me be condemned for trivializing sexual assault. Which I’m not doing because Ms. Dunham is only a few years older than my daughters.
Dunham succeeds in disturbing him, and it's disturbing because it feels like something that can really happen to his daughters. Does he really not want to have to think about it? Or is it just an easy way to be funny, to portray his genuine fear as a joke? But I don't see why it's a joke. Dunham is able to make dark humor out of it, but the disturbing nature of the bad sex she's showing us is what gives the show depth. That's the claim of art.

Detour back to Stritch: At one point, she was in a car, driving from Hollywood to Palm Springs with Kirk Douglas: "He was a great actor and he loved me. He flipped over me. I have known him for years. And he took me half way away for the weekend and then I discovered that I shouldn’t go.... Half way away to Palm Springs and then I said I shouldn’t be going. So that he said I’ll take you home.... Well, I said I’m getting nervous because what do you want me to do when we get up here? And he went, 'Oh, Elaine.' He knew I was a virgin so he was dealing with that."

Return to the Dunham interview:
Alec Baldwin: [O]n your show, the tone seems very different [from "Sex and the City"]. Everybody seems to almost be doubting what they’re doing or they have kind of a sense of fear or anxiety about it while they’re doing it. It seems more real. Is that – was that deliberate on your part?

Lena Dunham: Well, something I feel about being in your 20’s, which is different than – you know, "Sex and the City" was a show about women in their 30’s who had successful careers, pre-recession, the best, most supportive friends. They didn’t have – I mean they had little friend tiffs, but the characters on our show are tortured. It’s sort of impossible to get through your 20’s without – it’s like if you ask a girl in her 20’s, ‘Are you a happy person?’ I think she can say, ‘I have happy moments,’ but I don’t think it’s possible – maybe I’m – maybe people will radically disagree with me, but I don’t really think it’s possible to be sort of an at-peace human when you are between 22 and 30.

43 comments:

tim maguire said...

I would agree that, yes, the characters on that show are "miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other." The mistake is in thinking Dunham wasn't trying to write them that way, that she doesn't realize they are all those things.

Those people exist, that life exists, and Dunham does a very good job capturing it.

Mark O said...

How is it possible that I have soldiered on without knowing this?

mccullough said...

Sane men avoid women like the characters on girls. Sane women avoid being friends with women like that.



Louis said...

Anyone who has fans has more haters. The haters are typically other than coherent and informed.

Brando said...

From what I've seen of the show, I would absolutely recommend it for young women about to embark on college and living away from home. It's a cautionary tale of how miserable life can be when you repeatedly make poor choices.

By contrast, "Sex and the City" from what I understand overglamorized life in NYC, where everyone has plenty of money, the latest fashions, lives in nice neighborhoods and meets interesting people. Young girls watching that show could be tricked into thinking life will be that easy in the big city, when sadly for many they life the scratchy existence of the characters in "Girls".

I can't speak for Dunham as a person, but her show and movie I thought provided a critical look at the downside of living frivilously. Few NYC based shows do that (though, "Flight of the Conchords" did feature the most accurate-looking cheap NYC apartment I've ever seen on TV).

Henry said...

Reading the O'Rourke piece, I think the point is not that his disinterest in the life and work of Lena Dunham (except as a cautionary tale), but a bemused shout-out to other conservatives: why are you making her into such a big deal?

It is indicative that he takes the two big contretemps -- Dunham's sister story and her rape story -- and completely deflates them.

Beldar said...

De gustibus etc., but I see no "art" anywhere in any of this. I see nothing but self-indulgence mixed with ugliness of every sort. I won't watch it, and even if I were tied up hands and feet, I would batter myself into unconsciousness rather than have to listen to a podcast of Alec Baldwin interviewing Lena Dunham.

n.n said...

20s are optimistic. 30s are a struggle. 40s are to reconcile.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

"Honey?" Oh my.

Haters? Is this is the rapper sense, or just people who dislike her and/or her work?

Personally I am not convinced--I accept that people find her POV interesting or even artistic but I have yet to see why.

