An unofficial contest: Translating what Lena Dunham was talking about

This is an unofficial contest, because there’s no prize beyond the satisfaction of trying to figure out what one of the more talented and morally lacking voices of the young generation meant in a tweet:

What in the world does Dunham mean by talking about a “twelve year old genetic male”? Is she referring to what we used to call an adolescent boy? And if she is, is she making a sarcastic pop-culture reference to the modern world of identity politics (which Leftists have untethered from biology) or is she perfectly serious? Oh, and here’s another question: Why does he need her? Is she referring to the endless stories about morality bereft female teachers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who keep cropping up in the news because they’ve seduced adolescent boys entrusted to their care, or is she just promising him that she can teach him how to wax his ‘stache?

Help me, please. I’m lost in this modern world of ours.

Jane Austen and Lena Dunham — sisters under the skin?

Pen and ink portrait of Jane Austen

I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1976, when I was in high school. In those days, the book was popular, as it has been since its first publication two-hundred years ago (January 28, 1813), but it wasn’t yet trendy. I didn’t care about trends. I fell in love — with an author’s voice, with her characters, and with the time and place in which those characters lived.  Since then, with the exception of Northanger Abbey, which I appreciated as a spoof but never liked, I’ve read Austen’s books repeatedly.

I don’t know if it’s boast-worthy or cringe-worthy that I’ve read my two favorites — Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion — at least fifteen times each. I view the books as friends. Just as I enjoy meeting my friends for lunch or a walk, during which time we hash and re-hash the same conversations about children and life, so too do I love rendezvousing periodically with Elizabeth and Anne. Austen’s genius is that, two hundred years later, both of them are real people with whom I enjoy spending time.

Vittorio Reggianini

One of the things that I love about Austen is that she’s a moralist, although never a preachy one.  Modern readers recognize the more obvious lessons she preaches:  don’t let the pride of your rank blind you to a good person’s virtues; don’t let your wounded ego allow you to seek out “the wrong guy”; and don’t think you can manage other people’s lives if you can’t even do a good job with your own.

What too many modern readers (including those who should know better) miss is that Jane Austen was also an old-fashioned, middle-class, religiously driven cultural moralist.  Austen never rebelled against the lessons she learned growing up in her father’s parsonage.  She preached many of those same lessons when it came to personal morality, only she slipped them into frothy, amusing, tart confections.

Think about it:  In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham isn’t just a vain or boastful man.  He grossly violates middle-class morality.  He begins by attempting to convince a fifteen-year-old girl to marry him, although he’s foiled in that effort.  Rather than learning his lesson, he sinks further into debauchery.  After he runs off with another fifteen-year-old girl, this time with no intention of marrying her, it’s also discovered that he routinely cheated people out of money.  Wickham isn’t just a jerk; he’s a truly evil man.  He’s not evil in a big Hollywood way, with guns and drugs.  He’s something worse:  he’s a corrupter, one who uses his charm to destroy the moral decency of lonely or foolish young women.  Austen does not redeem him at the end.  He marries Lydia, but only when bribed to do so, and Austen makes it clear that Wickham continues to be as profligate and destructive as ever.

In her most starkly moralistic novel, Mansfield Park, Austen is open, not convert, when she condemns loose modern morals. Fanny is a rather uninteresting lead character, but she deserves her role as an Austen heroine because she is unfailingly faithful to true religious teachings, both at a doctrinal level and as those moral teachings reflect upon her day-to-day life. Austen has nothing but disdain for Henry and Mary Crawford, two charming and sophisticated young people. Charming and sophisticated they may be, but they use those characteristics, not for good but, as with Wickham, to corrupt innocence. And again, as with Wickham, Austen denies them redemption. Both of them, even when they fall unwillingly in love with Fanny and Edmund, are unable to break free of their vices.

I won’t bore you with summaries of all of Austen’s novels. I’ll just note that each of them contains characters who reject middle class morality, who hurt both innocents and fools along the way, and who lack any sort of moral core that would allow them true redemption.  Austen’s major characters — Darcy, Elizabeth, Marianne, Capt. Wentworth, Emma, etc. — have foibles, but not vices.  Each grows and learns throughout the course of the book.  They go through purgatory, but are redeemed.  But the evil men, the Willoughbys and Wickhams, are irredeemable.  Austen casts them into Hell without a second thought.

Contrast Austen’s stern and unforgiving morality with Lena Dunham.  You may remember Dunham as the woman who wrote and starred in a video likening voting for Obama to losing one’s virginity.  Ick.  If you don’t have HBO, though, you’ve never come face-to-face with Dunham’s major creation, a TV series called Girls.  I watched the first episode, and it made me nauseous.  Dunham showcases a nihilistic world of unhappy, empty young women who hook up with vacuous men or, as Kurt Schlichter describes it:

Girls is about four young, aimless college grads living in New York. Think of Sex and the City, except Sarah Jessica Parker has doubled her weight, dresses like a potato sack and fancies herself the voice of some undefined generation. There’s sex and nudity – just not hot Homeland sex and nudity. This is the first show in the history of cable television where male viewers actively root for the heroine to keep her clothes on.

