Life as Lena knows it

July 15, 2015 14:00:27 Posted at July 15, 2015 14:00:27
Maria Posted by Maria
Rob Kim/ Nomi Ellenson/ Mike Pont/ Getty Images

Lena Dunham has been teasing a project for a few days on social media, and it’s been announced she is launching a newsletter with her Girls producing partner Jenni Konner.

“Lenny” promises “feminism, style, health, politics, friendship and everything else” – Lena and Jenni have talked to BuzzFeed and The Cut about what exactly that means. It’s “Goop meets Grantland”, radical politics and tube tops, celebrity contributors and social justice issues. You think Gwyneth is connected and Taylor Swift has a squad? A by-line on Lenny will be the ultimate status symbol and her masthead is already stocked with journalists from BuzzFeed, Jezebel and Pitchfork.

The inspiration behind Lenny is the same as every other single lifestyle, celebrity or not: dispensing advice on what to wear/watch/listen to/care about. It’s not just about the way people dress or what kind of candles they display on their mantle, it’s about a belief system, no matter how shallow and vapid it can seem at times. Gwyneth believes in cleanses. Blake believes in crafts. Martha Stewart believes in perfection.

When Lena was on tour promoting Not That Kind Of Girl she said women constantly asked her questions about everything from her pink streaks to her politics; people want her opinion and advice. As Lenny’s mission statement says, they’ll help you choose a lamp and a president. Think about the frenzy Lena Dunham causes when she tweets something provocative or writes an essay for The New Yorker – people are fascinated by her, and not in the “oh her life is so perfect” way. Her brand is far more complex than aspirational.

On the business end, choosing to distribute Lenny as a newsletter, basically the dial-up version of Internet publishing, helps control the flow of information; they decide how often to publish and how quickly to grow. Newsletters go one way – there is no comments section and the site can build over time if they want to add more content (like Goop has done recently). I think this is a smart move. Does Lena Dunham need to read comments about herself on the Internet? Nope. No one does, actually. It’s the lowest form of discourse, so why bother pretending it’s a “community” when it is a handful of thoughtful people and a boatload of trolls. If you read Lenny it’s because you want to hear the voice of Lena (even if it’s not always Lena herself writing); you don’t want to hear about what some guy from Nebraska has to say about how she looks in shorts. And there’s a solid business rationalization behind this as well – newsletters don’t rely on pageviews, so no screaming headlines on Lenny’s success or failure. It can grow quietly.

They won’t launch with a monetary stream in place (and Jenni and Lena are funding the project), but they will eventually introduce e-commerce with vendors they want to support – basically the same idea as Goop, Preserve, and Draper James. (But Lenny promises to take into consideration the broke demographic.) There is no “breaking the wheel” here, because in digital lifestyle, there is no way to break the wheel; many have tried and failed. Many have tried to work within the parameters and failed, too. You can host ads, you can integrate advertorial, you can have sponsored content, you can sell merchandise and you can post affiliate links. There’s no way to be more ethical, or more thoughtful, about making money on the Internet. It is what it is.

Out of the gate, Lenny is being very open about reaching for the brass ring in lifestyle – respectability, popularity and profitability. Look at their track record –why wouldn’t they? It’s not being sold as a hobby or a passion, but more of an experiment. People admire Lena Dunham in more of a concrete way than the usual celebrity worship, and I’m very interested in how she’ll commodify the intense interest in her work and life.

So they have a respectable masthead, a messy but very “loveable Lena” mandate to explore modern feminism, and will have a huge amount of media attention when they launch in the fall. Are you interested? I am, but something has been nagging at me since I read the BuzzFeed article. Konner’s ex-husband Benjamin Cooley is the CEO. This stands out to me. Yes a man can be a feminist of course, but if you are launching a complex, pop culture-driven, thought-provoking feminist newsletter, why put a man at the helm? Is it off-brand?

Lenny is presenting the feminist ideal of being able to run a TV show and wear pink lipstick. Jenni and Lena are influential. They support boob jobs and unshaven armpits. Lenny lets you be any kind of feminist you want to be! Great. But when I read “CEO Benjamin Cooley” I wondered how many women interviewed for that job. And still, I want to and do trust that Lena is aware of the optics at this stage in her career.

This is all very brand new, so let’s see how staffing shakes out. There is always some drama around launch. But of course Gwyneth has been so supportive. They adore her, obviously. You think G is going to go all Martha on them? No chance, she saves that for Blake.

So who should Lena recruit first for a guest column? Taylor’s 10 Tips to Being a Bestie. Claire Danes on Playing TV’s Most Complicated Feminist Anti-Hero. Come on, you’d read both of those. Remember when Reese did the Vogue 73 Questions and said she wanted to be on Girls? Maybe she can write an article about abortion rights in the south instead. Can you imagine?!

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