Lena Dunham Is Right (About Offering Unpaid Jobs)

Lena Dunham: Enabler of dreams, fashion icon (AP)
September 29, 2014

As the Free Beacon's resident Lena Dunham apologist*, I have to say that I'm a bit flummoxed by the outrage surrounding her decision to offer performers a chance to increase their public profile by performing (for no pay) on her book tour. The New York Times explains:

Last month, the writer, actor and producer Lena Dunham started an ambitious project. Nearly 600 people responded to an open call for video auditions on her website, including a sand artist, a ukulele player, a cappella singers, gymnasts, performance artists and stand-up comics, even some exceptionally charismatic babies.

The seven who made the final cut won’t be making cameos in "Girls," Ms. Dunham’s HBO show about Brooklyn 20-somethings. Instead, they’ll be the warm-up acts — performing free of charge — on an elaborately produced, 11-city tour to promote Ms. Dunham’s new book, "Not That Kind of Girl."

Gawker, of course, is very upset. (No word from their former unpaid interns on the irony.) And lots of people on Twitter are tweeting their little hearts out about the unfairness of it all.

This is odd. No one is going to the Lena Dunham book tour to see the ukulele players (or whatever). They're going to see Lena Dunham speak and have her sign a copy of the book. If there were exactly zero additional people "performing" on these tours, Dunham wouldn't sell one less ticket. The value added of these performers is zero. Their VORP (Value Over Replacement Performer) is probably negative, insofar as the average Lena Dunham fan would rather not have to sit through the crappy opening acts to get to the good stuff.

Every single bit of the benefit in this equation accrues to the unpaid performers. They get increased exposure and the chance to make a splash. Maybe they sell some albums (or tickets to their own shows, or whatever), maybe not. Either way, they're better off than they were before. Dunham has done them the biggest favor of their life. They should be grateful. Indeed, I bet they are grateful.

So Lena Dunham, we at the Free Beacon salute you for making dreams come true. Haters will hate; don't let them get you down.

Update: Caroline Bassett, one of the unpaid performers chosen by Dunham, informed Gawker that she doesn't need them getting all worked up on her account: "I have a chance to work with someone whom I respect and who's highly accomplished, which is rare for someone at my level. ... I don't really understand why people are getting upset about it on my behalf."

Second Update: Dunham has caved:

I'm joking when I say "caved"; if she wants to pay people, great! Paying people is very nice. I like to be paid when I write. I'm just saying, there's nothing wrong or immoral about not paying people whose labor offers you little to no value and who are perfectly happy to work for free.

*I take the Douthatian view that there is no stronger indictment of our modern, decadent lives than HBO's Girls.