Oberlin Blogs

You had a class with someone famous?!

January 14, 2013

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

Before you ask, yes, I had a class with Lena in college. Yes, I saw Tiny Furniture in theaters where there were at least 5 other Obies proudly stating their Obieness in the audience with me. I even re-saw back here in Oberlin at the Apollo, because it seemed like a thing to do.

I confess, sometimes I look at Lena and see a version of myself, a young person with a lot to say in a world where there are a lot of people not ready to listen but happy to criticize. I’m not speaking about those who have offered insightful critiques on Lena’s show — just for good measure, I’m linking to two incredibly well-written blog posts by two of my fellow 2010 Oberlin classmates about precisely this topic (and this is a drop in the bucket; I have five million more things to do in the day than read critiques of TV shows I don’t watch — I’ve had the ability to watch the first episode but no more beyond that).

In case you haven’t noticed, this world is not an easy place. There are rampant “-isms” everywhere, and one of the ways that we collectively attempt to challenge this is through humor. Gut-wrenching, face-palming, “why the HECK did they do that” humor. Some of us do this through observing and laughing, but others try and tackle it creatively, right into the fray, knowing that they will inevitably be laughed at, not necessarily with.

No matter your opinion on Lena’s artistic choices, you can say this: she has brought people together over SOMETHING. For everything Lena has done wrong and been very publicly called out about it, it means that there’s a conversation that needed to happen happening. I’m distinctly aware that as soon as I post this, there is the potential that this blog post will be a lightning rod of conversation convening here on this post (and I ask that should you decide to become involved, read this post in full and attack ideas, not people, please).

Lena’s 2013 Golden Globes wins brought a nervous smile to my face. I’m exceedingly proud of anyone willing to put their personal stuff out there for thought-provoking conversation and laughs ranging from groans to guffaws — let’s be real here, folks, I blog; I get it — especially one who’s so early in her career finding a niche and producing stuff, but I recognize that this is also not perfect. That might be one of the reasons why people love (or love to hate) her so much, but for me, I see others making the same mistakes, struggling with the same things, and bitten with the desire to create things that will incite reactions, but slightly farther from the spotlight.

For every time we see Lena on a screen, know that there are at least a dozen other folks with Oberlin degrees with different, interesting, creative, envelope-pushing, statement-making, world-changing ideas — in television, films, radio, blogs, art, and every other type of creative form imaginable. We might not be as connected into the circuit as her, but I believe that that is a major flaw in our entertainment system as a whole. What has she done that’s so different than you and me, beyond being well-connected? She made things. Regardless of what people said, she just went out and did something. And that, my friends, gets you noticed.

Maybe we need to make mistakes to learn. Critique is a real and honest thing — it’s what you chose to do with it that makes the difference. Above all things I learned at Oberlin as a cinema studies major, it was how to develop ideas that defined my perspective and how to defend the creative choices I made. Working with my fellow cinema studies classmates was the most humbling experience I’ve faced to this date: every single person I worked with was talented, full of ideas, wicked smart, and, rather horrifically, ready to tell me that something I did was wrong. But it wasn’t just that I was wrong because they said so, they brought in defenses from all over the place, from sociology, psychology, neuroscience, news articles, film theory and every single thing we experienced in the world around us.

Sounds intense, right? Right. It was. It made me a stronger and more confident human being. It made me want to figure out how to make even more things, and that is something I am forever thankful for. When I get an itch I just can’t scratch, I know I can turn into my mind and find some way to make something of it.

I went to PechaKucha Night at MOCA Cleveland last week — a night of creative TED-type talks in one of the coolest museum spaces I’ve ever been in — and a particular quote stuck out for me, and it’s a valuable thing to consider every time we watch an award show or in general, become sidetracked by others’ success.

Don’t compare, be inspired by those around you. - Tom Poole, Director of Communication at MOCA Cleveland.

Well, why not? I take whatever insanity I see in the world and wish to right the wrongs by trying to do something. I guess today’s “something” is writing a blog post, but it’s what I know and it’s something (I think) I’m good at.

Responses to this Entry

Amen. Keep doing something.

Posted by: Marsha on January 15, 2013 1:03 PM

Thanks, Marsha. Keep on keeping on, that's what I do.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 16, 2013 4:07 PM

I taught Lena Dunham in two classes: a literature course and the playwriting workshop. What distinguished Lena was not her talent per se--she would be the first to tell you that she was not an exceptional student--but her *drive*. She was committed to learning how to be the best filmmaker she could possibly be, and to figuring out how to be successful at it. So she went about making movies as best she could, using the resources available to her. She made her first full-length film, "Creative Nonfiction," in the semester when she was in my workshop, and you can see members of the class playing the protagonist's classmates and teacher. (I'm in her box set in the Criterion Collection! I have my very own IMDB entry! Go figure.) It wasn't a great film, but it was a start, and it led to "Tiny Furniture," which led to Judd Apatow, which led to "Girls."

I don't believe Lena's connections had much to do with her success. Her parents are avant-garde artists who had the means to give her an excellent education, but they are not super-wealthy and had no strings to pull in Hollywood. She has worked very hard to achieve what she has achieved so far. She has also been very lucky: you're right that there are *lots* of equally talented Oberlin alums who have not achieved fame and fortune. But she would not have achieved it without a great deal of commitment and hard work.

I'm very proud of Lena. And I really like "Girls." But ultimately it's all about her desire to make something, and her willingness to go out there and do it.

Posted by: David on January 17, 2013 1:58 PM

@David - Stealing a line from Marsha above: amen. It's really refreshing to hear this, by the way. We're quick to fill in the blanks when it comes to someone else, and this gives a bit more grounding. But again, does that matter? Why aren't we following her lead and striving to do our own great things?

Also, you have an IMDb entry?! Your coolness never ends!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 17, 2013 2:18 PM

Yep. But I didn't make the second film listed on it!

I *was* screentested to play Jem in the film of "To Kill a Mockingbird." But that's another story.... ;-)

Posted by: David on January 17, 2013 2:27 PM

No way! I want to hear about your young acting escapes! (I lovelovelove To Kill a Mockingbird.)

While you're the 27th David Walker on IMDb, you're the first in my book :D

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 17, 2013 2:32 PM

Why is there no "Like" button on this thing?

Posted by: David on January 17, 2013 2:34 PM

Things I've been begging for in the future iterations of the blogs, don't you worry.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 17, 2013 2:36 PM

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