Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #973: Why So Secretive?

Lena Dunham is the "It Girl" of Hollywood right now. She's got her own TV show on HBO called Girls, and recently got a $3.5 million advance on her book Not That Kind Of Girl, a non-fiction collection of essays offering real world advice to modern girls.

The trendily tatted 26 year old wunderkind's 66 page book proposal got leaked. Not really big news, the publishing industry doesn't exactly deal in secrets, it deals with making things public, which is why it's called "publishing" and not "secreting."  Most of the time these leaks don't attract much attention, but Dunham's current position as the flavor of the moment led to quotes being posted on the gossip site Gawker.

Now when I first heard the story I wondered why she would rush straight to the lawyers. If my book proposal landed me a $3.5 million advance, I'd have printed onto a suit that I'd wear in public.

Hell, I'd make it the subject of my second book: "How To Write Big Money Book Proposals," and sell it to struggling writers the world over. I really wouldn't care if people saw the proposal. An attitude apparently shared by her publisher, who is not making any sort of public complaint about the leak.

Then I remembered something, I am not Lena Dunham, and I don't have a carefully crafted public image and career to maintain.

Remember the image she presents is of "Jane Average" every-woman struggling to make it in the world who is wise beyond her years because of her struggles. Her real life is quite a bit different being the child of successful New York artists and was raised in the bubble of elite schools and even more elite social circles. She's not so much a struggling young woman from the real world, but what the people in high social circles, and Hollywood, like to imagine what a struggling young woman should be like.

While the media makes it sound like Dunham's the biggest thing since Gabby Hayes except most Americans knew who Gabby Hayes was. Remember, Dunham first came to the attention of Hollywood with a film called Tiny Furniture that was seen pretty much only by people who give out awards at film festivals and Judd Apatow, the mogul of meandering comedies who is the driving force behind getting her on television.

Now her show Girls is only considered a "modest success" in the ratings for the HBO network and not becoming the wide ranging pop cultural phenom the network's enjoyed with monster hits like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos. This means that while only a few people actually watch the show, it's being watched by the right few people. The sort of people who write reviews in "influential" publications, vote for Emmy nominations, and give network executives pats on the back at the smart cocktail parties.

Essentially it's the same crowd she grew up in. 

Which brings me to the book.

The book, which hasn't been written yet, will probably not sell anywhere near the numbers to justify the multimillion dollar advance she was paid. The payoff was more of an acknowledgement of her position within the media world than her actual impact in the zeitgeist outside the Axis of Ego. I suspect that part of her knows that, and that she may know that her current status is dependent on a crowd more fickle than teen girls, and that she can be replaced at any moment by the next flavor of the moment. 

This means her position is fragile, and the criticism she gets doesn't help. Now a lot of the comments of the "haters" could be brushed off as just jealousy of her success, however some appeared to hit their mark. What struck me as particularly stinging was how some critics, especially at Gawker, pointed out that her "write what you know" ethos presented a very isolated world that was almost as bleached of anyone not in her immediate social/racial circle as the sitcom Friends was in the 1990s.

According to reports her book proposal was loaded with her trademark overly-precious precociousness and belief that her upbringing is somehow relatable to people in the outside world. It can't be anything else, she writes what she knows, and what she knows is that she's the embodiment of modern womanhood, because that's what the New York Times told her.

That's all ammunition for her critics, and if I think she feels that she needs to get them to shut up for a while.

And this is where she made her big mistake.

If she just ignored Gawker's posting, it would have been up for a few hours, then be replaced by another story, and quickly be forgotten. Let's face it, she's not really big news to many outside the media world, and too few of them actually read books, and care even less about book proposals.

By sending out the lawyer, it's gone from being a minor blip to an actual story with real questions like "What's she trying to hide?" or "Just how bad will this book be?" being asked by people who normally don't really give a toss about Lena Dunham.

Those are not the kind of questions you want people to be asking and they can do serious damage to her already precarious position.


  1. See, if I was really cynical, I would guess this was all a ploy. If I was writing a book and thought it might not get enough attention, then why not leak a bit, then throw a fit about it to drum up said attention?

    Unfortunately... being that cynical ends up giving these types more credit than they usually demonstrate. D, why do these people seem to utterly lack tactical foresight?

  2. I don't think this is a cynical ploy, I think she's really offended that they would dare to not only post leaked documents, but to mock her over the proposal's preciousness.

    I'll bet dollars to donuts that criticisms of her upscale upbringing and the relative ease of her career sting her the worst because it hurts her desire to the media's pick to be the "voice of her generation."

    As for her lack of tactical foresight, it's a problem that seems to affect more and more people in the public eye every day. Maybe it's a virus of some kind?