Valerie Solanas, so oft described as both visionary and complete psycho depending on the faction you ask (and the factions are almost always, shall we say, niche), has somehow found her way into the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult, “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag.” For those who know the innerworkings of Ryan Murphy’s madness by now, bearing with his seemingly non sequitur narrative regarding the shooting of Andy Warhol at the opening of episode seven is well worth it.
What is not well worth it, however, is having to endure the preposterous performance of Lena Dunham, clearly trying to parlay her way into more “serious” acting after the merciful end of Girls (even if the damage it has caused will last a lifetime). While to those not sensitive to the vileness of Dunham or the adequate homage to the legacy of a radical feminist, there may appear nothing wrong with Dunham’s portrayal. To the reverent lover of Solanas’ notorious SCUM Manifesto and the groundbreaking dogma it established, Dunham’s rendering is, to borrow a phrase from Solanas, “a biological accident.”
Between her foul need to once again display a predilection for partaking of degrading sex scenes on camera and her shoddy, intermittent accent, Dunham is no great honor to the only female who ever tried to topple the patriarchy with words and actions. For perspective, the Women’s March with its pink pussy hats and transitory commitment was a tame little display (called out derisively in another episode by Billie Lourd’s character, Winter) in comparison to what Solanas enacted with her assassination attempt and beyond. While some might abhor the near terrorist methods she employed to be heard, there can be no refuting that Solanas never waffled from her cause in theory or in practice. This is precisely why her so rarely portrayed contribution to rattling the system deserved a person that wouldn’t make it about herself, her “shtick” about feminism and men. Shoulda been Gaby Hoffman or Christina Ricci (the accent Dunham tries to carry off with little avail is seamlessly implemented by both in 200 Cigarettes).
But alas, Dunham got the part because she wrote a show about the pinnacle of white girl problems and runs a rag called Lenny Letter that comes off as toneless at best and limp at worst when set against the bluntness of SCUM Manifesto. And, truth be told, Solanas would have balked at the website’s maudlin, ineffectual content if she hadn’t died in obscurity in 1988, only to be dredged up again by the wrong actress. On the plus side, at least Evan Peters’ deliberately wooden interpretation of Andy Warhol rivals Guy Pearce’s in Factory Girl. That really would have pissed Valerie off, too–to know that a man’s performance upstaged the woman’s, even when he was in the plotline for far less screen time. Oh well, just another female slight. Solanas might have said of men, “The male has a negative Midas Touch–everything he touches turns to shit,” but in the case of this American Horror Story episode, it applies to Dunham as well.