[snip]

The characters seem to live in a minority and Republican-free bubble (though a black Republican (!) shows up as a character this season). There is no reference to religion – that wouldn’t occur to them.

Questions of traditional morality never arise – of course you should consider an abortion! Instead of facing questions of morality, the characters face questions of behavior along the lines Seinfeld parodied – who has “hand” in a relationship, or the social faux pas of the “close talker.” To put it bluntly, these are not the big questions that the great thinkers of Western civilization have pondered over the centuries.

When it comes to core values — indeed, any values — it is impossible to imagine two writers more different than Austen and Dunham.  One is a strict, traditional moralist; and the other is a modern irreligious nihilist.  Austen is pre-modern, living in a world defined by good and evil, moral and immoral.  Dunham, by contrast, has gone a step beyond post-modern, because she doesn’t even have an inverted morality, one that celebrates vice, not virtue.  Instead, she has abandoned morality entirely.

Why then do I name my post “Jane Austen and Lena Dunham — sisters under the skin?”  Because that’s what NPR would like to have young women believe.  Maureen Corrigan, who corrupts . . . er, teaches young people at Georgetown University, and who has a prominent, long-standing book reviewing gig at NPR, thinks that Austen and Dunham could be good buddies, because they’re both witty.  No, I’m really not kidding.  After discussing an orangutan that is supposedly an Austen fan, Corrigan has this to say (emphasis mine):

What does Albert the orangutan hear in Pride and Prejudice, I wonder? Maybe the same thing my students hear when I teach survey courses on the evolution of the novel. We start our voyage out with Robinson Crusoe and often go on to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy — fine, weird novels that seem to hail from a civilization a million light years from our own. Then we arrive home, on Planet Austen.

The relief in the classroom is palpable; the energy of class discussion spikes. It’s certainly not that my students mistake Austen’s world for our own. After all, her novels revolve around the make-or-break perils of a highly ritualized marriage market. Rather, it’s Austen’s smart-girl voice: peppery, wry, eye rolling — that seems so close to modern consciousness. Austen could be gal pals with Tina Fey and Lena Dunham; she talks to us directly, bridging time and custom.

Implying that Austen, Fey, and Dunham are sisters under the skin is the ultimate form of literary deconstruction. Corrigan, a product of and a contributor to our modern education system, refuses to acknowledge Austen’s actual messages about personal growth and irreparable moral failings.  Instead, the only thing she sees is snark.  And if Austen gives good snark well, then, she’s a ready-made companion for Fey and Dunham, both of whom inhabit a moral universe that would cause Austen to draw back in revulsion.

Austen was no innocent.  The late Georgian era in which she lived was a cesspool of debauchery, and Dunham certainly would have fitted well into the seamier side of Georgian England.  For all their surface charm, Austen’s books delve into such unsavory subjects as affairs, illegitimate children, gambling, premarital sex, etc.  Unlike Dunham (and even the softer Fey), however, Austen doesn’t celebrate these activities as normal, nor does she withhold judgment because “she has no right to judge.”  Instead, these people suffer.  And they deserve to suffer.  They have violated societal norms and religious strictures, and done so without compunction.  Their regret over the consequences of these acts is irrelevant, because they do not regret the acts themselves.

I don’t believe Corrigan’s position is mere stupidity.  This deconstructionist approach to Jane Austen is a deliberate effort to minimize her moral impact on modern readers.  One cannot denounce Austen for being a prude, because her work is too witty and charming to function under that label.  But one can encourage young women to ignore her moral strictures by pretending that her societal comments have as much meaning — or lack of meaning — as the empty, sad scenes that make up Dunham’s and Fey’s intellectual and creative worlds.

Tuesday morning flotsam and jetsam Open Thread

My brain hasn’t yet synthesized all the fascinating data out there, including the wrenching stories of Sandy’s devastation.  For the time being, I’ll just pass interesting links on to you.  Please feel free to do the same.

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The former Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet has written a white-hot article excoriating Obama and his administration, based upon what we know to date about events in Benghazi.  Because the White House is withholding information, and because the lap dog media is refusing to seek information (or even to talk about Benghazi), I have no problem with convicting Obama et al on the information currently available.  If that crew wants a full and fair trial in the court of public opinion, it had better start releasing reliable information.