"but the characters on our show are tortured" Oh are they? Lil' FirstWorldProblem ladies expressign their youthful angst and existential yearings for an audience--and that's what's counted as fresh and new, here?

It doesn't help that the people (artists?) spewing such banalities are celebrated (and celebrate themselves!) for their originality and insight.

tim maguire said...

Beldar said...I see no "art" anywhere in any of this. I see nothing but self-indulgence mixed with ugliness of every sort. I won't watch it,...

My guess is, you're not the target audience.

Gahrie said...

), but a bemused shout-out to other conservatives: why are you making her into such a big deal?


We didn't. The MSM did.

tim maguire said...

"First world problems" is the conservative version of "check your privilege." A person need not dance in the streets because he had dinner. Unhappiness can be real even in a person who is warm and dry.

Michael K said...

The young woman was raised by a weird family, is rich and, I seriously doubt, knows anything about women in their 20s working and studying and getting somewhere in life. I have a 24 year old daughter and a 34 year old daughter and have a fair idea of how their lives have gone the past ten years.

I talk to young men and women joining the military in that age group a couple of days a week.

I don't think Lena Dunham knows anything about those people.

tim in vermont said...

It is more important for Dunham to understand what young women dream of than what their lives are like.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sane men avoid women like the characters on girls. Sane women avoid being friends with women like that."

And:

"Anyone who has fans has more haters. The haters are typically other than coherent and informed."

That made me think of this part of the interview:

"I mean I think I always had a feeling like if you just stick around and continue to be yourself, the correct people will find you. And that’s something that’s been so wonderful about the show is that it kind of confirms that for me, which is not everyone watches it, but the people who watch it understand it, and that feeling – I’m sure you’ve had this before – of uniting with your appropriate audience and sort of uniting with your people is like about as comforting as feelings get."

jacksonjay said...

Three twenty-something daughters. Not like Lena Dunham. Not correct people.

David said...

My wife and I had our first child at age 22, and another three years later. I got out of school, out of bars, out of pussy chasing, got a good job, made new friends and bought a house. We had a dog and a cat and an interesting community in a recovering neighborhood of a midwestern city. I stopped protesting the war and got into school and school desegregation issues in my city.

We liked ourselves (too much I think), I liked my job and raising kids and I was rarely miserable. Peevish and depressed sometimes, sure, but that was not the dominant state.

Mostly I went from trying to he hip to not caring that I was square.

Obviously it's not like that for Dunham but it's not because of how old she and her friends are. It's what they do and what they aspire to (or don't).

As for O'Rourke, I think he just found something to riff on. A way to publicize himself by having an opinion about someone more in the public eye.

SJ said...

@tim maguire
"First world problems" is the conservative version of "check your privilege."

There is a lot of similarity.

However, classifying the issues as "first world problems" does let a person see that they are dealing with "problems".

Even if the problems are part of the relatively-wealthy life of "first world" society.

It's still too easy to give a strong hint of "check your privilege" when saying "first world problems.

Come to think of it, what about the phrase I occasionally heard as a child: "eat your vegetables...some hungry child in Somalia would love to have those vegetables".

Is that an earlier version of "check your privilege"?

richard mcenroe said...

So it's understandable that Lena Dunham copped to molesting her baby sister and faked a rape story. Why she's practically a Rockwell cover.

Her words exist. She wrote them. She defended them. She injured people with them. That's not a generational thing, that's a decency thing.

Matybe a couple of nice Alec Baldwin podcasts could "normalize" cutting.

William said...

I'm not knocking her talent, but I don't think the causes of her discomfort in the world are Republicans and their values. The values and tactics that she has received from her parents and her analysts are sufficient to drive just about anyone crazy........As a general rule, I don't think conservatives are any more likely than liberals to engage in rape. It's definitely closer to agitprop than to art to portray herself as a victim of a conservative rapist. I suspect tha she has had plenty of bad sex with liberals, but she would not in any way suggest that bad sex was an outgrowth of their liberal beliefs.

Eeyore Rifkin said...

