By now, practically every American with a political bone in his or her body has seen or heard of the Obama campaign ad featuring Lena Dunham (if you haven’t, see the video clip below). Shrugging, simpering, sending coy looks to the camera, Dunham insinuates a comparison between voting and sex: “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy.” The great guy being the president, the other half of Dunham’s “first time.” After a few days online, the ad went to prime-time buys on cable channels, raising a predictable ruckus.
The outrage is justified. I’ll put in my two bits: What have we come to, when the president of the United States apparently approves a silly, powder-puff message featuring humor that responsible voters should have outgrown in high school? Not that President Obama is looking for responsible voters. He’d be perfectly happy with voters like Dunham: a vote is a vote (and “Rape is rape,” as he told Jay Leno). Dunham thinks it’s dreamy that Obama cares about her getting birth control, and it’s super uncool to admit you didn’t vote because “you weren’t ready.” Pul-eese, girlfriend!
Lena Dunham is best known for the cable series Girls, which is sometimes referred to as an anti-Sex in the City. In other words, Girls dramatizes the real emotional and physical consequences for the so-called sexually liberated woman. I’ve never watched the TV program, but I saw Dunham’s feature-length movie that explores the same theme. Tiny Furniture is about a girl who is a college film-studies major of limited gifts who returns home after graduation with a broken engagement and nothing resembling a plan. Over the course of 90 minutes, she natters on about projects and future dreams while practically begging for the attention of two males (one hesitates to distinguish them with the word “men”). The guys are not abusive, only dismissive: After condescending to have sex with her in a playground tunnel, one of them makes it clear he doesn’t especially need to see her again.
Tiny Furniture is one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen, a picture of post-feminist women who’ve forgotten how to value themselves. Has America forgotten how to value itself? Obama’s strategy is basically the same as any campus stud’s: categorize the prospects as those who will and those who won’t, identify the most likely, tailor his pitch to each one, and make extravagant promises while cleverly hiding the attached strings. To some Americans in the throes of election-season passion, it may seem like a no-brainer to give up one tiny vote in return for undying love and free birth control. But how many will hate themselves in the morning, especially when the bill comes due?
America needs to ask, is this really what he thinks of us?