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There’s a fascinating story in my local paper today about a grocery store chain called Mi Pueblo.  It was founded as a Mom-and-Pop store by a pair of illegal immigrants.  It’s now a large, legal chain serving the Hispanic community throughout California.  It’s also a law-abiding chain, in that it uses e-verify to make sure that it’s employees aren’t illegal immigrants.  Here’s the interesting part:  by abiding with federal law, the store has incurred the wrath, not only of the illegal immigration ground, but of SEIU.  Yup, the unions are furious that as store refuses to employ illegals.  Think about that:  unions used to fight illegals, because they were seen as taking jobs away from legal American workers.  Now, unions see the effort to stop illegal immigrants from working as a nefarious plot to weaken the unions. Legal American workers — those who are native-born or have green cards — should think long and hard about what the unions what to do for them.  At the moment, it looks to me as if the unions aren’t out to protect workers, they’re out to protect unions.

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Victor Davis Hanson nails the fantasy-based “reality” that keeps affluent Californian’s voting for Democrats.  I live surrounded by this mentality:

Did California’s redistributive elite really believe that they could all but shut down new gas and oil production, strangle the timber industry, idle irrigated farmland, divert water to the delta smelt, have 37 million people use a highway system designed for 15 million, allow millions of illegal aliens to enter the state without audit, extend free medical programs to 8 million of the most recent 11 million added to the population, up taxes to among the highest in the nation, and host one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients — and not have the present chaos?

The California schools — flooded with students whose first language is not English, staffed by unionized teachers not subject to the consequences of subpar teaching, and plagued with politicized curricula that do not emphasize math, science, and reading and writing comprehension — scarcely rate above those in Mississippi and Alabama. Did liberals, who wanted unions, a new curriculum, and open borders, believe it was good for the state to have a future generation — that will build our power plants, fly our airliners, teach our children, and take out our tumors — that is at the near-bottom in national test scores?

Do Bay Area greens really believe that they that will have sufficient water if they blow up the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir? Did Barack Obama think that the Keystone pipeline or new gas and oil leases in the Gulf were superfluous, or that we do not need oil to make gasoline, wheat to make flour, or to cut timber to produce wood?

Did liberals (and their hand-in-glove employer supporters who wished for cheap labor) think that letting in millions from Central Mexico, most without legality, English, or a high school education (and in some sense at the expense of thousands waiting in line for legal admission with capital, advanced degrees, and technological expertise), was not problematic and that soaring costs in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the schools, and the health care industries were irrelevant?

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Reagan famously said “Trust, but verify.”  In an internet age, one has to say “verify before you trust anything.”  Case in point?  A Halloween costume a young Boston Democrat put together to mock Tea Partiers.  It features her grimacing, while holding a misspelled birther sign.  Well, it went viral on the internet, not as a spoof, but as a “genuine” picture of a deranged young Alabama Tea Partier.  The young woman involved (who did not intend to prank anyone), has learned a valuable lesson about her own political party.  Maybe in a few years, she’ll be a true Tea Partier — and a nicer person for it too.

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Jonah Goldberg scolds the mainstream media for its incredible lack of curiosity about Benghazi.  Goldberg doesn’t see a conspiracy.  He sees liberal group-think that is so all-encompassing that the media people think candidate George Bush’s alleged conduct in 1974 is more important than President Barack Obama’s conduct in September 2012.

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While Jonah Goldberg is willing to damn the media with faint praise (stupid, not evil), Thomas Sowell is not so kind about the administration.  He thinks that, when it comes to Benghazi, there’s a giant con going on.  I think he’s right.  (Is it redundant to say that one thinks that Thomas Sowell has made an intelligent, accurate argument?  Doesn’t the name Sowell already encompass that description?)

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Keith Koffler does a great job summing up the way in which Obama has demeaned the presidency.  We thought the Clinton presidency already did that but, looking back, that’s not quite accurate, Clinton demeaned himself with a variety of scandals, but he managed to stay presidential when he was in the business of politics (rather than the business of shtupping the help).  Obama, however, has demeaned the presidency itself, by using sex, obscenities, and insults within the context of politics.

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Of course, when it comes to demeaning the office of the presidency, Obama is getting a lot of help.  Witness this obscenity-laden video that purports to show members of the “Greatest Generation” engaging in vulgar trash-talk against Romney.  Those elderly people who honor dignity should be offended by this, even if they’re Democrats.

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This is a lovely article that uses a faux debate to draw a devastating contrast between Barack Obama and Winston Churchill.

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And here is another devastating contrast:  the vast cultural divide between Lena Dunham, who coos that voting for Obama is like losing ones virginity, and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who fought to the death to save others.  Sadly, their Commander in Chief came from the Dunham side of the cultural divide, and left them to die alone in a Libyan hellhole.  (Incidentally, Tyrone Woods left behind an infant son.  If you would like to donate to a fund for that little boy, Power Line recommends this legitimate organization.  It’s an easy way to donate.  I was able to use PayPal, so I put some of the money you guys have so generously sent me towards Baby Boy Woods’ education.)

Cross-posted at Brutally Honest