"The only problem with that voice mail was that people made it out to be a way bigger deal than it was," Ireland Balwin told Page Six Magazine. "He’s said stuff like that before just because he’s frustrated."

"You'd be like really good at bathing a pig"--Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna.

surfed said...

I had similar worries about my daughter as P.J. has about his. It is a condition of fatherhood. More or less.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

tim maguire said...
"First world problems" is the conservative version of "check your privilege." A person need not dance in the streets because he had dinner. Unhappiness can be real even in a person who is warm and dry.


Would it help if I explained that I used the term ironically? I think you'll find the phrase is mostly used by SJW-types attacking people they don't like for pointing out problems they find insufficiently important.

Teen/young adult angst, alienation, and anomie are real, sure. They've been around for a while and have the subject of artistic works for quite some time now. If you want to claim Dunham is adding something new, interesting, and insightful to that you are welcome to so argue, but as I said I'm unconvinced.
That she appears to be a reflexive Leftist with a mean streak add to my personal distaste, sure, but from the most objective POV I can muster I still find her unoriginal and devoid of insight. Given that, I do dislike the fact that she has the success she has (acclaim, wealth, etc)--disappoving of the success of something you think shouldn't be successful is, I suppose, the definition of a hater now. W/r/t Lena Dunham, I am a hater, and I am not getting anything wrong.

sydney said...

I do not understand why that dialogue in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is homosexual.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Evidence of "reflexive Leftist with a mean streak"? In her autobiography she relates a story of her sexual assault/rape. She identified her rapist as a prominent Oberlin Republican and gave his first name without specifying (as she had in other places/with other people) that she was using a pseudonym. She and her publisher now say they regret causing an actual Oberlin grad named Barry (who was known to be a Repub) to be incorrectly IDed as the rapist. Honest mistake, they say, the actual rapist has another name. Question - is/was the actual rapist a Repub (Oberlin is not know for having large numbers of Repubs)? Or was that detail also invented? If so, what does that tell you about the author's mindset, that she'd make sure to point out that her rapist has a political ideology she dislikes?

Oh well, rage spiral, etc. Can't be helped.

Ann Althouse said...

"'Honey?' Oh my."

He clearly loves her dearly. She played his mother on "30 Rock."

Ann Althouse said...

"I do not understand why that dialogue in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is homosexual."

Written by a homosexual is what he says. Albee is gay.

Mr Wibble said...

3710I still wonder if Ms. Dunham isn't some conservative long-troll. Seriously, if she came out tomorrow and said, "Hey, it was all a con to see how much moral crap the left would fawn over", I would not be surprised.

tim maguire said...

HoodlumDoodlum said...
Would it help if I explained that I used the term ironically? I think you'll find the phrase is mostly used by SJW-types attacking people they don't like for pointing out problems they find insufficiently important.


It might. "First world problems" is not a phrase used by SJW types. It's a phrase used by conservatives to belittle the complaints of SJW types.

Bill said...

Dunham is kind of the Pauline Kael of Happiness.
While a May 13, 2013 Harris poll is not conclusive (though a deeper dive into the numbers probably would establish the fact), it looks like about 31% of those in Dunham's age group are very happy.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

tim maguire said...It's a phrase used by conservatives to belittle the complaints of SJW types.


I was going to suggest we agree to disagree but instead let's split the difference; from the examples on Know Your Meme - First World Problems and from quick Googlin' it looks like most of the FirstWorldProblems jokes aren't overtly political (in the sense of the Left-Right ideological divide) so I'm willing to say we're both wrong-ish. Esp. with the reference to Louis CK's bit about "white people problems" and complaints young people have, the meme seems more about "kids these days" not knowing how good they have it vs. Left of Right complaining that the other side's complaints are trivial. Fair enough?

Ann Althouse said...

I happen to think that much more attention should be given to the distinction between good and bad sex (as opposed to rape and not rape). The reason we're so distracted by the line between rape and not rape is that we're not doing enough to think about whether sex is good. You shouldn't be anywhere near the line that is rape. I think Lena Dunham's TV show and book are pretty good at inviting young people to become more reflective about what good sex is. It's very easy when you are young to fail to focus on what you really want and like as opposed to what you think you should be doing and what will make others like you. In a sexually free society like ours, the mistakes involve having sex as opposed to avoiding having sex.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...He clearly loves her dearly. She played his mother on "30 Rock."

And I'm fine with that, I am. I'm glad he doesn't have to worry about being accused (in bad faith) of sexism by inadvertently using a "sweet" term of affection when addressing an acomplished woman, etc.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I think Lena Dunham's TV show and book are pretty good at inviting young people to become more reflective about what good sex is.

I was with you until that line. I have not read her book and I've seen probably 2.5 episodes of the show Girls, but I've read the excerpted passages from her book concerning her alleged rape. In disucssing the episode now (her tweets and press release addressing the lack of notice of pseudonym, etc) she pretty clearly adopts the mantle/pesona of a survivor of rape, and uses her story to advocate for a POV regarding rape, assault, and survivors that is very much opposed to your POV re: good vs bad sex. If Dunham's point was that sexual relations are complicated, need to be thought about more deeply, and not reduced to sloganeering then you'd have a point. In her defense of her actions she's done the exact opposite--she's not calling for an examination of sexual mores, she's calling for the dominance of her POV re: rape culture.
I have read that the show Girls addresses the topic with more ambiguity so you may have a point regarding the show, but in her actual non-fiction writing (as which, you know, I'm not sure her autobiography counts but her press release must) she's clearly focusing on making a distinction between rape and not rape and aruging that that distinction is of primary importance. She could easily have written about that episode in "good vs bad sex" terms, but she's clear now that she's a survivor and that it wasn't bad sex, it was assault and rape.
I have a feeling Dunham and her fellow travelers would say to you something like "changing the topic from rape to just bad sex is a tactic of rape apologists who want to minimize their crimes--it's a symptom of the patriarchy that something so violent, illegal, and damaging to women can be easily recategorized as bad sex. It's proof of rape culture that a law professor would even try that tactic."

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Kids reach young adulthood with such angst and low self-esteem, because of the total fuck-up of Progressive 'education' and curricula.

You don't earn self-esteem by collecting Participation Trophies.

Check out The Greatest Generation, for recent examples of how young adults can be, with the right upbringing.

Ann Althouse said...

"I was with you until that line. I have not read her book and I've seen probably 2.5 episodes of the show Girls..."

Well, I have read the book, not just the cherry-picked passages, and I've watched every episode of Girls.

Ann Althouse said...

"but in her actual non-fiction writing (as which, you know, I'm not sure her autobiography counts but her press release must) she's clearly focusing on making a distinction between rape and not rape and aruging that that distinction is of primary importance."

I don't think that's correct.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...
Well, I have read the book, not just the cherry-picked passages, and I've watched every episode of Girls.
"cherry picked" was unnceessary when I admitted I have read only excerpted selections and said explicitly that (having not watched much of the show) "so you may have a point regarding the show", but obviously I must bow your superior authority.

Ann Althouse said...I don't think that's correct.

Oh, well nevermind then.

When I have a moment I'll pull up her press release (I think it was to Buzzfeed) and read through it again.

EDH said...

I'm more interested to know whether Kirk Douglas got to pop Stritch's cherry.

el polacko said...

so rather than the writings of a playwright being expressions of humanity, baldwin only hears 'gay words' or 'straight words'. that does shed some light on the gay slurs he hurls in his fits of anger.

Michael K said...

"Well, I have read the book, not just the cherry-picked passages, and I've watched every episode of Girls."

Deepest sympathy unless you enjoyed them.

Revenant said...

I have never understood the appeal of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". I get why actors and actresses like it, I just don't get why anyone in the audience would want to be subjected to it. Insipid people being nasty to each other for three hours -- if I wanted that, I'd watch reality TV.

RonF said...

"I don’t really think it’s possible to be sort of an at-peace human when you are between 22 and 30."

That's ridiculous. My 20's and 30's was a very exiting time. My wife and I were both working, we had our kids then, it was certainly hectic but I wouldn't say were were conflicted or unhappy. What is her problem?